Bitter farewell captured on camera, adopted African children forced to stay behind in orphanage

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Prospective parents looking to adopt children from other countries sometimes face obstacles and challenges. But one African country has essentially shut the door on international adoptions amid reports of abuse. And that’s left hundreds of American families waiting.

In September the Congolese government stopped issuing exit letters for adopted children. That has left two siblings, Kema, 6, and five-year-old Kahilu 6,000 miles away from their adoptive parents. They wait in an orphanage. Laura Burleson and her husband were forced to leave them behind in April, their bitter goodbye was captured on camera.

Burleson family

Burleson family

“They didn’t see us board a plane,” Laura said. “They don’t know that we’re not living there, and just not going to get them. They don’t understand.”

The Congolese government has virtually halted all adoptions amid concerns of child abuse and human trafficking, and according to the U.S. State Department, is currently crafting new adoption laws. These new laws could impact previously approved adoptions.

Currently, more than 350 families wait for word on what will happen to their children. Some gathered in Washington, united under a single voice. They hope lawmakers and the State Department will help convince the Congolese government to lift the ban that’s keeping hundreds of children from going to new homes.





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    • Amand Bailey


      Maybe those kids need it too. I know this is our country and people don’t understand why others go out and adopt from other countries but those kids Maybe need it more then the ones here. We are all trying to help in some kind of way.

      • Jessie Raines

        Tell that to all the kids currently in the system. we must take care of our own before we can reach out to the world to assist.

      • samantha

        I agree. There is kids in the system but first off if maybe cps would stop kidnapping kids from good hardworking parents and really go after parents that are doing wrong then maybe the system wouldn’t be over loaded with kids. I know how corrupted cps really is. If you don’t believe go to YouTube and search child protective services corruption. And if you still don’t believe it. Don’t come crying. All I would say is told you so. But I wouldn’t turn my back you. I know the tolls to fight cps.

    • Mini Luice

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    • Tara

      I agree, you don’t know how it feels to age out of the system with so many other kids and wonder why you weren’t adopted, and people adopt in other countries. .. i live from experience.

    • Dale B.

      People who say we should adopt in the US before internationally have clearly never been abroad and seen the sad state these children live in. American orphans face many issues due to growing up in the system and without parents, but they don’t have to worry if they if they will get fed that day, if they will have a place to sleep, and they don’t face death from easily curable diseases/sicknesses.

      • Jessie Raines

        Seriously? You think that kids in the system are greated so well? You seriously need to research the horrors of the system.

      • Laura

        Thank you to those of you who have shown support, we greatly appreciate it! It is such an emotional journey, and support is vital to rejoice in the joys of adoption and withstand the potentially difficult journey. So thank you!

        To those of you who are apprehensive, or opposed, to international adoption, I would just like to point out a few things. Unfortunately there is somewhat limited information in a media coverage such as this. First, we ARE foster parents, and HAVE adopted from foster care. We also plan to again in the future. Be careful judging what you don’t know. I agree with Dale B. – until you have seen the conditions in many of the orphanages in a third world country, it is easy to sit where you are (and most of us are in a comfortable home with food in the fridge, internet to surf, and a number of other luxuries) and state those children are less worthy of a home. It is unfair to compare children in need of homes here and there, a child is a child and EVERY child deserves a home. Yes there are many, many children here who need homes, and I don’t believe Dale was saying foster children have it easy. My husband and I know first hand of the loss and emotional turmoil children in care go through. I interpret Dale was simply saying foster children at least have food, medical care, and in most situations, a home. It doesn’t mean it’s an easy life, I would never say that of the children we have in our home It only means there are things to be grateful for, and many if not most orphaned children in the world are going without even the bare necessities. Not that I would ever expect any child to appreciate the bare necessities as if it were a privilege, (although there are children who do express gratitude for food because they have had to go without before), but there are things we begin to realize that not every child has the luxury of the basics. When children in orphanages can DIE of starvation (going 3 weeks without food), there’s something worth lending a hand to. It’s selfish to say ONLY children in our own country deserve a home. This is why my husband and I have gone both routes to adopt internationally and domestically. And we aren’t adopting due to infertility – we have chosen to use the space in our home for children in need of homes. How many children have the critics of adoption actually adopted themselves?
        Second, in response to Anenomekym – you present valid points for things ALL adoptive parents should consider prior to adopting. What you’re missing, which makes me think you’ve never actually gone through the adoption process to truly know, is that we have gone through FOUR levels of investigations to make sure our children have no other option in their home country to be raised there, that their paperwork is valid and truthful, and that every piece of our adoption has been ethical. Our children’s history has been scrutinized on several levels both here and in the DRC to make sure they were not trafficked, any birth family still living hasn’t been coerced into adoption, or mislead about what adoption means. We have, and are considering moving to DRC if this doesn’t resolve, we will not leave our children without parents. Again you are judging prematurely and are uninformed, because there are already several families who have been living in the DRC almost a year with their children, far less than comfortable mind you, until they are allowed to bring them home to the United States. We absolutely agree the DRC should be able to oversee the adoption process however they feel is necessary to keep their children safe – and they have done just that. We respect the DRC government, and appreciate they themselves have deemed our children necessary of needing parents – and hence made us their parents a year ago. We also agree bringing a child into an entirely new culture, language, etc is not always the best thing for every orphaned child in another country. If there is an alternative place for them, we are the first advocates for that. But that isn’t the case for every child, and unless you were an adoptee, you can’t really speak on whether the benefits of having a family outweigh growing up in an orphanage, only to age out an orphan and be released back into society at the young age of 16-18 with no family, no friends, no way of making money, no home, no food. Because for many children this is the reality. I cannot speak for every adoptive parent, adoption case, or adoption staff – there is corruption in everything – but we can only do what we can to ensure our individual case doesn’t contain any fraud, does not have any fabricated paperwork, and that our children are in fact, needing us. I agree that living in the U.S. doesn’t always mean better, and we will maintain that our children are Congolese. We are not ignorant to this fact, nor are we neglectful of their culture and heritage – take a visit to our home and you will see we have and will continue to incorporate their culture in our home. We aren’t pretending this is simple, and we have done a lot of research. It isn’t fair to assume, on a very basic level like you have, that adoptive parents haven’t thought of, or considered enough, the things you have mentioned. We had to go through levels of scrutiny ourselves to show we have prepared for and are capable of parenting these children. We had to attend trainings, and classes to help us grow in our knowledge of this topic. I am not going to pretend every adoptive parent has, and will in the future, do everything they can to prepare for their children coming home – it is a vast and deep subject matter, and something that every adoptive parent with their children home are continuing to adjust and learn from. I would also like to point out that is true with EVERY parenting adventure. There are countless books on caring for a biological child as a first time parent, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing left to learn when the baby finally gets here. Re-homing does happen, unfortunately, and I feel very strongly adoption should be forever no matter what the circumstances. I believe our children are our children – just as if they are biological. Sadly, not everyone agrees. However, does that mean because there are some who re-home that we should not pursue these children who call us Mama and Papa and cried for us when we left? The impressions of love were not lost on our children; our time with them was proof of that. Bottom line, children need homes (and I mean genuinely need). I would like to acknowledge that I appreciate you are knowledgeable on many pieces of this subject, and while you have mentioned important things to consider and be cautious of during the adoption process, please don’t assume none of us adopting have thought of these things or done everything we need to on several levels to ensure our adoption is ethical. We have been granted guardianship over our children by DRC courts. They chose us to care for two of their children a year ago, and we are grateful to them for the opportunity to parent and love these children who call us theirs. We have every right to bring our children home, and it is okay to ask for help to do that.

    • kym

      If the NFL was more respectful of people and listened to people’s discontent, then the government wouldn’t have had to get involved and it wouldn’t have drawn so much media attention. Unfortunately, the NFL wouldn’t act unless a big fuss was made.

  • Kitty Jimmy

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  • Emily V.

    Every child should have a loving family to take care of them, no matter where they live. Praying for this family and that they can be reunited soon. We adopted locally out of foster care, but I also fully support international adoption. No child should have to live without a family.

    • anenomekym

      In the DRC (and many countries), many of these children HAVE families, and families who love them. There are reasons for why international adoption should be considered as a last, last resort. International adoption is a drastic move for the child. How many of these people who have been pleading with the DRC, the Dept. of State, with the media and anyone who will listen, how many of these HAP’s would consider moving themselves and their family (or leaving their family) to live in the DRC? Probably zero, because moving from one’s familiar environment is difficult. For these children, if someone else wants them to move them across the world and pays money, they have no choice.

      Also, you might not be aware, but…
      1) Many are NOT orphans.
      2) In many other countries, orphanages serve a different purpose and are viewed differently than in the US. Children, families, and societies are different than here in the US. Orphanages are often considered temporary places for children while parents work or until parents get back on their feet (India, Korea, etc). Sometimes, parents/relatives put children there expecting to come get them later, only to find that they’ve been sent overseas for adoption – permanently gone. We have boarding schools and summer camps, extended visits to Auntie Milda’s or the Gramps. We don’t expect them to be permanently gone and dislocated from our families without our permission though. Too much cultural miscommunication resulting in too many families separated across continents.
      3) In some countries, children have been stolen/kidnapped for overseas adoption. Some background on what happened in Sierra Leone ( No family who has had their children stolen should face such resistance. Ditto in Guatemala and other countries. Apparently, many people in the US and Europe want children and will pay a lot of money to adoption agencies/facilitators for children. Sometimes, these children were stolen and police are bribed, because the income from adoptions can be great.
      4) In some countries, children and their families have been lied to, told that they were coming to the US for study abroad, but upon arrival, they learn that they have new families, names, and have been permanently adopted (Ethiopia).
      5) In some countries, paperwork has been falsified, making them “available” for adoption. Sometimes the person dropping the child off were not the parents, or even a relative. The parents or relative might have been told lies about where their son/daughter/niece/nephew/grandchild is.
      6) The US hasn’t enforced our own laws to better protect children with re-homing, abuses, murders of internationally adopted children who are even more vulnerable after having been displaced to places where they know no one, don’t know the customs, and don’t speak the language. As the Reuters Child Exchange article on re-homing, the Hana Williams trial, and the recent Hyunsu Callaghan death showed, not all adoptive parents are well-prepared to adjust to expected needs of these children, and some have taken it out on the children or blamed these children for the choices the adoptive parents made.

      The DRC should be able to ensure that each and every one of their children who is adopted would truly be better off with adoption, without outside pressure or economic sanctions from other countries. Adoption and this permanent life-altering decision is a drastic move for the child (identity altered, loss of culture, language, country, family, relatives, connections to stories and histories, etc.). Although the child will be the most impacted by these adoption decisions, the child has no say. These children are still Congolese. The US should allow the DRC to make the best decisions they can for their youngest citizens without pressure. Coming to the US doesn’t mean better, especially if paperwork’s been falsified, children have been stolen, or families have been misled. The US and the Department of State should respect Congolese sovereignty to do their due diligence in child protections.

  • Dr sherry

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