Season 1, Episode 7: Profiting Off of Pseudo-Orphans


You’re listening to Episode 7 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. This episode will talk about the gray areas that surround some international adoptions, and how these adoptions can be a form of human trafficking.

Episode 5 talked about the plight of Romanian child beggars in the UK. These children are often brought to the UK to raise money for gang members, and receive little to no nurturing. They miss out on a proper childhood, which only makes their teenage years and beyond even more difficult. In this case, it’s fairly easy to put the blame the traffickers who bring child beggars and minders to the UK and exploit them once they are there.

But it’s not always this simple. Case in point? Some international adoptions. Now, before I go any further, I want to emphasize the word “some.” Not all international adoptions are human trafficking or really unethical in any other sense. Even some of the adoptions that can be considered human trafficking have unfortunate circumstances that can make it difficult to place the blame on the adoptive parents. Each adoption case is unique, and should be treated as such.

Take the story of Mata, for example. CNN recently released a story on Mata, a young girl from Uganda who was adopted by the Davis’, an American family. The European Adoption Consultants, the agency that facilitated the adoption process, told the family that Mata’s father had died, and that her mother neglected her. With one parent gone forever and the other unwilling to raise a child, it seemed only fair for Mata to join another family. And that’s what happened. Mata joined the Davis family when she was just six years old. At this point, her English was not as developed, so the Davis’ had no reason to suspect their adoption. However, as she became more fluent, the Davis’ realized that something was amiss. Mata didn’t talk about a cruel, neglectful mother. Instead, she talked about all of the lovely times she had with her mother in Uganda. This is hardly the picture painted by the adoption agency.

But, it’s always possible that Mata made up the stories about her mother. After all, children have active imaginations and often try to overcompensate for the hardships they face. This was not the case. The family soon found out that the story their agency told them was completely made up. Mata came from a loving family, but European Adoption Consultants took her from her family in order to fulfill the Davis’ request to adopt a Ugandan child.

This shocking story makes us wonder why and how an adoption agency could do such a thing. But if you consider the expenses that surround international adoptions, the answer becomes clear. If a family wants to adopt a child from another country, they will have to pay thousands of dollars. If there is a demand for international adoptions, but not enough children who need to be adopted, then some agencies will create “orphans”. These pseudo-orphans are often children who still have living parents that only want what’s best for their child. In Mata’s case, she came from a loving family that thought she was simply going to be sponsored by an American family. They thought she would be getting an education and a chance at a better future, not that she would be taken away from them. But European Adoption Consultants took her mother’s verbal consent to an extreme and brought Mata to an orphanage. By the time her mother figured out what was going on, it was too late. Mata was adopted by an American family that didn’t even know she still had a family of her own. In the meantime, the adoption agency made a lot of money off the Davis’ and used flowery promises of sponsorship and success to remove a child from her family.

There is a happy ending, thankfully. The Davis’ took Mata back to Uganda, and the adoption agency that took Mata from her family is banned from placing any children in homes for the next three years. From Mata’s story, we can see how some international adoption agencies are actually trafficking rings disguised as humanitarian services. In reality, these corrupt agencies make victims out of the child and their biological and adoptive parents.

Another example of international adoption going wrong comes from the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake of 2010. An article from the New York Times states that visa requirements for Haitian adoptees were temporarily lifted, but many immigration programs did not check to see if the children really were orphans or abandoned. As a result, about 1,150 Haitian adoptees were brought to the States, more than the amount of Haitian children that had been brought during the previous three years combined. Adoption, including international adoption, is not inherently an unethical thing. However, the speed at which these children were brought to the US, some of them not even formally adopted, left many children in a state that is no better than trafficking victims. They had few to no legal documents to prove their identity and circumstances, and were living in a legal limbo, uncertain of what would happen to them. Some of these children ended up in juvenile care centers, and others in foster care because their potential parents decided they couldn’t adopt them anymore. While the horrific consequences of the earthquake left many children in need, the rash decision to take many Haitian children out of the country -- many brought over through illegal or unethical means -- created a bigger problem for the children who either were not ready to leave their country behind, or who were not even orphans in the first place.

Thankfully, various organizations around the world are fighting the trafficking done by corrupt international adoption agencies. Apparent Project in Haiti, for example, noticed that a vast majority of the Haitian children going through adoption processes still had at least one parent alive. However, like Mata’s mother in Uganda, their parents felt that they could not provide for them, so they either agreed or were tricked into having their children adopted by foreigners. Many of the children Apparent Project has worked with did not want to leave their biological families behind, even if they knew they would have more opportunities with an adoptive family. In order to keep biological families together and give children a better future, Apparent Project hires financially struggling parents so that they won’t be at risk for putting their non-orphan children up for adoption.

Adoption, when done through legal and ethical means, is a beautiful thing that can create deeply loving families. However, certain international adoption agencies take advantage of the good intentions of adoptive parents, and end up hurting everyone involved. Biological parents lose their children, children are trafficked and taken away from their family and culture, and adoptive parents suffer the financial burden of the adoption process, never mind the guilt they may feel when they learn that their child was never an orphan in the first place. While it is rarely the biological or adoptive parents’ intent to play a part in the trafficking of children, if we are not careful about the way we handle international adoptions, we can cause more harm than good.

This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on December 10th at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.

Additional Information:
Mata's Story:
Hatian Adoptions:

Facebook: @thetraffickingdispatch
Twitter: @ttdpodcast
Instagram: @ttdpodcast_official


Popular Posts