From Awareness to Action: World Heritage in Young Hands
At a workshop in Bulange, Uganda, held in August 2021 the focus was on how to engage youth in protecting, preserving, and promoting World Heritage. The goal was to sensitise ...
At a workshop in Bulange, Uganda, held in August 2021 the focus was on how to engage youth in protecting, preserving, and promoting World Heritage. The goal was to sensitise ...
Aspiration is an implicit element of development that inspires action for change. Yet there are increasing concerns about the individualised and instrumental use of aspirations in development practice. In a ...
Rapid research into the effects of COVID-19 on young people in Tanzania reveals high levels of anxiety about the virus as it relates to relationships, economic livelihoods and the community. The research, led by Dr Elizabeth Ngutuku, draws further attention to the need for governments to consider the disease’s wider social and psychological impacts.
Soon after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Tanzania on 16 March 2020, a series of closures were announced to schools and some businesses to avert the spread of the disease. However, the government changed tack in June, announcing the country had the disease under control. Life seemed to have gone back to the normal with schools re-opening and people returning to work.
In July and August 2020, as part of our advocacy using the findings from our research, ‘Adolescent’s Perceptions of Healthy Relationships in Mwanza and Dar es Salaam’, we carried out rapid research with children and youth aged 10-18 years through essay writing. The resulting 309 essays explored young people’s perspectives on the effects of COVID-19 on their relationships with others at home, their school, the community, technology and with the environment. Their narratives reveal that behind the sense of assumed normality, and assurance that the virus does not pose a threat to the general population, the youth position themselves ambivalently. While their voice on effects of the disease speaks to day-to-day immediate issues of survival, it also jumps scales to touch on relationships between nation states, relations with the government and a relationship with the country’s past.
The disease is ‘everywhere’
Young people noted that the disease permeated all areas of their relationships and equated this to being ‘everywhere and in everything’. Arguing that space itself was ‘sick’, this understanding can be read literally from President Magufuli’s declaration that the disease inhabits inanimate objects, like papaya and even animals such as goats. These voices reveal deeper perspectives when read alongside young people’s relationship with the environment, especially play spaces, trees, rocks and beaches, as shown to be important to youth in our earlier work in Mwanza and Dar es Salaam. Through art-based research and interviews, some of the young respondents explained that when relationships with their parents and siblings soured, they would go out to relax in these spaces or talk to animals.
Such a souring of family relationships was common during the period of school closures. While some acquired new skills like cooking, and bonded with their parents at home, others reported being overworked and the pressure causing constant collisions. Some young people noted that during such periods school normally provided solace through interactions with peers and teachers. Some girls were also looking forward to schools’ re-opening to avoid domestic sexual violence, as reported elsewhere to be on the rise in Tanzania during the epidemic, but other girls explained that staying at home had freed them from being approached for sexual favours by their peers and teachers.
Many young respondents voiced a perceived weakening of social ties, beyond immediate practices such as an inability to hug or greet each other, and playing or receiving visitors. They drew attention to the effects on a core social fabric and collective support. These young respondents remembered a collective past (perhaps drawing on the imaginaries of Ujamaa philosophy), with its emphasis on the care and welfare for others, in contrast to, for example, people during the epidemic who stopped carrying each other’s burdens, or what they called kubebeana mzigo. Drawing on a collective we, many respondents also noted that society’s collective dreams or aspirations (ndoto zetu) had been put on hold, which while going unspecified allude to school closures and an ability to continue their activities in the community.
Economics and politics matters to youth
The youth respondents emphasised the epidemic’s large and small economic effects. While they discussed their parents having lost jobs and livelihoods, and the inability to afford health care, they raised anxieties over there being ‘no longer milk for the small baby [sibling]’ and not being able to ‘ask for a second helping of food’, as they did before onset of the disease.
Moreover, the youth positioned themselves as actors in political relationships. For example, when referencing the diplomatic spat between Kenya and Tanzania over flights and truck drivers, they stated the disease had created enmity between countries, interpreting the closure of the shared border as an attempt by Kenya, which they called a good neighbour, to close itself off from Tanzania. Some noted that their relatives, and especially their breadwinner fathers who rely on cross-border trade, were afraid they would be quarantined in Kenya at their own expense, leaving them behind as carers for the family. This requirement was only reviewed in mid-September 2020.
Despite the atmosphere of the gloom, many young people also celebrated the President like a prophet who supported them with ‘kind words’, assuring them that ‘God could not allow them to die of Corona’. These youth represented themselves as political and cultural nationalists, who unquestioningly obeyed the President’s traditional steam therapy for the virus, as well as his call for the country’s return to faith, health, community and nation through prayer. For others, an obedience to Magufuli’s orders was more guarded, with some youth revealing how their parents forbade them to go to church, despite the leadership urging their attendance.
The youth indeed represented collective prayer in Kiswahili as praying bega kwa bega (shoulder to shoulder) against the disease, for which prevention is alternatively encouraged by the World Health Organization through maintaining social distance. The respondents further represented the perceived elimination of COVID-19 as a sign of good leadership by the government, because cases in Tanzania (which stopped publishing statistics in May 2020) were few compared to the high COVID-19 statistics in Kenya by June.
Listening to youth voices differently through essay writing reveals that behind the façade of a fearless nation fear remains prevalent. Our respondents reported that important political leaders in the community had died of the disease, and their essays revealed a veritable daily fear of their parents’ death. Some reported that they would observe their parents for signs of infection after they returned from work, and one youth in Dar es Salaam noted that he would each day observe his friends throwing a bottle of hand sanitiser to their mother on arrival.
Yet many children nevertheless celebrated their president, the sentiment ‘our president cannot lie to us, we cannot die of Corona’ expressed by many respondents, which can be read as cautiously confident despite their anxiety. It is at the interstices of this apparent guarded optimism that an imperative emerges for the government of Tanzania: they must listen to the wishes and voices of young people and protect them not only from the disease but its multitude of effects.
This post was first published by the LSE’s Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa and first appeared here
About the author:
Elizabeth Ngutuku has a PhD in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her work investigates young people’s experience of poverty, vulnerability, citizenship claims and sexual and reproductive health. Dr. Ngutuku coordinated the rapid research on behalf of Nascent/ISS as part of the APHR project funded by Oak Foundation
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The recent removal of migrant children from their parents at the southern US border has caused great public outcry, but Kristen Cheney and Karen Smith Rotabi argue that it could become another incarnation of the Orphan Industrial Complex that glorifies ‘child rescue’ and the charitable commodification of children without parental care—one that actually produces orphans for a hungry adoption market through dubious legal means.
What is happening to migrant children is egregious and yet predictable: children separated from their families and moved hundreds of miles away to foster homes—by an adoption agency with ties to US Secretary of Education Betsy de Vos.
To those who are appalled by this move by the Trump administration, the situation is unconscionable and ‘not who we are’ as Americans (though there are numerous historical cases of intentional family separation by the state).
To those of us in children’s studies, however—and particularly those of us who study orphanhood and adoption—it was only a matter of time before the Trump family separation policy crossed paths with the Orphan Industrial Complex.
The Orphan Industrial Complex
The Orphan Industrial Complex (OIC) is the charitable commodification of children without parental care. It is driven by persistent narratives of “orphan rescue” that not only commodify orphans and orphanhood itself but that frequently spurs the “production” of “orphans”, resulting in child exploitation and trafficking (Cheney and Ucembe forthcoming). The OIC includes such activities as fundraising for orphanages, orphanage volunteering, and international adoption.
The OIC has largely been operating internationally, driven by North American and European desires for children and/or experiences with orphans abroad (Cheney and Rotabi 2017). Now that we are seeing young children at the doorstep of the US, the next chapter in a long story of child abduction into adoption is currently being written—this time domestically.
Adoption scholars and children’s advocates have been speculating on social media that the plan is (and has likely been all along) that they move the young children far from their parents at the border, charge an absurd amount for fostering and/or reunification that the parents can’t pay—either because they just don’t have the money and/or are still in detention—then when they can’t pay, the authorities declare the children abandoned and available for adoption. This has happened before, and make no mistake, it is happening as we type. And it is perfectly “legal”, in that the courts are sanctioning these actions; indeed, they are enabling the stealing of children against the will of their parents.
Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, an adoption agency with ties to billionaire Education Secretary Betsy de Vos and a history of coercive adoptions, has placed approximately 80 children in foster care thousands of miles from the southern US border, where some of the parents are detained while other parents have already been deported to Central America. Bethany and other agencies have government contracts to provide so-called “foster care” while reunification strategies are sorted. We submit, why would a large-scale adoption agency be trusted with such a critical and essential task all those miles removed from the location where the child was separated from their parent(s)?
Tackle the enabling environment first
Because the courts are so often complicit in child stealing, it is difficult to actually talk of “illegal adoptions”. That is why Cheney told the UN HRC Council last year that using the law to battle “illegal adoptions” is not enough; we need to address the enabling environment that is undergirded by “child rescue” and “better life” narratives that justify helping ourselves to the children of the poor and desperate. These discourses are also what undergird the OIC, thus perpetuating such violence against children and families. As we know from previous experience, there are people out there who have no scruples about adopting the children separated from their detained and deported migrant parents—many of whom came to the US with their children to protect them from violence and instability at home—and in fact there are whole social movements dedicated to adoption.
Yet, a number of the families crossing the U.S. border are actually eligible to apply for asylum based on societal violence: asylum seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are over-represented in the recent influx. All three countries suffer notorious gang violence and other problems that rise to the definition of persecution when an individual or family is targeted. Ironically, US government policies have fueled poverty and violence underlying the requests for asylum from the region (Costantino, Rotabi and Rodman 2012). Gang violence is just one symptom that has, in turn, pushed some of the region’s most vulnerable people to immigrate northward for safety (Carlson and Gallagher 2015).
Rather than being welcomed at the border as asylum seekers, they are charged with a misdemeanor for illegal entry to the US. To make matters worse, there are credible stories of immigration agents coercing parents with threats of child adoption if they should file for their rights to seek refuge. As the U.S responds to asylum seekers and others with such a heavy and uncaring hand, Federal Judges are now weighing in: a recent court order requires the children affected and in foster care to be quickly reunited with their families. However, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fought the court order—and lost. Nonetheless, this mean-spirited delay of the court judgment being realized inevitably will prolong the waiting game which is a potential means of child abduction into adoption through the courts. All too often, when a challenge to separation finally comes to court, judges have ruled that a child has lived with a foster family for long enough that they have emotionally attached to the new family. On the basis of the best interests of the child, legal judgments favoring adoption rather than returning a child to their parents have prevailed. This has already happened in notorious cases of child abduction into US adoption from Guatemala (Rotabi and Bromfield 2017).
In the case of an organization like Bethany, they typically serve the very hungry adoption marketplace rather than facilitate parent-child. While Bethany can and should mobilize to change its case management model from adoption to reunification, the clock ticks on the family lives of vulnerable children.
The dark side of adoption
It may look like some of the children adjust well to their new homes and families, but let us tell you what is going to happen if we do not stop it: the older children will likely not adjust well to being ripped from their parents and told they have new families, so those adoptions are bound to “fail”, with kids running away, ending up cycling through multiple foster homes, or worse. For younger kids, the memories of their families and the harrowing journey they have made with them will likely fade over time as the children get adjusted to their new homes. But imagine how they will feel as they come of age and learn the true circumstances of their adoptions; that they were essentially stolen at the border from a parent(s) who carried them for thousands of treacherous miles seeking safety from the very violence instigated by the US. Older adoptees have been devasted to learn of such questionable reasons for their international adoptions, and it can lead to a dissolution of their relationships with their adoptive parents as well as incredible emotional difficulties that come with such a revelation: adoptees, for example, have high rates of depression and suicide.
Many adoptee advocates note that adult adoptees are often driven to learn more about their origins, as an integral part of their identities. In fact, origin tourism has become another facet of the OIC, marketizing adoptees’ need to search for their birth families (Dorow 2010, 78). Nonetheless, one of the strongest recommendations to come out of the International Forum on Intercountry Adoption and Global Surrogacy held at the ISS in 2014 was for preservation of records in adoption so that when the time comes for individual adoptees to search for their original families, they will have access to the vital information necessary.
If we cannot stop this from happening now, we need to make sure this injustice is well documented so that sooner or later, it can be righted, and these children can finally be reunited with their families.
About the authors:
Kristen Cheney is Associate Professor of Children and Youth Studies at ISS. She is author of Crying for Our Elders: African Orphanhood in the Age of HIV and AIDS and co-editor of the forthcoming volume, Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Intervention: Processes of Affective Commodification.
Karen Smith Rotabi is Professor and Chair of the Department of Social Work at California State University Monterey Bay. She is co-author of From Intercountry Adoption to Global Surrogacy: A Human Rights History and New Fertility Frontiers and co-editor of Intercountry Adoption: Policies, Practices and Outcomes.
Cheney and Rotabi co-organized the 2014 International Forum on Intercountry Adoption and Global Surrogacy at ISS.
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