Reconnecting Trafficked Children with Their Families. Next Generation Nepal rebuilds family connections torn apart by child trafficking and helps rural communities become stronger, healthier places to raise their children.
NGN Turns 10: A Decade of Rescuing and Reunifying Trafficked Children with their Families
With your help, we have brought over 500 children home, raised awareness and started an initiative to stop trafficking before it begins.
Dear Friend of Next Generation Nepal,
It has been 12 years since I first arrived in Nepal for what I thought would be a small blip in my story. Little did I know that I was about to embark down a path that would change the entire trajectory of my life in ways I couldn’t imagine.
This journey began in 2004 when I volunteered at Little Princes Children’s Home on the outskirts of Kathmandu and met a group of boys and girls who would change my life forever. I’d been led to believe that these kids were orphans, which invoked heartfelt empathy and a strong desire for me to bring them joy in their young lives. I soon learned the truth—they had mothers and fathers, siblings and communities where they once had a full and happy life which they had been taken from. I was shocked to know these kids had been trafficked. It was because of this realization that I made a promise to do whatever possible to bring them and as many others back home. Out of that promise the seed that would grow into Next Generation Nepal was planted.
It took two years of commitment and hard work, but, in 2006, NGN was finally able to open the doors of its official office in Nepal and rescue the Little Princes. Soon after, I set off to the remote district of Humla in search of their families. This was the first rescue and reunification that NGN did.
Over the last 10 years, NGN has continued to grow. Today we work in 31 districts and have helped reconnect over 500 children with their families! In addition to our reintegration work, NGN is now considered an expert on ethical volunteering in Nepal, and our Community Anti-Trafficking (CAT) project works to prevent children from being trafficked in the first place.
NGN has persevered through a civil war, earthquakes and constant political unrest, but we have not let anything stand in our way in accomplishing our mission. Our teams continue to rescue, care and search in the remotest parts of Nepal for the families of these children so that we can bring them home.
NGN is celebrating the joy of 10 years of rescuing and reunifying trafficked children as well as broadening NGN’s reach into bringing awareness to families and communities of the causes of trafficking and stopping it before it begins.
There are still thousands of children who have been displaced from their families and living in abusive conditions for the financial gain of their captors. Please help us to begin this next 10 years by supporting NGN’s work so we can not only bring hundreds more children home, but to stop child trafficking at its core.
Conor Grennan (author)
President, Next Generation Nepal
MORE: After the Great Nepal Earthquake April 25, 2016
I drove to the NGN transit home where I was overjoyed to find 17 children playing games in a make-shift tent of tarpaulins, and being cared for by our staff and —believe it or not— the Little Princes! Yes, the now young adults whom NGN Founder Conor Grennan had made famous as children in his book, “Little Princes,” had kept their promise that in the event of an earthquake they would protect the younger children. In addition to this we had a four-week supply of food, water and medicines, so even if the roads and airport were shut off, we could all still survive.
Within the heavily cracked walls of a room at the Central Child Welfare Board, I joined the Government and other NGOs to plan what our response would be for affected children. We knew that the situation in Kathmandu was not as bad as the rural areas. But we also knew that the traffickers were already prowling the villages looking for children to remove them from their frightened parents and place them in profit-making children’s homes. To make matters worse, several children’s homes were already announcing hundreds of new places for children to come to Kathmandu. It was like the previous decade’s civil war all over again—families would be torn apart by hollow promises of safety and education, only to be used as fundraising tools by organizations wishing to profit from the millions of dollars of disaster aid money flowing into the country. All these unscrupulous organizations needed to succeed in their plans were children to be falsely presented as “earthquake orphans.” We had to act fast.
…A child-friendly space is a basically a large tent that acts as a safe space for children after a disaster. In the NGN child-friendly spaces, the children were offered structured play and learning activities, psycho-social counseling and locally-prepared nutritious meals. This gave them the opportunity to regain a sense of normality in their lives, and allowed their parents some much-needed respite. But our child-friendly spaces were more than this—they also built trust with the local community, which, in time, allowed NGN to start raising awareness within the community of the dangers of child trafficking and the importance of family preservation.
By July we had established 11 child-friendly spaces in hard-hit villages where we had assessed there was a high risk of trafficking. We had also supported the Nepal Police to establish two transport check posts where we could intercept buses to search for children who might be being trafficked to Kathmandu. When we found unaccompanied children on the buses, we rescued them, and the local government returned them to their families.
By now we were also able to roll out our awareness-raising campaigns. These included a traveling acting troupe that performed a street drama about child traffickers pretending to be representatives of NGOs to lure vulnerable children to the city; several passionate street rallies led by school children demanding an “end to child trafficking”; leaflets and posters; competitions and speeches; and a radio jingle to reach the most remote families whom we could not access by road or foot.
An International Adoption Clouded in Deception
February 19th, 2012
February 20, 2012: Imagine a complete stranger telling you that your adopted daughter, who you always believed was an orphan, was actually not. “Surreal and heart wrenching” is how Ana would describe it.
Names have been changed in the story to protect the privacy of those involved.
In early 2004, a Spanish woman named Ana wanted to adopt a Nepalese child. Nepal was still in an armed conflict and she was told that many children were losing their parents. She arranged a meeting with a representative at the Consulate of Nepal in Spain to find out more information. Ana was given the contact information for an orphanage in Nepal and started the complex process necessary to adopt a child.
After about one year, the adoption became official and Ana, overcome with joy, traveled to the orphanage in Kathmandu to meet her new daughter and bring her home to Spain. The orphanage had arranged for Ana to adopt Sunitha, a six-year-old girl with a personality that enchanted Ana from the beginning. As months passed, Sunitha quickly learned Spanish and slowly began assimilating to Spanish culture. “Sunitha was becoming a Spaniard, but I also wanted her to be aware of her Nepalese heritage. I did not want Sunitha to forget her origins,” said Ana…
Many of the children in Nepal’s “orphanages” are there because traffickers (who are sometimes relatives) deceive parents in remote villages into allowing them to take their kids to “elite educational facilities” that are actually centers for child exploitation. In fewer instances, impoverished Nepalese parents make desperate decisions to take their children themselves to children’s homes under the assumption that they will at least have a chance at an education and a successful life. However, these parents do not think the homes’ managers would ever send their children overseas through adoption. They assume that children’s homes will care for their kids until they enter college and can work on their own.
According to The U.S. State Department website, the United States “continues to strongly recommend that prospective adoptive parents refrain from adopting children from Nepal due to grave concerns about the reliability of Nepal’s adoption system and credible reports that children have been stolen from birth parents, who did not intend to irrevocably relinquish parental rights as required by INA 101(b)(1)(F). We also strongly urge adoption service providers not to accept new applications for adoption from Nepal.” To read more about the US State Department’s guidelines on adoptions from Nepal click here.
Last year: Children left devastated by the earthquake in Nepal in 2015 were preyed upon by slave traders… Wealthy British families are buying children left devastated by last year’s earthquake in Nepal to work as domestic slaves. The children – who are as young as 10 – are being sold for as little as £5,250 (Rs 500,000, $7,468) by black market gangs operating in India’s Punjab region, according to an investigation by The Sun. I published about Nepal here.
In 2009 a Tennessee couple made a life-changing decision. As devout Christians, they decided to open their home to an orphaned girl from Ethiopia, whom they were told had been abandoned. They knew enough from fellow adoptive parents to expect that the process would be long and hard, but as they were waiting for their application to go through, something unexpected happened. A number of Ethiopian staff at their adoption agency were arrested for transporting children to a different region of the country where they could claim the children had been abandoned. (Following a glut of adoption cases where children were said to have been abandoned in the capital city of Addis Ababa, the court had temporarily stopped processing “abandonment adoptions” of children from the city, but were still allowing cases from elsewhere in the country.)
The stories about where the children came from—whether they were abandoned orphans whose parents were unknown, or their parents were poor and had willingly given them up—seemed to change from day to day. Concerned, but by now committed to the child they’d come to think of as their future daughter, the Tennessee family went ahead with the adoption. But, as I wrote in my book The Child Catchers, after they brought the girl back to the United States and she learned enough English to say so, she told them she had another mother. When they called the agency to demand an explanation, the child’s claim was confirmed: their newly adopted daughter was not an orphan.
On a personal level, the news was devastating. The family felt like they’d stolen someone’s child; wanting to find out the truth, they set off on a months-long, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to locate their daughter’s biological mother. But their story turned out to be just one of many: a single example of the numerous incidents of adoption corruption that, in the last several years, have helped changed the direction of a powerful adoption movement among U.S. evangelicals.
At the time of the Tennessee incident, adoption was a preeminent evangelical social cause in the United States. Beginning in the early 2000s, American evangelicals became one of the most powerful forces in international adoption, lining up devout believers to follow the biblical mandate that Christians care for “orphans and widows in their distress.” This call would become a movement that launched major conferences, spawned a small library of books on “adoption theology,” and changed the complexion of many conservative U.S. churches.
In 2007, national Christian leaders like celebrity pastor Rick Warren encouraged their followers to shift their focus from issues of “moral purity”—abortion, same-sex marriage, divorce—to something more positive: helping children in need. More than just “pro-life,” it would be a “whole life” response to the longstanding pro-choice challenge that Christians adopt all the children they wanted to be born. It would also be an extension of existing evangelical engagement with global development and health issues. Promoting adoption would help rebrand U.S. evangelicals, from moral scolds to children’s champions.
The premise of the movement was a particularly American response to global child poverty. It was based on the idea that the existence of somewhere between 143 and 210 million vulnerable children around the world—a number that also includes those who live with one parent or extended family, often in poor conditions—constituted an “orphan crisis,” but that there were also 2 billion Christians who could help. If just a fraction of those claiming to be Christians stepped up to adopt, the movement’s leaders argued, parentless and hungry children, as a category, would cease to exist. As one leader put it, the goal was to “get as many people in the church to adopt, and adopt as many kids as you can.”
Evangelicals responded in huge numbers. Churches began to create adoption ministries, praising and supporting adoptive parents and encouraging new families to adopt as well. Anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers redoubled their efforts to cast adoption as the pro-life alternative to abortion. Evangelical adoption funds popped up, giving grants or interest-free loans to couples hoping to adopt (particularly pastors, whose potential adoptions were viewed as a priority, since they could set the example for an entire congregation). In 2009, the Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest denomination in the United States, passed a resolution directing all members to consider whether God was calling on them to adopt. A coalition group, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, grew to encompass more than a hundred evangelical nonprofits and denominational groups united around “orphan care.” In 2010 Bethany Christian Services, the largest adoption agency in the country, reported a 26 percent jump in the number of adoptions, largely due to the mobilization of Christians newly interested in adopting.
The stories of how children were put up for adoption began to sound strangely similar, as though there was a global epidemic of children left, Moses-like, in baskets.
The same year, when Haiti was rocked by a devastating 7.0-level earthquake, the Christian adoption movement became a full-blown cause. The movement threw its weight behind efforts to expedite U.S. visas for unaccompanied Haitian children, so they could leave their country and enter waiting U.S. homes. So many prospective adoptive families inquired about Haitian “earthquake orphans” that Bethany Christian Services began diverting applicants to other countries like Ethiopia, which were then undergoing “adoption booms,” thanks to a combination of poverty and lax laws. (The crisis and subsequent response also gave birth to the most notable scandal in the young Christian adoption movement, when a group of Idaho Baptists traveled to Haiti to gather “orphans” off the streets, with the intention of bringing them to an as-yet-unbuilt adoption center in the Dominican Republic. None of the children, it would turn out, were orphans.)
But, just as in Haiti, many of the children being adopted from places like Ethiopia weren’t orphans either. As journalist E.J. Graff has extensively documented, the numbers cited for the orphan crisis are a significant misrepresentation of UNICEF estimates of vulnerable children. Although UNICEF representatives say that no accurate number exists for “true” orphans—that is, children with no parents and in need of a new home—the organization estimates that some 90 percent of so-called orphans have lost only one parent, and many of the remaining 10 percent live with extended family. What that means is that many children who live in orphanages in the developing world (often because of poverty or because their parents have no one to care for them while they work), as well as many children sent abroad for adoption, aren’t real orphans at all. And the crisis at hand isn’t so much an orphan crisis as a crisis of poverty, food insecurity, conflict, and a host of other, less sensational development issues that have rendered children especially vulnerable.
But in the Christian adoption movement’s rush to do good, those complexities were forgotten, along with the children’s families. The movement began to refer to adoption as a means of “redeeming orphans”—saving them just as Christians are redeemed when they are born again—and their families became either forgotten footnotes or ugly caricatures. Adoption agencies, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that referred mothers to these agencies, and Christian ministries often cast domestic “birth mothers” as either selfless martyrs or hopeless, promiscuous addicts—bad influences from whom children must be saved. In international adoptions, birth parents were more likely to be erased altogether, as adoption agencies sometimes wrongly claimed that they were dead or dying. Members of the Christian adoption community sometimes spoke of the children in developing nations as an indistinguishable mass, wherein any child of an impoverished parent was viewed as the equivalent of an “orphan” and was labeled as such. The stories of how children were put up for adoption began to sound strangely similar, as though there was a global epidemic of children left, Moses-like, in baskets by police stations, dumpsters, or fields.
The reality, of course, was more complicated. Many children were relinquished for adoption because of poverty alone. Some families who gave up their children for adoption later explained that they’d thought the child would return when they were older or that the adoptive family was becoming a sponsor of the birth family back home, and would help them transcend their circumstances. On rarer occasions, there were stories of how babies were simply bought or kidnapped.
Ethical problems in adoption didn’t start with this modern Christian movement. In the early days of U.S. domestic adoption, from 1854 to 1929, some 100,000–250,000 East Coast children were taken by workers at the Children’s Aid Society, an early child welfare organization. Children were taken from inner city slums, put on “orphan trains,” and shipped West to be adopted. Sometimes the adoptions took place as one might hope—a child legitimately welcomed into another family—and sometimes they were closer to a form of indentured servitude for the still-settling West. (Almost all followed the rationale of the orphan-train movement’s founding father, Charles Loring Brace. A nineteenth-century progressive social reformer who founded the Children’s Aid Society with support from philanthropists and businessmen, Brace argued that allowing children to grow up in their overcrowded Irish and Italian New York City homes would foster the development of a “dangerous class” of criminals, “growing up almost sure to be prostitutes and rogues!”)
Domestic adoption took on new life from the 1950s to the 1970s. This period saw the spread of maternity homes where millions of unwed pregnant women were sent to live in confinement and deliver their babies in secret—what many of these mothers now call the “Baby Scoop Era”—before relinquishing them to infertile couples. International adoptions gained popularity around the same time, effectively starting in South Korea. Biracial, “mail-order” Korean infants were removed to the United States by the thousands, sometimes to poorly vetted homes that were unprepared to parent children from another culture. (Many of the earliest international adoptive parents were conservative Christians who shared the beliefs of Harry and Bertha Holt, the Oregon couple who pioneered Korean adoptions and whose ad hoc adoption program became the basis for the longest-standing international adoption agency in the world, Holt International Children’s Services.) As domestic adoption declined after the legalization of abortion and the increased acceptance of single motherhood, international adoption expanded dramatically to a wide range of countries. A pattern began to play out in country after country: initial demand followed by an influx of corrupting Western cash and an endgame of coercion, fraud, and often, eventual closure or suspension of the country’s adoption program.
Although American adoption law is complicated and domestic regulations vary from state to state, much of the legal framework for adoption developed over the last fifty years has been tailored to the interests of adoptive parents. This is unsurprising, since those who adopt tend to be more powerful and richer than birth parents. Additionally, a system of tax incentives that subsidize individual adoptions, short windows for birth parents to revoke their consent, and sealed birth certificates that prevent adoptees from learning their biological history reinforce this divide in favor of the adoptive parents.
When the Christian adoption movement was at its strongest in the late 2000s and early 2010s, many of its excesses looked like a condensed version of earlier problems with adoption. As Christian adoptive parents lined up to help, paying $30,000–$40,000 per internationally adopted child (in fees that are divided among agency payments, travel, and orphanage donations), their demand helped create new adoption markets. This was particularly true in African nations, where the combination of poverty, opportunism, and cultural misunderstanding of the meaning of adoption—often construed as temporary guardianship rather than permanent relinquishment of a child—led to children repeatedly being offered, or in some cases taken, for adoption based on mistaken beliefs or outright profiteering. (In an infamous 2009 example documented by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a staff member for an American evangelical adoption agency was filmed leading what appeared to be a mass adoption recruitment effort, asking the assembled residents of a rural Ethiopian village whether they wanted their child “to go to America.”)
The movement built to such a pitch that even those within the evangelical community began to complain about miscarriages of scripture. “I have never understood some people’s interpretation of the scripture James 1:27, where it says, ‘Visit orphans and widows in their distress,’” said Keren Riley, a child welfare advocate and devout Christian who works in Uganda. “By some people’s actions involved in international adoption you would think it said, ‘Visit widows, take their orphans and leave them both in distress.’”
Around 2010, a new set of problems began to emerge. There was the proliferation of stories like that of the Tennessee family, where children said to be orphans turned out to have living family, who, in some cases, expected their return. In the United States, some adoptive families, caught up in the movement’s mission-based call to adopt “as many children as you can,” did so, ending up with super-sized families with sometimes tragic results. Some adoptive children were abused or even killed at the hands of their adoptive parents, like thirteen-year-old Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams, whose case I documented in 2013. A shocking number of stories emerged of children who had been sent away from their “forever families,” either to new, un-vetted adoptive homes, back to their countries of origin, or just cast out on the streets. [rehoming]
To David Smolin, a law professor at Cumberland School of Law, as well as a longtime Christian advocate for ethical adoption reform, these adoption horror stories collectively amounted to a tidal wave of bad publicity. The Christian adoption movement had expected good press and a secular pat on the back for having put their money where their mouth was. The response they received instead came as a shock.
But if the movement grew rapidly, so did its recognition of the systemic problems plaguing adoption. A number of critics emerged, often Christian adoptive families who had come to rethink the community’s unquestioning focus on adoption as a solution to broader issues of poverty and instability, and who challenged leaders to pay attention to their experiences. One couple, Caleb and Becca David, who adopted two Ethiopian children and ran short-term missionary trips for Christians to work with children in the country, told me that, as incredible as adoption was, “we’d be naïve to think that was the only answer… We feel like our eyes are being opened about the importance of holistic orphan care. Because ultimately, it’s not about us having our child.”
Additionally, generations of adoptees came of age and began to organize—starting organizations like Land of Gazillion Adoptees and Lost Daughters—where they discussed their own stories in ways that few adoption advocates could ignore. Other adoptee organizations in South Korea and Ethiopia began to work directly with poor or single parents, to help them avoid losing children to adoption. As these stories have begun to be heard in the last several years, the Christian adoption movement has undergone a sea change. A number of its most prominent advocates, including the leadership of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, have begun to focus on the forgotten half of the “widows and orphans” mandate—the existing families of those orphans.
There’s a practical reason for this shift as well. International adoption as a whole has contracted drastically, with the number of children entering the United States falling by two-thirds since the peak of international adoptions in 2004. Numerous nations slowed or shut down their adoption programs for a variety of reasons. China’s economic development, for example, led to increased domestic demand for adoptable children. Russia stopped sending its orphaned children to the United States for complicated political reasons. Still others, like Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia, reduced or stopped adoptions completely following corruption scandals involving children wrongly sent abroad.
As a result, scores of adoption agencies have gone out of business, and this summer, one of the most stalwart international adoption lobby organizations, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, closed shop as well. A 2013 bill drafted by adoption advocacy organizations and initially supported by Christian adoption leaders was designed to dramatically increase international adoptions—what many saw as a last-ditch effort to revive the failing industry—but it gained little support and ultimately failed. On the whole, says Smolin, the infrastructure for international adoption is crumbling. The boom of previous years has begun to look like just that: an unnatural increase that was never sustainable.
Part of the Christian adoption movement’s change in direction, notes Smolin, is simply a reflection of this new reality: it’s hard to continue forcefully advocating for international adoption when the supply has declined so much. “It’s not that [the Christian adoption movement has] admitted being wrong about international adoption,” he told me, “but they just don’t talk about it that much anymore.”
However, Smolin also sees a change of heart among Christian adoption advocates. Starting in 2014, the flagship coalition of the movement, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, began to back away from promoting international adoption at its annual conferences. Movement leaders invited Smolin to speak at their annual conferences as a critical voice from within, and the audience seemed increasingly sympathetic to his concerns. To Smolin, it seems like the movement has at last caught up with modern, secular discourse about child welfare: rather than make a messianic call for white U.S. evangelicals to save “Third World children,” the church has been wading into the thorny, technocratic issues that dominate international child policy debates. Today, he said, it is common at annual conferences to discuss whether orphanages are ever appropriate shelters for children, and how to support domestic fostering initiatives in developing nations. “It’s not the same movement that it was,” said Smolin.
Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, agrees that there’s been a significant shift in the movement’s emphasis. “I’d note a steady ‘maturing’ in understanding and priorities overall. I think there’s still a recognition that there are many children that do very much need families today (both in the U.S. foster context and globally), but also a counter-balancing desire to do all possible to preserve and reunify struggling families and to promote local adoption in developing countries.”
Some Christian adoptive parents who might once have been drawn to the movement have instead led the way in creating small, local organizations in developing nations designed to help broker local adoptions or foster care initiatives, removing the profit motive from the question of child stability. In Ethiopia, for example, one such group has worked to establish daycare centers for the children of working mothers, so that a woman isn’t forced to place a child in an orphanage in order to provide for the rest of her family.
Reunite has to date helped place thirty-five children back with their Ugandan parents or other relatives.
In Uganda, a nonprofit run by Keren Riley, Reunite, helps support and resettle children wrongly placed in orphanages or offered for international adoption with their biological families (often after prospective adoptive families begin to suspect something is wrong and contact Reunite to investigate). Though a small organization funded primarily by donations, Reunite has to date helped place thirty-five children back with their Ugandan parents or other relatives.
These attempts are still small, and don’t yet have the same momentum or finances that the massive effort to promote adoption once did. But on an ideological level, it amounts to a major shift in thinking. Over the course of a few short years, the Christian adoption movement grew to reenact some of the most significant and troubling problems within the adoption industry: its propensity to disregard or demonize birth families, to minimize the significance of adopted children’s heritage, and to participate in a system that too often needlessly separates families for profit. But many of these advocates have begun to recognize those problems and are now trying to make them right. And larger organizations like Lumos, a nonprofit founded by author J.K. Rowling to combat unnecessary institutionalization of children in orphanages, have bolstered the call.
The changes in the U.S. movement haven’t completely solved the problems in adoption. Riley said the pace of adoptions in Uganda hasn’t changed, and most of the adoptive parents she meets are still U.S. Christians. And, as I’ve reported elsewhere, some of the old problems of international adoption have been replicated among vulnerable immigrant communities within the United States. Additionally, for the many thousands of children adopted during the height of the American international adoption boom—whether secular or religious—the decades ahead are likely to bring more questions, and possibly years of searching for the families they left behind.
Some Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents and put into institutions were used to test medical treatments, a Senate inquiry has been told.
Greens senator Bob Brown said he was “shocked and alarmed” by the allegations, heard by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee’s inquiry into a Stolen Generation Compensation Bill 2008.
On the first day of hearings in Darwin, Kathleen Mills from the Stolen Generations Alliance said the public did not know the full extent of what happened to some children. And efforts to obtain records that support the claims, such as that children were injected with serums to gauge their reaction to the medication, had been hampered, she said.
“These are the things that have not been spoken about,” Ms Mills told the inquiry.” As well as being taken away, they were used … there are a lot of things that Australia does not know about.”
Outside the inquiry, Ms Mills said her uncle had been a medical orderly at the Kahlin Compound in Darwin. She said he told her that children were used as “guinea pigs” for leprosy treatments.” He said it made our people very, very ill … the treatment almost killed them,” she said. “It was a common experience and a common practice … “People are very inhibited to speak about their experience and it is not a nice subject … I don’t want them to be shamed.”
Senator Brown said it was important to get to the bottom of the claims, which he called “very, very serious”.
“It may be right, it may not,” he said. “It needs investigation. If within the indigenous community there is a feeling that children may have been experimented upon for a treatment for leprosy or anything else, the air needs to be cleared.”
Ms Mills said information to do with the testing would be in health department archives and she called on the government to assist “opening Pandora’s box”.
She also said it was important to work with indigenous groups to ascertain who is eligible for compensation.”It has to happen … but there’s this reluctance to do it,” she said. “We don’t have the necessary information … it’s probably tucked away in some archive but we don’t have the resources to research, we don’t have the people who are qualified.
“Senator Brown said there was a national responsibility to help Aboriginal people to get to all the records, including those being held by church institutions.”
This is about their identity, this about their sense of being, their history,” he said.
The compensation bill aims to pay money to victims of the stolen generations, including living descendants, out of a Stolen Generations Fund.
Ex gratia payments would be set at $20,000 as a common experience payment with an additional $3,000 for each year of institutionalisation.
Rodney Dillon, from the National Sorry Day Committee, said that while the government debated action more Aboriginal elders entitled to some form of compensation were dying. “We are going to lose a lot of people between now and the next time this bill is put on the table,” he said. “Although it does not have all the things in it we would like, I think we should push ahead.”
Zita Wallace, chairperson of the Stolen Generations Alliance, said it was time to act “with urgency”.
“Because I know we are dying and all of us elders from the first generation we will be all gone … maybe the government would wish that would happen, then they would not have to pay compensation.”
(ca. 1900)* – The Los Angeles Orphanage at 917 South Boyle Avenue, southwest corner of Boyle Avenue at Stephenson Avenue (now Whittier Boulevard) in Boyle Heights. The orphanage is a five-story, brick, L-shaped building with dormer windows on the facade and a tower at the entrance that is flanked by newly-planted date palm trees. Steps lead to an arched entryway at the bottom of the tower. Several chimneys sit atop the roof.
The girl’s orphange and school was established in 1856 by six Sisters of Charity nuns from Emmitsburg, Maryland, the motherhouse in the United States. They selected a house with vineyard and orchard belonging to B. D. Wilson for $8,000. This gave the orphanage an income from wine grapes and a supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. The 917 South Boyle Avenue site opened in 1890 on twelve acres and remained open until it was condemned in 1953 and the orphanage moved to Rosemead.*
For over sixty years the facility served thousands of orphaned children in Los Angeles. Concerns over structural integrity came about in the early 1930s when construction crews blasting the hillside next to the asylum for the extension of Sixth Street weakened the massive structure’s foundations. While the building was used for classes during the day, children and staff slept at the basement at St. Vincent’s Hospital in the evenings.
The damage to the building, as well as the notorious freeway construction projects that controversially carved through much of Boyle Heights, led the Daughters to abandon the site and move the facility to Rosemead in the San Gabriel Valley. From 1953, the facility has operated as Maryvale, but has been reconfigured as a residential home for girls from ages six to seventeen. There are also adjunct facilities in El Monte and Duarte.
Professor David Divine who is pursuing doctoral studies at Durham University on the resilience of young people in a care setting, shares excerpts from his recent book,Aberlour Narratives of Success. While orphanages are usually portrayed grimly in popular media, David found through his ethnographic research, including interviews with former residents and staff at the Aberlour Orphanage, along with his own childhood experience there, that personal sense of resilience and community within these institutions allow young people to eventually lead successful lives as adults.
In the second of a series of posts on the subject of personal resilience, David shares the story of a former resident of Aberlour Orphanage, including verbatim extracts from interview.
Billy P. was born in a slum in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1933. His mother had died in childbirth in 1936 when Billy was three years old. Billy’s father, who was a merchant seaman, had custody of him and his elder brother who was two years older. Billy recalls that in 1938, around the time of the Great Depression, when his father was unemployed, being told by a ‘matronly lady in a grey uniform’, that he and his brother ‘were going on a day trip into the Highlands’. The ‘matronly lady in the grey uniform’ took the boys on a train from Glasgow to Aberlour railway station, about half a mile or so from the Orphanage buildings:
We didn’t know we were going to an Orphanage. We were just told that we were going on a day trip to the Highlands. Papers I’ve seen since tell me that in fact what happened was that (our father) handed us over to the Orphanage in the hope that he might be able to retrieve us at some unspecified future date, but in fact he never did. That was the last we ever heard of him, so he just disappeared from our lives. Never had a Christmas card, never a birthday card, absolutely no contact whatever and I’ve not heard to this day, any information or advice about what happened to him. I wasn’t aware then and I’m still not aware now of any other family members, any uncles or aunts or cousins or anything. We were completely on our own.
But there were many boys who if it was possible, were in an even worse situation. They had been dumped on the doorsteps of the Orphanage by whoever had taken care of them, and some of them didn’t even have names. And the Orphanage made up names until they established their identity. There was a space at the Orphanage at that time for very young children under five years of age, called the ‘Nursery’. There were always, for the twelve years I was there, there were never fewer than twelve infants there. That’s children from a few weeks old to about five. They were then separated and put into houses, either a girl’s house or a boy’s house. The children had absolutely no contact with any parent.
The only time Billy was placed together with his brother was for the first few days after arrival at the Orphanage, in the infirmary. Thereafter, Billy and his brother lived in separate boys’ houses as children were placed in different houses at the Orphanage according to age and gender. Girls had their own section in the Orphanage. During Billy’s time at the Orphanage:
Boys were split into the wee kids who were five to seven-year olds. And then there was a Mitchell Wing and then there was a Mount Stephen Wing, named after a Canadian philanthropist, Lord Mount Stephen. And then we were split up, again, at the age of 11, into two houses for the big boys, Jupp’s and Gordon’s, and they were from 11 to 14 which was the leaving age, and then in 1945, 11 to 15. In 1945 after the War they changed the school-leaving age to 15. And then in exceptional cases and I was one of them, we stayed on until we were 17, and that was only a handful of boys who did that.
Occasionally you stayed together with pals of the same age as you progressed through the houses. Billy spent ten years living in the company of a number of friends:
We slept in the same dormitory, we were in the same class in school, we played football and cricket, we went swimming together. My brother was two and a half years older than me so he was always one house ahead of me, throughout my whole time at the Orphanage. And then because he left school when he was 14, by the time I was in one of the senior houses he was gone, he was working on a farm.
Other memories of the Orphanage include the schooling. The school building separated the boy’s wing from the girl’s wing and the classroom was the only setting where a boy could sit next to a girl.
But as soon as the school bell rang, four o’clock, end of school, they went back to the quine’s (girls) wing and we went back to the boy’s wing, and we didn’t see each other. I have pleasant, even fond memories of nearly all the teachers, which I don’t have of the domestic staff, the Housemistresses and Housemasters, some of whom were quite unfitting for the responsibility of small children.
Some were ‘floggers’ says Billy and one teacher in particular:
…was a notorious flogger. Corporal punishment was common both in the home and at school. As a boy I copped it a few times. You had to hold your hands out, both hands, palm upwards, and then he lashed you across the palm, and it might be three or four, you know, if it was perceived as a serious misdemeanour and you’d have these welts across your hand and up your wrist…red and then it would turn blue and you could date the punishment from the colour of the stripe on your wrist. We just accepted it I suppose. It was part of our upbringing. Sometimes a cane would be used.
Applying the standards of today, you could say that it was fairly harsh just having the corporal punishment and the segregation. But by the standards of the time, the 1930’s, it was quite good.
On leaving at seventeen years of age, the Orphanage found Billy a job with its’ own auditors, based in London, because Billy was good at figures and with words. In fact, Billy was the first Aberlour Orphanage boy who graduated from Aberlour Village High School with the Scottish Highland Leaving Certificate. Billy was kitted out with two suits and shirts and other clothing and was provided with a suitcase and boarded the train at Aberlour on his way to London, on his own. A hostel had been arranged for him to stay on arrival. Shortly afterwards Billy had to do his National Service for two years and then did a number of temporary jobs on discharge, and then by chance discovered an advertisement in the Edinburgh Evening News for experienced clerks in Australia for the Victoria Railways. He applied and got one of the jobs and went to Australia in 1956 by sea in a six-week voyage, at the age of 23. Over the next ten years Billy did a number of other jobs around Australia and discovered by chance again, an advertisement for a journalist which Billy again managed to get and from there went to Reuters News Agency, and then decided to undertake a law degree at 35 years of age and reached the top-tier of the legal profession, retiring in his seventies as a salaried Crown Prosecutor.
Billy believes that Aberlour Orphanage gave him the chance to be educated:
I look back and I think if I hadn’t had a good education, if they hadn’t sent me to the High School, if I didn’t have a Scottish Highland Leaving Certificate, then I could not have achieved what I have in my life. I’ve worked long enough. It is time to retire and relax now.
I have owned this book for over 15 years. I was in adoption reform for 13 years and assisted in writing legislation to improve adoptee rights.
Nile’s book was one of the most concise, accurate and informative books I found in those 13 years. Many times I needed the background of the maternity home or orphanage. This was an almost impossible task. Adoption Agencies provided a wealth of information about themselves, but little about the maternity home the birthmothers stayed in.
It is imperative to an adoptee to know something about the surroundings of their mother during her pregnancy. This is the only time the two shared, and it is the only link they have when they start to question their heritage. Understanding how a maternity home was run gives them insight to the mindframe of their mother.
The most outstanding thing about this book as that adoption researchers find that it lists homes that were almost unheard of. Some of these homes were private and there are even actual names of mothers who placed their children for adoption.
When I got the book it was already out of print and I had to order it from Mr. Niles himself. It was one of the most meaningful books I bought in my career of adoption reform.
Anyone interested in adoption history and orphanages will find it well worth the trouble and time.
*********Note: If I had my hands on this book, I’d scan it for you all to read! …Laramie