December 4, 2013

I was at a gathering the other night and as we were talking in a small group the subject of adoption came up. A new acquaintance told the story of how her young niece had recently chosen adoption for her newborn daughter. The young woman’s decision was based on her difficult personal circumstances: she is a teenager, she is not married, she does not have a full-time job, and has little ability to support the baby’s needs and development.

The reaction of the group was unanimous. They recognized the painful decision this young mother made was grounded and rooted in love, and although making an adoption plan is easily understood to be an emotionally difficult decision, it is an intelligent and appropriate decision representing the best interest of the child. We all respected the young woman’s decision.

When a birth mother or family in the United States chooses adoption, our society respects, even applauds the selfless decision and action because we accept the decision in the context of what is best for the child.

However, when this similar scenario plays out in third world countries, we criticize and question a mother’s and families’ decision to place a child for adoption due to harsh practical realities. Even though the decision to utilize adoption represents the best course of action for the child, international adoption has become ultra-controversial, and is viewed differently than an adoption that takes place in our country.

We have developed a distinctive arrogance of what is right and wrong for a child seemingly based on borders and geography. Many argue taking a child out of one culture to join a family in another culture is robbing a child of the birth heritage and should never happen. We have a hard time accepting cross-pollinating race and heritage as a cultural asset, and view it instead as a personal liability. Think of the many friends you know who were born in one country and during their childhood moved to another country. Ask them if moving to another country was traumatizing and damaging to their human condition, or ultimately  an experience that allowed them to expand their human condition.  Better yet, ask any child living in an orphanage whether they would prefer to have culture and heritage or a permanent family.

If we are really going to evolve into a functioning global society, why can’t we accept, embrace, and promote cross-border adoption in the same light we accept and promote domestic adoption? Are we still quietly clinging to the notion that a segregated society is a better society?

Any family, irrespective of where they live, can offer a child the love, the safety, and the nurturing every child needs. Why do we draw the line and believe domestic adoption is a positive part of society, and international adoption is a dirty word? Why are we allowing kids to grow up in stark, filthy orphanages or on the streets , just because the family they could be part of today requires them to get a passport and a plane ticket?

Craig Juntunen is the founder and president of the Both Ends Burning Campaign (, author of “Both Ends Burning: My Story of Adopting Three Children from Haiti” and the executive producer of the acclaimed documentary “STUCK.”