Thursday, 31 May 2012

Forced and Involuntary Removal of Children

In an earlier blog post, I began to address the complex topic of the intercountry adoption of indigenous children from Guatemala as one aspect of the occurrences of forced removal that is denounced by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This blog post picks up the topic again, looking at the practices of forced removal of children.

Involuntary or forced removal of children is not a new phenomenon or something that has been done only to indigenous children. There are historic and current examples of removal of children who are on the margins of society.
Researcher Tobias Hubinette comments on this in his chapter “From Orphan Trains to Baby Lifts: Colonial Engineering, Empire Building and Social Engineering” in the book “Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption” published by South End Press. He comments (pg 141):

The closest parallels to international adoption in the history of global child migration would be the 130,000 children shipped from the British Isles to populate the Empire between 1618 and 1967, and the 1000,000 American children transported by the “orphan train” from the East Coast and placed out to substitute parents in need of labor in the Midwest between 1854 and 1929.”

Removing children from their families and communities can have the devastating and obvious impacts—breaking up family units and destruction of community structures. But the harms go further and deeper. It is one way to attempt to eradicate a group if not physically then culturally. As an African-American social worker friend and former colleague once remarked to me, the most effective way to bring an end to a group of people is to take their children. The National Association of Black Social Workers (USA) has a position paper that outlines the concerns that arise due to disparate treatment of African-American children in the US foster care system and the importance of children maintaining links with their culture and community.

Forced removal of indigenous children has been given a high profile. The 2002 film "Rabbit Proof Fence" addresses forced removal of children in Australia. The ongoing Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission addresses the forced removal of children to residential boarding schools. And the 1979 US federal Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in order to address the high rates of forced removal of indigenous children.

Intercountry adoption is another way in which forced removal of indigenous children has occured . And this was part of the dynamic of intercountry adoption in Guatemala, which future blog posts on this topic will address.

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