Is adoption a good thing? One would automatically answer a resounding ‘YES!’ Finding children a secure ‘forever family’ in a loving home – What’s not to love?
I recently attended a screening of the film ‘Mercy Mercy: A true portrait of adoption’ made by Katrine Rijs Kjær and organised by Dr Perlita Harris *Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Goldsmiths University, see below for recent publication and founder of the group TTAG where I met her many years ago www.ttag.org.uk . I knew the screening would challenge my perceptions, as I am a transracial adoptee from Nigeria.
After the 90-minute film Perlita had organised a high caliber panel of specialists to discuss the film before opening it to the floor, including Lemn Sissay (writer/poet who was transracially fostered).
I was transfixed the moment I entered the intimate South London cinema at Goldsmiths University knowing that I was going to have my adoption perspectives altered. *Watch out for future events at Goldsmiths University if you are adopted or work as a social worker.
Mercy Mercy tells the story of a child who is adopted from Ethiopia to a family in Denmark.
Here is a section the viewing of the World Premier in 2013.
I sat in the theatre popcorn-less but hungry with anticipation as the titles ran I’m instantly greeted by a real-time and real life documentary that began with a story I could relate to. Beautiful African sounds, colours and landscapes flashed resplendently across the movie screen in full HD as we are presented with an instant dilemma, a loving but poor Ethiopian family are persuaded to give up 2 out of 5 of their happy children for adoption on medical advice as the woman is told that she is dying by her local practitioner, heart-wrenching but logical. Instantly the vivid African colours and joyful textures fade as the filmmaker follows a blackening set of events, commencing with what I can only describe as a ‘bungled back street adoption’ of 2 beautiful and singing African children about to be callously ripped from their family. The trashy ‘no-frills’ adoption organisation involved are money driven, casual and misanthropic, treating the children at best as one who is removing unwanted cats.
The Danish family about to adopt the children are full of self-important glee and do not seem to care about the tears and pain of the natural parents who they meet, cordially lie to and enjoy the gaining of the desired produce. They hastily grab and dash their instant children to their now complete perfect family home abroad, disregarding the grief stricken natural parents any time for even a compassionate goodbye. Just before the Danish parents get on the plane we view an apocalyptic version of ‘the last supper’ as they celebrate with the ‘trash adoption organisation’ who supplied their lust for an instant-just-add-cash-family the completion of their transaction. Where is this real life story going? And how will it end? I fearfully ponder ten minutes in.
Arrival in Denmark in 2013
The 2 children arrive realising they have been smuggled but clearly not having the vocabulary to voice the cacophonous situation, instead they are told they are being ‘naughty’ for their persistent screaming. The film records the smuggling in broad daylight of 2 African children into a ‘white’ Danish world they have no reference for whatsoever. The Danish family where at first overjoyed that their ‘picture postcard happy family’ however, this is short lived as it dawns on them that being a parent is not just difficult but nigh impossible when you have children who don’t know you, understand your culture, don’t speak the language, realise they have been kidnapped and miss their real parents and siblings. The children’s continual bedwetting is the least of their problems…
Katrine Rijs Kjær captures this painful harsh reality, the emotional journey for the two children and their gradual decline into a maddening neglect and eventual emotional bankruptcy horrifically. The adopted parents or captors or tormentors call them as you will, begin their ‘work’ try to ‘break down’ their caught children like caught lions joining a zoo, ironically, the children play with a large lion toy in the film and this analogy plays out before your eyes. This film breaks your heart, as one who is watching a child being run over in the road time and time and time again. The once happy, cheeky and bubbly little girl aged 3 at the time is stripped into a motionless, silent creature bound in emotional chains of mindless discipline, fear, neglect and torture. And like the lion in the zoo the symptoms start play out.
How can you make a film like that?
This question flickers in the heart of every spectator like a candle about to set a forest alight. Why didn’t the filmmaker intervene? These difficult questions Katrine answers gently in her Danish accent as she explains that what we are viewing is not an isolated case but a case played out in her beloved country Denmark, America, Canada and the UK – you name it the child traffickers permeate and destroy lives everywhere. As in the YouTube clip I’ve added, what she started to film at the beginning as a sad but positive adoption story she soon realized was a in fact a nightmare beyond Herculean proportions. Katrine complained to the authorities whilst making the film, eventually realising the government and authorities in Denmark were all in on the scam, the growing insidious lies, deceit, manipulation, ignorance, neglect, bureaucracy and corruption was rife at all levels. This was the opening of Pandora’s box and al she could do was to continue to make the film as a hideous proof of gross misconduct to highlight a tiny sliver of the cake of malpractice eaten regularly in the Western high-class world. This is a film that few filmmakers are brave enough to make and a situation many try to avoid. Realistically this film will change lives, legislation and mindsets if we allow it. Thank you Katrine Rijs Kjær for making this film, it will change lives, legislation and mindsets until we all care enough to work together to change children’s worlds and generations forever.
I viewed the film in horror and was reminded of the Child-Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a film we watch every Christmas in the UK, however unlike the film presently where justice is served and all ends well in the end for the children, this is a living hell for innocent children especially where there is famine war and deprivation. Except in Ethiopia the terminology is different, the evil character is called – The Child-Harvester, he doesn’t just catch them and imprison them they are harvested for profit.
The poor (through no fault of their own) but loving Ethiopian family were promised fabulous schooling for the young children and brilliant hopes for an educated future. This was a LIE. The doctor was corrupt and deceived the young mother, she wasn’t dying they just wanted her kids. They were paid off a pittance for their children. This broke their spirits beyond viewing. There is poverty far beyond finance, there is a poverty of the human soul and so many people featured in this film were the true ‘poor in spirit’ mentioned in every Bible, indeed poor enough to live off the blood of humankind.
The 2 children
The inevitable happened. The Danish family soon realised they couldn’t cope in their hellish world of misery. How could these be loving parents? How could they be accepted as ‘perfect parents’ for children? Why is this still happening in today’s modern world? The older girl they shoved in a mental home to be condemned as mad, her only crime to be a once happy little black child. They visit her as a Victorian family visits a loved one in Bedlam, with a smile and total disbelief that maybe they are responsible for her perceived madness. They still have the younger little boy, but reports say his mental state is going the same way and could also receive the same fate. Healthy children beyond the Danish courts imprisoned legally by there now adopted parents. The natural parents managed over time to get the adoption revoked in Ethiopia but in Denmark the ruling remains void, the human-rights convention still needs work.
Basically EVERYONE had failed these children. The Ethiopian authorities for allowing trash adoption organisations to do business and make money, the Danish system that was riddled with antiquated laws and a massive lack of human-rights, the children’s new parents who seemed to want to glorify and satisfy themselves and enjoy afflicting mental torture on children. The Danish social system that failed to realise the cultural, psychological and mental implications of 2 children different to their culture, could not help them and seemed not to want to in the film. I could go on… Basically system failure overload, and there are issues in the UK here as well. This government is trying to address some issues, but Pandora’s box is just beginning to be opened.
Much of the feeling the children had of sheer trauma I had experienced myself. I remember interrogating my adopted parents again and again aged three saying ‘I am nothing to do with you! You could send me back to Nigeria at any moment! I am not part of your family and you are not my parents!’ BUT my birth parents I know had died and I was an orphan. My second set of ‘family’ was not like the Danish parents austere and torturous, but a complete contrast. What saved my life was their constant un-conditional love even today! I too refused to speak to my white family until I was 5. But I can remember my mum kindly saying to me ‘If you don’t want to speak to us then that is OK, we still love you and will continue to speak to you. But just speak to Tiger (our then cat), he loves you, and so I did for years until I could overcome my communication fear of this new white family who were once totally alien to me. It shouldn’t take a psychologist to tell you how to love your children, if you can’t work out the basics then as a parent you could be in trouble if you don’t want to address YOUR issues.
I stringently believe that if a person cannot give unconditional love to a child then do not adopt or foster them – get a cat. Get a dog? If you hate it, you can return it to the shop, get a full refund and move on. If you adopt or foster a child and it doesn’t work out then the psychological effects of that child are detrimental to their already fragile damaged emotional state. Children who have already suffered so much cannot just ‘move on’ to another family, they will be broken and like any break the internal shattering is continual and they may never recover.
Am I for adoption? – YES. Do I believe in cross-culture adoption – YES?
But only when all things are working cohesively and in the best interests of the child, maybe think about all the things that failed in this Ethiopian example and that will give you an idea of the enormity of what needs to be done… I tried to list them but just nearly wrote another 500 words!
What of the Syrian crisis?
Why this government refused to accept 3,000 children from Syria is beyond belief my friend asked me ‘what will happen to them?’ the child-harvesters will get them… it will not end well I replied, we sat in silence, anger and frustration. Once again this Nation will have blood on it’s hands, was William Wilberforce and this 20 year fight to abolishment the slave trade victory for nothing? Is it starting again?
It makes me think what can I do to help?
We all have a social and moral responsibility to DO something – sorry! But we do. Maybe you could sign the online petition to lobby the government to accept the Syrian children? Help a friend who has adopted somehow? Do some charity work? Write a blog? Donate? If everyone did stuff public opinion and governments would have to do more.
Children everywhere are part of ALL of our family, just because they are not smiling in your family photo album doesn’t mean that they are not present.
Their tears are in the rain that makes your garden grow…
Will you remember them? Will you care? What will you do?
*What more engagement?
Adoption Comedy tour and UK campaign
This year I’ve written a new stand-up comedy show about the differences of adoption and family. Who are we? Who are you? Brilliant storytelling my her trademark come along if you can as I explore my own adoption and surrounding issues. Adoption is tragic, it’s sad, it’s complex, but it can be brilliant! Joy explains this stuff with her beloved flute ‘Bertie’ and is the only UK comic to play the flute angrily. Expect the bravery and brilliance of FUNNY.
‘So Brilliant’ Jo Brand.
‘Warmed and wowed me’ Arthur Smith.
I’m performing ‘Spot The Difference’ at 2 more comedy festivals and planning to take the show on a Nationwide tour to 30 venues later 2016/17. Get involved, see the show and spread the word if you can (more info at www.joycarter.co.uk)
Camden Fringe Festival
Time: 8pm. Date: 3-5 August
Camden Comedy Club, 100 Camden High Street, NW1 OLU
Guilford Fringe Festival
The Back Room of ‘The Star Inn’, 2 Quarry St, Guildford, Surrey GU1 3TY
Date: 13th July. Time: 8pm
Dr Perlita Harris Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Convenor of the BA in social work in the Department of Social Therapeutic and Community Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Safeguarding Black Children – Good practice in Child Protection
Thank you for reading this – we got there.. sorry it’s been EPIC! but this is so important. Spread the word. much love, joy x