Congo releases a small fraction of adopted children to waiting families

by Kiley Crossland
Posted 11/11/15, 02:20 pm

Dozens of children stuck in halted adoptions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are now authorized to leave the country after two years of waiting, according to an announcement by Congolese officials last week.

In September 2013, Congo’s government suddenly froze all international adoptions by refusing to issue any exit permits for adopted children. The halt left hundreds of families in limbo, some with finalized adoptions whose children were unable to leave the country and others stuck in the middle of the adoption process. The exit permit is required to take the children through airport security as they leave the country. 

Last Monday’s announcement is the first action by the Congolese government in months. Government officials announced they would grant exit permits to 72 adopted children, 69 with completed paperwork and three with serious medical conditions. The released children will travel to new homes in Italy, Belgium, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States.

Nearly 1,000 adoptive families, almost half of them American, remain stuck in the system, and there is little hope those cases will proceed quickly.

“All the other adoption dossiers will wait until the new law on adoptions currently under debate is finalized,” Congolese Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said. “Until the new law is approved, we will no longer discuss these international adoption cases.”

Officials say they halted adoptions originally due to fears adopted children were being kidnapped or trafficked. The Congolese government said they would review all adoption cases and develop a new law surrounding the adoption process. In May 2014, officials issued 62 exit permits for adopted children, but made a similar claim: no more action until the law is finalized. It is unclear how fast that will happen.

U.S. State Department officials confirmed 14 children adopted by U.S. families were granted exit permits last week, but over 400 U.S. families are still waiting for their adopted children. In April 2014, almost 170 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to Congolese government leaders pressing them to issue exit permits.

Some, it seems, are taking matters into their own hands and smuggling their children out of the country, according to a Reuters investigation published in October. Their reporting found at least 80 Congolese children have been illegally taken out of the country since the ban. Unlike most European countries, the U.S. continues to issue entry visas for Congolese children, so if parents are able to get their children out of the Congo, they can often get them into the U.S. 

In October, the U.S. State Department issued a strong warning to parents attempting to “circumvent the exit permit suspension,” saying the action would have severe consequences and any information concerning such efforts could become the subject of a law enforcement investigation.

Families caught in the red tape are often providing ongoing financial support for their adopted children residing in Congo, some still in orphanages, others living in boarding schools or with foster families.

Evan and Elizabeth Clements of Lamar, Mo., formally finalized the adoption of their son Elijah in December 2013, but have been unable to obtain an exit permit for Elijah. He was not on last Monday’s list. They are still waiting.

“The big problem is that there are more like 1,000 kids stuck and only letting 72 of them go is absolutely ridiculous,” Evan Clements said. “The (Congolese) government has shown time and time again that they do not hold to their word, so I will not trust them until these kids are home.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley reports on marriage, family, and sexuality for WORLD Digital. Follow Kiley on Twitter @KileyCrossland.

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