If the consumerism of the holiday season tells us anything, it’s that for everything, there is a market.
There’s a market for children’s toys, a market for kitchenware a market for outdoor enthusiasts and a market for video gamers, just to name a few.
These days, as unconventional as it may sound, there’s a greater market than ever before for orphaned children in third-world countries. And with more than one million U.S. families trying to adopt each year, it’s a market that human traffickers have taken notice of.
As someone who feels like God placed international adoption on my heart from a young age, it’s easy to understand why so many Americans, and people all over the globe in developed countries, would open their families and lives to children in need. Adoption isn’t just giving the child a better life, it’s giving a family a better life.
At least, that was the experience for Adam and Jessica Davis, an Ohio couple who adopted 5-year-old Namata from Uganda in 2015.
The family paid $15,000 to European Adoption Consultants (EAC). The agency, which is based in Strongsville, Ohio, has arranged thousands of adoptions and matched the family with a 5-year-old girl, who they called Mata.
The Davises were told that Mata had been abandoned by her mom after the father passed away. She had been placed in an orphanage called God’s Mercy Children’s Home, and the Davises were able to fly to Uganda and meet her. In September 2015, they brought her home to Ohio.
But what most would see as a new life for Mata and the Davises quickly turned into an adoptive parent’s worst nightmare.
As Mata became more fluent in English, she began telling Jessica about her life back home in Uganda. She talked about her mother in ways that made everything the Davises had seen on paper sound like a lie.
That’s because it was.
It turns out Mata and her mother had unknowingly become victims of a new form of human trafficking, in which parents in third-world countries are told their child will be temporarily sent away for a better education with the promise of a later return.
What those parents don’t know is that they’re voluntarily putting their child in the hands of traffickers—con artists who are making a hefty paycheck off of the abduction, then adoption of a Ugandan “orphan.”
Mata’s stories led the Davises to question their adoption agency, as well as their own involvement with what they now believed to be human trafficking.
All too often when we hear the term “human trafficking,” we automatically associate it with sexual violence. But that’s not always the case.
Mata was never sold for sex, but she was exploited. Someone financially benefitted from her being abducted and relocated against her will, and the will of her mother.
Through research and the help of Reunite Uganda, Jessica was able to track down Mata’s mother. The organization arranged a Skype call between the two, and Mata pressed for answers. Why did her mother give her away?
“My mom was tricked,” she says after the call. “My mom was tricked.”
Jessica and Adam now faced an impossible decision.
Do they keep their daughter, who they’ve legally adopted and been granted parental guardianship to, or do they send her back to her biological mother?
“If our child had been taken from us, we would want them back,” Adam says.
The couple agreed that they would return Mata to her mother.
The Davises filed to have the adoption vacated, and one year after being brought home to the United States, Mata and her adoptive parents made their way back to Uganda, to reunite her with her mother.
Since Mata’s story, along with at least three others, has been brought to the attention of the United States as well as Ugandan government, God’s Mercy Children’s Home has been shut down, and the EAC is under FBI investigation.
Of course, the actions of few should not lead to the inaction of many. There are legitimate orphanages in third-world countries who work with legitimate adoption agencies here in the states.
The best advice: Do your research. There were no warning signs that the Davises had chosen to work with an agency who did bad business on one end or another. But there are ways to ensure your adoption agency and the processing of your adoption is ethical.
The U.S. Department of State’s website offers a comprehensive list of accredited agencies, including the more than 75 countries affiliated with Hague Adoption Convention—an international agreement enacted to safeguard intercountry adoptions.
Adoption.com suggests asking lots and lots of questions—and not being afraid to ask even more. According to their website, every agency should be willing to share contract information, proof of a valid license, their scheduling fee and estimated adoption expenses, information about their in-country relationships with social services, private orphanages and facilitators, as well as their overall mission concerning the well-being of both children and birth parents they represent.
There are thousands of children in the world who desperately need a loving forever home. The market for orphans in third-world countries has a direct line back to the United States with over one million families trying to adopt each year. That means we don’t stop from fear of scam, but we press on, knowing how to be smart in our pursuit of adopting a child through a legitimate and reputable agency.