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The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption [Hardcover]

Kathryn Joyce
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Book Description

21 Mar 2013
When Jessie Hawkins' adopted daughter told her she had another mom back in Ethiopia, Jessie didn't, at first, know what to think. She'd wanted her adoption to be great story about a child who needed a home and got one, and a family led by God to adopt. Instead, she felt like she'd done something wrong. Adoption has long been enmeshed in the politics of reproductive rights, pitched as a "win-win" compromise in the never-ending abortion debate. But as Kathryn Joyce makes clear in The Child Catchers, adoption has lately become even more entangled in the conservative Christian agenda. To tens of millions of evangelicals, adoption is a new front in the culture wars: a test of "pro-life" bona fides, a way for born again Christians to reinvent compassionate conservatism on the global stage, and a means to fulfill the "Great Commission" mandate to evangelize the nations. Influential leaders fervently promote a new "orphan theology," urging followers to adopt en masse, with little thought for the families these "orphans" may already have. Conservative evangelicals control much of that industry through an infrastructure of adoption agencies, ministries, political lobbying groups, and publicly-supported "crisis pregnancy centers," which convince women not just to "choose life," but to choose adoption. Overseas, conservative Christians preside over a spiraling boom-bust adoption market in countries where people are poor and regulations weak, and where hefty adoption fees provide lots of incentive to increase the "supply" of adoptable children, recruiting "orphans" from intact but vulnerable families. The Child Catchers is a shocking expose of what the adoption industry has become and how it got there, told through deep investigative reporting and the heartbreaking stories of individuals who became collateral damage in a market driven by profit and, now, pulpit command. Anyone who seeks to adopt-of whatever faith or no faith, and however well-meaning-is affected by the evangelical adoption movement, whether they know it or not. The movement has shaped the way we think about adoption, the language we use to discuss it, the places we seek to adopt from, and the policies and laws that govern the process. In The Child Catchers, Kathryn Joyce reveals with great sensitivity and empathy why, if we truly care for children, we need to see more clearly.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs,U.S.; 1 edition (21 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586489429
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586489427
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 529,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Erin Siegal, author of Finding Fernanda"The Child Catchers shatters conceptions about how and why Americans adopt, bringing us inside the often-misunderstood Christian adoption movement. Joyce's graceful prose deftly exposes the connections between adoption trade groups, the religious right, and U.S. policy makers, while delicately revealing a horrific series of ongoing crimes and misdeeds perpetrated against children. A timely, important book." Debbie Nathan, journalist, co-author of Satan's Silence; author of Women and Other Aliens, Pornography, and Sybil Exposed"In this chilling expose that promises to become a muckraker classic, Kathryn Joyce rips the veil off a sacrosanct institution in America and other rich nations: international adoption. She exposes not just black- and grey-market practices-though she finds plenty of both in evangelical-Christian institutions piously claiming to rescue orphans from poor countries. More profoundly, though, Joyce reveals how secular, squeaky-clean adoption can also do harm, not just to individual birth mothers and adoptees, but to the progress of children's and women's rights globally. The Child Catchers is essential reading for adoptive parents, those thinking about adopting, and anyone concerned with democracy-nationally and throughout the world." Kirkus Reviews"Joyce broadens the understanding of adoption's conundrums, not only within the United States, but also internationally, with deep investigations of children from Liberia, Ethiopia, Korea, Rwanda, Haiti and China...Groundbreaking investigative and explanatory reporting." Anthea Butler, University of Pennsylvania"Kathryn Joyce's book The Child Catchers is a compelling, meticulously researched, and insightful dissection of Conservative Christians and their participation in the international adoption complex. Joyce unmasks this new fertile 'mission field' of children, defined by a labyrinth of adoption agencies, organizations, and activists. By unmasking the truth behind many of these 'adoptions' of children with loving but impoverished families, Joyce gives voice to the children hurt by this neo-colonial Christian mission. The Child Catchers is an important must-read in order to understand the business of adoption, and the pain that can befall the child's biological family, the child and, at times, the adoptive family." Jeff Sharlet, bestselling author of The Family and C Street"The Child Catchers takes us for a fast and frightening ride down a road to hell that's paved with 'good intentions,' yes, but also with willful ignorance and worse, outright deception. Joyce's story-that of a new, religiously driven 'baby scoop' that amounts to a massive redistribution of children from the poor to the affluent-requires no sensationalism. The facts, presented here with care and fair-mindedness, are terrifying enough. And Joyce's analysis, calm and powerfully perceptive, is devastating. May this book stand as a landmark work of investigative journalism." Jessica Valenti, founder of and author of Purity Myth and Why Have Kids"Kathryn Joyce's investigation into the rise of the Christian adoption movement is both fascinating and disturbing. In chronicling this mission to 'save' children from their home countries and perceived hardships, Joyce moves beyond the feel-good headlines to reveal a truth that most American media seems to have missed. The Child Catchers fills an important gap in the national conversation not just about adoption-but about imperialism and feminism as well." Kirkus, STARRED"Groundbreaking investigative and explanatory reporting" Boston Globe"Razor-sharp" Library Journal"This intricate investigation of adoption ethics and religion is an incisive, evenhanded corrective to the view of child adoption as benign and salvific...Grim but now downbeat, Joyce's reporting also indicates signs of hope for reform...This exemplary study deserves a wide audience among all readers involved with adoption, from policymakers to prospective adoptive families."

About the Author

Kathryn Joyce was chosen as Americans United 2014 "Person of the Year." Joyce is a journalist based in New York City whose work has appeared in the Nation, Mother Jones, Slate, the Atlantic, and other publications. A 2011 recipient of the Knight Luce Fellowship for Reporting on Global Religion, she has also been awarded residencies and fellowship support by the Nation Institute Investigative Fund, the MacDowell Colony, the Bellagio Center, and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. She is the author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement and as associate editor at Religion Dispatches.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important voice on a very immotive topic. 23 April 2013
The release of Kathryn Joyce's excellent book couldn't be better timed. Using James 1:27, "Visit Widows and Orphans", as a spiritual mandate the US adoption movement seems to have a one-way ticket to `orphan saviour heaven' but routinely ignore the real issues and unethical, even criminal, practices of the orphan care movement. Kathryn, through excellent investigative journalism and eyewitness accounts, has managed to capture perfectly what is really going on and exposes where the whole `orphan care' movement is going wrong.

Countries like Uganda, with developing child protection systems, are purposely being targeted by unethical agencies and adoption `middlemen' in order to ensure there is a ready supply of children to meet the demand being generated from Pulpits across the US. I see it everyday. US adoption agencies are establishing and funding orphanages in order to control the demand. This is completely contrary to the Children's Act of Uganda and is making domestic welfare reforms for children without parental care eminently more difficult than they need to be.

The great irony is that adoption agencies promote orphanages as 'bad places' for children (which we agree they are) and yet they have a co-dependency relationship with orphanages which results in more children ending up in orphanages. In Uganda we have many orphanages funded and being established by adoption agencies which are now recruiting children - many of whom won't be adopted thus leaving, between them, 1000's of children in institutional care. Adoption agencies *need* orphanages in order to peddle their own message and promotion of International Adoption. Interestingly when International Adoption programmes close the number of orphanages being established decreases. Kathryn manages to communicate these paradoxes eloquently with sound research and facts.

Full review and interview with the author here...

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123 of 150 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much Needed 23 April 2013
By Mom20 - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am one of those right-wing, Evangelical Christians that the author seems to not care this may be interesting! I am mom to biological sons and often thought about adopting a daughter from China. I started to research and found out a lot of information about children being kidnapped from their parents in China and was SO disturbed because I had NO idea that this was going on. I don't think most Americans understand that when you pay to adopt of a child in a 3rd world country that you are inadvertently, supporting child trafficking. Whenever a lot of money is involved and there is a demand, regardless of what the demand is for...corruption always comes....and the end does not justify the means. As a Compassion International sponsor to children in Ethiopia, I started to research adoption in Ethiopia, as well as, the orphan crisis and street children there. I went with Compassion Int to Ethiopia to meet my sponsor kids and also met boys at an orphanage. I became a mom to 4 boys at an orphanage. I have been back several times to visit them. I am their mother in every sense except that I am not physically with them all of the time. As I learned more about adoption and met more and more people that had adopted.........I was SHOCKED...the first adoptive parent sitting on my couch in my house said.........."when, I met her mother." When you met her mother?? She has a mother?? YES, but she is very poor and cannot take care of her. spent 30,000 to take her away from her mother instead of helping the mother keep her own child? I thought it was an isolated incident but I heard it OVER and OVER again! As a Christian, I cannot believe that my fellow Christians do not have a HUGE problem with this. If I were poor and someone from.....let's say Spain....showed up and said they would take my children, give them a great education, and a nice home.....would that be okay? Would Americans be okay with that? wouldn't be OK! It would be CRUEL. As I have gotten more involved with orphan ministry, I have met many self-righteous Christians on a mission and they do NOT want to be bothered with the facts. I have also met many who have been lied to about their children ages, parents being alive etc. Have met many that were not warned that older boys may come into the home and molest younger children even though it has happened OVER and OVER or that older children may not cope well with the cultural changes. How can we as Americans be SO think that we can just a pluck a kid out of his homeland, culture, smells, sights, sounds...and they NOT have major issues? I have had many that aren't going to adopt your Ethiopian boys? I say NO...they say WHY and I say because Ethiopia is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture and people. I am already seeing amazing things happen with the older boys who have had American sponsors. Some are in medical school, some had tutors and sponsors that paid for private school and are now studying to be Engineers, nurses etc...I can help my boys break the cycle of poverty and grow up to change their own country. Compassion Int has really done an amazing job of this, as well. Uganda has its first female in Parliament...a former Compassion child!! But having said that I know older children that are true orphans that have been adopted into the US and are doing great. They have had the opportunity to go back and visit their homeland. I come to this opinion also as having a sister that my mom gave up for adoption in 1962. I believe that my mom did the right thing in giving her up for adoption. My mom was 15 and her parents were not mentally stable. sister never felt that she belonged with her biological family. She looks like my mom, they have the same mannerisms. My sister has such a sense of loss. I am THANKFUL that abortion was illegal then or my sister would not have been born. BUT, I see how hard it was for her living with an adopted family that she was nothing like....and that was with people in the same country! It is hard for me to believe that my fellow Christians can look at UNICEF's view that international adoption should be the last resort and think that is wrong. It should be the last resort. Keeping families together should be the FIRST priority. The Jesus that I know and LOVE would never tell me to take a child from a poor mother. He would tell me to help her raise her own children. HOWEVER, I have met TONS of Christians in this process who do get it and they want to help families keep their children. I have met amazing adoptive families and I do believe sometimes international adoption is best when ALL OTHER avenues have been exhausted. Your book seems to paint us as religious zealots who are trying to save little souls from burning in hell! Ethiopians could teach American Christians about faith, justice, mercy, goodness......they don't need me trying to save them from hell. They just need me.....who has been blessed financially and...YES..I do believe it is God's come in along side them and invest in education, health they can break the cycle of poverty and keep their own children! I believe in partnering with the local church and helping them to help their own people. I don't help them to "save" their souls. I help them because NO child should have to live in poverty without HOPE....especially with the ENORMOUS wealth held in some countries. I help them because as a Christian I believe that is what God tells us to do. I don't do it for recognition or needing to do "good works" but out of abundance of what God has done for me and I believe that is why MOST Christians do it! It is a complicated problem and like Rick Warren, I am learning as I go.........but God says....GO!
90 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opening look at the adoption industry 18 April 2013
By Janet - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I found out about this book in a rather roundabout way. I followed a blog written by couple who had adopted several Chinese daughters. A few months after bringing their newest daughter to the US, the posts started mentioning that she wasn't fitting in and that the family was becoming convinced that they had not been chosen by God to make this girl a part of their family, but instead as a tool to bring her to the country so she could find her "real" home. It was in the comments to these posts that I first learned about adoption disruption. In researching it, I found out about this book and pre-ordered it.

The stories Joyce describes have really shown me a part of international and domestic adoption that I had not thought about before. I honestly believed the hype about hundreds of millions of orphans waiting desperately to find homes. I appreciate that the author interviewed people who adopted with this same understanding and were mortified when they learned that their new sons and daughters had had homes and family, and that the terms "orphan" and "adoption" can have much different meanings in different cultures. I think Joyce recognizes that so many of these people truly want to do the right thing, but are caught in a system that is exploiting the adoptive parents as much as the children.

Of particular interest was the profiling of groups that actively fight programs which would help families stay together, under the belief that children deserve not just a family but the right kind of American family.

There is so much information in this book, and so many issues that it has inspired me to look and think more deeply into. I highly recommend this book for anyone considering adoption or interested in child welfare.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, fascinating 5 Oct 2013
By Anna Karenina - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an incredibly eye-opening book about all that's wrong with international adoption. The main argument of the book is that western demand for children, and/or for a heroic Christian adoption experience, has a distorting effect on the number of "orphans" available for adoption in developing countries. If you build it, they will come--that is, orphanages attract desperately poor parents to drop off their kids. Highly paid adoption workers get parents to relinquish kids, without their fully understanding that adoption is permanent. What is needed is often not adoption but assistance to whole families. In other places, the problem is not so much poverty but the stigma attached to single motherhood. That's it in a tiny nutshell--there is a massive amount of information in this book, and it's not easily summarized.

This is all extremely compelling. The book is very thoroughly researched and clearly written. The one thing I can't say for it is that it is balanced. We don't get stories of needed and successful adoption to balance the stories of unneeded and corrupt adoption. So basically the reader is forced to read another book. Perhaps that's OK, though. By writing a polemic, Joyce forces us to completely rethink the ethics of adoption, instead of reaching a bland "sometimes good, sometimes bad" conclusion.

As for all the negative reviews--Joyce steps on a lot of toes in this book. Read it for yourself and ignore the outrage. It will change your whole outlook on international adoption if you started out (like me) thinking it must be mostly humanitarian and necessary.
270 of 352 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to cheer for this book, but the author lacks integrity, lumping together unethical adoption groups with legitimate ones 1 May 2013
By dinglefest - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
First, let me offer four disclosures:
(1) I am a Christian.
(2) I am an adoptive mom.
(3) My Christian faith is part of why my husband and I chose to adopt.
(4) My Christian faith is also why I scrutinized the ethics of adoption in deciding our agency (only willing to work with non-profits with a track record of reunification for children with their family of origin whenever possible instead of pursuing adoption as a first path) and country (researching the diligence - or lack thereof - of officials in the country in documenting the circumstances of a child's availability for adoption).

The author fails to understand that my last two disclaimers can co-exist. While I am all for ethical adoption reform when needed and for shining light on places where it isn't present, this book groups shady and foolish traffickers (who ought to be called out, as they justify their lack of ethics as being God's will. ugh.) with legitimate Christian organizations who promote adoption and orphan care.

Imagine if someone wrote a book about Kermit Gosnell's clinic and compared all other abortion clinics with it? That wouldn't be fair. Well, that's what Joyce has done with extreme Christian adoption horror stories here.

Even the two of the best individuals, in Joyce's stated opinions, are either - in the case of Tom Benz - woefully naive and still wrong-minded (she writes that he's "not one of the bad guys in this book" but then says that his naivete is even more dangerous) or - in the case of Elizabeth Styffe - a rare exception who is unable to influence other people she works with. (For the record, I agree about Benz's naivete.) One other couple - the Jenkins - is portrayed favorably; however, they are described as "conservative" and "fussy" and unenlightened at first and later as relaxed and respectful. In this - and many other examples - Joyce sets up dichotomies that place "conservative" (or "evangelical" or "Christian" or "adoptive parent") on the bad side of the spectrum and her views on the good side.

Furthermore, as she describes heinous practices implemented by people who claim to be Christians doing God's will (ugh. they aren't, as their actions - reprehensible at worst and ill-advised at best - are deceitful and dishonest and otherwise inconsistent with the Bible), she groups others with them. After describing at length a terrible practice, for example, she follows up with a one-to-three sentence supporting anecdote about another visible Christian in the adoption community. To most readers, that would seem legit. To me, though, I personally know three of the visible Christians she mentions: one who she identifies by name, one who she identifies by the family's blog name, and one who she doesn't identify even though she quotes directly from the woman's blog twice, both times using the woman's adopted child's name. Somehow, it's exploitative for adoption groups to disclose information about children who might be available for adoption (which I agree is exploitative in many practices), but it's not exploitative to do the same for children who were adopted? Also, it's worth noting that the adopted child who is named was a double orphan - that is, both her mother and father were dead and documentation clearly supported that fact. I know this because I've done more than just taking quotes from that blog out of context. Joyce could have done a bit more research and found out that the adoptive child she identifies by name was not party to the other despicable actions she details. (I have confirmed that the blog writer was never contacted by the author or approached about her consent to be included in the book. Additionally, I'd like to point out that while Joyce quotes from the blog in question twice, she never gives credit to the blogger by name or cites where the quote came from, which prevents readers from being able to fact check and find out that she took the quotes out of context. Honestly, I was worried that I'd find my blog quoted somewhere in this book... but thankfully it's obscure enough that I escaped being misrepresented by Joyce.)

Knowing the information I've shared in the previous paragraph, I doubt the integrity and journalistic credibility of the author in general, calling into question other stories she tells without citations.

This is unfortunate, because I agree with the author on many points. I, too, am concerned about Christians using "it's God's will" or other dismissive statements to justify actions that clearly aren't God's will. I want people of all faiths, including my own, to be more invested in orphan care, seeking for families to remain intact instead of resorting to adoption as Plan A. I despise child trafficking and coercion of parents, including the practice of calling a pregnant mother a "birthmother," as if the adoption is a sure thing and implying that she is not allowed to change her mind, despite being the one who is carrying the child. I worry that many Christian circles romanticize adoption, leading to adoptive parents failing to do research or be adequately prepared as they consider adoption.

Other than my local church, the three ministries we financially support are a family sponsorship program (in which we financially provide for a family in Guatemala each month, allowing the family to stay intact so adoption isn't necessary) and a crisis pregnancy center in Taiwan that operates a food bank and child care center to support single women so that adoption isn't their only option and a ministry in Uganda that serves orphaned children who are on the streets and who will never be eligible for international adoption because they lack the documentation or family history necessary to classify them as orphans by the international criteria. In other words, I put my money where my mouth is - not just advocating for adoption but giving resources to prevent adoption from being a necessary outcome. As a Christian, I have many friends who are also Christians; I'm not an outlier among them. I cringe too when people say things like they were always meant to be their adoptive child's parent; no, while I love my daughter who was adopted, an ideal world would be one in which she was able to stay in her original family without death and disease and other tragedies rendering that impossible. While I do know and have heard of extreme examples like those Joyce uses, they aren't the norm among evangelical Christians in the adoption/orphan care arena.

One of the reasons I'm so saddened by this book is that Joyce does make some astute observations about pitfalls and naive spots in adoption practices and language choices of evangelicals. If only Joyce could have stayed in that place instead of painting all Christians as explicitly or implicitly involved in trafficking at worst and stupidity at best and coercion somewhere in between. I share some concerns with her and founds myself nodding in agreement as I read one page and then frustrated at sloppy journalism and dishonest portrayals on the next page. I am glad I read it, but I can't recommend it to anyone due to the author's glaring lack of integrity or credibility. I think there's a place for a critical discussion of how the evangelical adoption movement can be improved; this book, however, is so polarizing that it sadly won't be the discussion starter I hoped it would be.

In the real world, it's possible to be BOTH a Christian AND an advocate for holistic and ethical approaches to the kinds of crises that can result in adoption (but don't have to). Actually, it's more than merely possible - it's common too. The only place it's uncommon is in the pages of Joyce's book, which are far from the real world I know.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, troubling and thorough 10 Oct 2013
By Alex King - Published on
f you have thought about adopting a child, you owe it to yourself to read this book. If you have adopted a child, particularly in an international adoption, all the more so. Please note that I'm not suggesting you will enjoy the ride, as the author deftly sucks you into a whirlwind of corruption committed in the name of rescuing orphans.

You may find yourself trying to argue with the book's conclusions, with the excuse that these are only the horror stories, that most adoptions turn out well, and that the adoptive parents intended to do something good. Most of the time that's true, but ends don't justify means. By describing the worst cases of children caught in a system that disregards their rights, 'The Child Catchers' devastates the rationalization that adoption saves orphans. Taking children from families in developing countries is tragically common; it's at best an inefficient method to make them better off, and at worst child trafficking driven by the profit motive.

This book will not be prescribed as a sleep aid to adoptive parents. It may cause nagging thoughts about whether what you were told about your child's origin is true enough. After reading, you may ask yourself how to live with the ambiguity of never knowing for certain. Perhaps you'll do what I did: initiate an(other) inquiry to find out what happened to the child you love so much, before the adoption.

Knowing the scale and scope of deceptions practiced against first families in developing countries, as well as adoptive families with the best intentions, may trouble the reader. As it should. There are troubling patterns repeated in the business of international adoptions, and Kathryn Joyce has documented them thoroughly. This book bothered me. Strongly recommended
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