The key finding of the 6th annual International Social Service conference is that we have failed to do our due diligence in protecting children in our country. Through the creation of benign euphemisms, we have trivialized key circumstances that threaten the safety, well-being and permanency of children within our borders. We have emphasized the rights of parents and other adults at the expense of protecting our kids.
The growing problem of parents abducting their children is not called kidnapping, or treated as a violent crime against children. We call the abandonment of adopted children “re-homing” and fail to prosecute it as a crime. The advancement of reproductive technologies has placed primacy on the prospective parents’ rights to produce a biologically-related child with no thought given to the product of these technologies; the child. Finally, we have created a parallel, and less useful, child protection system for children who enter our borders without appropriate adult care. The result is that unaccompanied children do not get the same protection and care as our citizen children and are at great risk for violence, trafficking and deportation without adequate pre- and post-arrival services.
The key issues and actions that must be addressed by the next administration include:
- Create a National Resource Center on Cross-Border Child Protection that will provide technical assistance and training for judicial and legal stakeholders as well as public and private child/family services providers on best practices in child protection/welfare cases that have a cross-border dimension.
- Support the creation and passage of a Federal law that defines the re-homing of adopted children as child abandonment and includes strong penalties for perpetrators.
- Support the creation and passage of new laws to protect the rights of children who are the product of Assisted Reproductive Technologies including surrogacy, donor conception and embryo adoption.
- Mandate donor registration on a National Donor Registry.
- Develop, and financially support, repatriation and reintegration programs for children and families removed from the U.S. through immigration enforcement.
- Invest in upgrading The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) to include child outcomes both for children within the U.S. and for children who are placed with relatives overseas. States must comply with reporting requirements, and there should be penalties for states who who refuse to comply with these requirements.
- Advocate for consistent home study assessment standards to ensure all children, including unaccompanied children being placed with sponsors, foster children, children placed in kinship care, and children placed with relatives overseas, are placed in homes that have been thoroughly and properly vetted.
- Increase funding for family-based services to prepare adoptive, foster or kinship families, and international sponsors for parenting children. Create support services for families to prevent or appropriately address disruptions and prepare for reunification after extended separations.
- Create stronger exit controls to prevent parental child abduction.
- Invest in enhanced parental child abduction prevention programs.
- Advocate that states create statutes to treat parental child abduction with the same urgency as stranger abductions.
Over the last few years, international surrogacy has continued to increase around the world. Today it is estimated that approximately 20,000 children are born through this specific mode of reproduction annually, and the numbers are expected to increase. The ISS global casework load is increasingly dealing with individual surrogacy cases but must work in the absence of a consistent, coordinated legal framework.
While some countries have legalized and codified international surrogacy as an option for reproduction, others have either made the process illegal, or simply failed to provide any legislative guidelines on the practice. In general, on the international level, the issue remains unregulated, creating a situation that paves the way not only for very lucrative business opportunities, but also to potentially worrying activities and practices of intermediary agencies, specialized clinics and candidates for parenthood. Unless international surrogacy is consistently regulated the evident economical imbalance between wealthy prospective parents and an ever growing number of women ready to bear a child for someone else for remuneration, can only lead to abuses.
There have already been several individual cases around the world that have highlighted the potential problems and likely abuses of unregulated reproduction through surrogacy. Furthermore, the rights of children to be born through this practice have not been addressed and the International Social Service (ISS) strongly believes that protecting those children rights must be addressed in both the legal and psycho-social arenas.
Therefore, ISS asserts that international surrogacy is not only a private matter between the prospective parents and the surrogate, but is an issue that must be addressed by the international legal, social service, psycho-social and child advocacy communities.
Furthermore ISS believes that addressing the myriad of questions and concerns raised by the practice of international surrogacy is a matter of great urgency and calls for, among other possible actions the following initial steps:
- Explore and document existing good practices.
- Study current practices and trends, including domestic laws, economic impact, a geography of actors, exploitation of women and protection of children, the bonding of the surrogate parent/s with the child and special situations such as those of disabled children so seriously deformed that they have little life expectancy.
- Address the concerns of donor conceived persons, and anonymous sperm, egg and embryo donations.
- Address the citizenship of the donor conceived, or surrogate born children.
- Create a network wide campaign to advocate in favor of a new General Comment on surrogacy by the UN CRC and a Hague Convention on international surrogacy and donor conceived children.
- Convene international conferences, gathering State representatives to reach an agreement on the necessity to regulate surrogacy at the international level;
While keeping the best interest of the child as the driving force for all actions it takes, ISS intends in the very near future to work on the following areas related to surrogacy:
- Utilize the ISS network to be the voice of children born through all forms of artificial reproduction in order to preserve the best interest of those children.
- Continue to work for the best individual solution for each individual child in his best interest and in the best interest of the involved adults, especially the surrogate mother through casework mandated by national public authorities.
- Develop and disseminate a special training program for its casework professionals.
- Share individual casework experience within the ISS network and with relevant external stakeholders with a view to regulate this field in the best interest of the child.
- Develop an advocacy campaign that will be developed within the frame of calling for a General Comment on surrogacy by the UN CRC and the need for a new Hague convention on surrogacy.