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US parents stuck in Congo with adopted children


Justin Carroll is the proud dad of a 6-week-old daughter in Tennessee, but thus far he's done his doting via Facetime video phone calls from Africa. Since mid-November, Carroll has been living in Congo, unwilling to leave until he gets exit papers allowing two newly adopted sons to travel with him.

Carroll and his wife, Alana, are among scores of U.S. couples caught up in wrenching uncertainty, as a suspension of all foreign adoptions imposed by Congolese authorities has temporarily derailed their efforts to adopt.

While most of the families are awaiting a resolution from their homes in the U.S., Justin Carroll and a few other parents whose adoptions had been approved have actually taken custody of their adopted children in Kinshasa, Congo's capital. However, they say that promised exit papers for the children are now being withheld pending further case-by-case reviews, and the parents don't want to leave Kinshasa without them.

"Justin is not going to leave the boys," Alana Carroll said from the family's home in Jefferson City, Tenn., where she's been caring for biological daughter Carson since her birth on Nov. 25. Justin Carroll was not present for Carson's birth; he left for Africa almost a week earlier.

"In a dire situation, we would just move there," said Alana, referring to Congo. "Leaving our sons there is not an option."

According to UNICEF estimates, Congo - long plagued by poverty and conflict - is home to more than 800,000 children who've lost both parents, in many cases because of AIDS.

Until the suspension was announced in September, Congo had been viewed by adoption advocates in the U.S. as a promising option at a time when the overall number of international adoptions has been plummeting. Congo accounted for the sixth highest number of adoptions by Americans in 2012 - 240 children, up from 41 in 2010 and 133 in 2011.

There are varied explanations for the suspension - explanations which reflect how international adoption has become a highly divisive topic.

The U.S. State Department, in its latest Congo advisory, says all applications for exit permits for adopted children are facing increased scrutiny because of concerns over suspected falsification of documents. Congolese authorities earlier attributed the suspension to concerns that some children had been abused or abandoned by their adoptive parents or have been "sold to homosexuals."

"The government wants to get a handle on this matter, because there is a lot of criminality around it," Interior Minister Richard Muyej Mangez told The Associated Press last month.

The State Department has said it is trying to get accurate information with the hope of enabling some of the families - such as the Carrolls - to take home children whose adoptions had been approved prior to the Sept. 25 suspension. However, it has warned waiting parents that there could be significant delays.

American diplomats in Kinshasa have met with the waiting families and with Congolese officials to discuss the suspension, but Alana Carroll said the families wished the U.S. Embassy staff would press harder to get the cases moving.

"The ambassador said they didn't want to ruffle any feathers," Carroll said.

The Carrolls and four other families have dubbed themselves the "Stuck In Congo Five" and created a Facebook page to draw attention to their plight. Alana and two of the other mothers also have been communicating through their blogs.

One of them, Erin Wallace of Annapolis, Md., has been in Congo since October, awaiting exit papers that would enable her to bring newly adopted daughter Lainey home to her husband and their two other children.

She has urged readers of her blog to contact their congressional delegations on behalf of the five families.

"We are desperate to return home with our children," she wrote. "We have been stuck for too long."

Katie Harshman, another of the bloggers, also has been in Kinshasa since October. Her husband, Eric, a groundskeeper with the University of Kentucky athletics department, joined her for the first seven weeks before returning to work.

"There is no reason why we should still be here," Katie Harshman wrote in a recent post. "We have gotten caught in the middle of some kind of craziness."

The Harshmans, Wallaces and Carrolls have been working with Africa Adoption Services, a Louisville, Ky., agency founded by Danielle Anderson, a former consular staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.

The spouses who are waiting in Kinshasa, along with their adopted children, are staying together in a guest house. Anderson has advised the Americans to be cautious about venturing out with the children, saying many Congolese people are suspicious about international adoptions.

Anderson said it's difficult to pinpoint why authorities there suspended adoptions.

"It's financial, it's political, it's because of severe homophobia," she said. "But in the end, kids are getting stuck and families are not being united."

In the past two years, Africa Adoption Services has helped dozens of families complete adoptions from Congo, generally for a cost of about $27,000, excluding travel.

Among the successful couples were Emily and Mike Mauntel of Atlanta, whose 2-year-old son, Moses, came home in October. The couple also have a 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.

"My heart is breaking for these five families stuck in the Congo and for the many more families waiting to bring their children home," Emily Mauntel wrote in an email. "I was in the Congo for almost four months trying to bring our son home and it was by far the most difficult time in my life."

Among the U.S. agencies active in Congo is MLJ Adoptions, founded by Indianapolis attorney Michele Jackson, who has two sons adopted from the Congo.

Even before the suspension, Jackson said, the international adoption process in Congo could be slow, with U.S. authorities often taking six months or more to verify that children were not part of any trafficking or baby-selling scheme. In at least recent three cases, Jackson said, children died of disease during the vetting process.

Alana Carroll said one of her two new sons, Canaan, was sickly and introverted when her husband began caring for him, and is now thriving. But the long separation has taken an emotional toll.

"It was like a dream come true and now it's like nightmare I can't wake up from," she said.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
michael cowgill January 09 2014 at 10:10 PM

why don't they adopt here in the US so many children need homes and parents to love I know other countrys have children in need but help home first

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1 reply
Mickey michael cowgill January 09 2014 at 10:29 PM

In the US you need money and pleanty of it to adopt a child. Plus time and a good lawyer to work the system. It isn't an easy project as TV makes it out to be. Do a little research. You will be amazed. Better yet talk to someone who has adopted in this country and you will see the hoops they had to jump through to get their child IF they were successful.

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1 reply
sharmoore Mickey January 09 2014 at 10:46 PM

if you adopt from the state children's protective service agency, it is free. however, healthy infants available for adoption are snapped up like Lay's potato chips.

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NICKIE'S PLACE January 10 2014 at 8:57 AM

Why do people adopt overseas? For one thing the children in the US system are very difficult to adopt. A lot of them still have parents who are alive. These kids were put in the system because of violence, alcoholism, etc... Parents have not relinquished their "parental rights", therefore cannot be adopted. They stay in foster care, for years.
In foreign countries these kids are orphan and kept in dire conditions in state run orphanages.
The lucky ones find their way into the Christian orphanages. Not so simple. Before you make nasty comments try to educate yourself first. I know the drill, I went thru it a long time ago.

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2 replies
Robin NICKIE'S PLACE January 10 2014 at 9:00 AM

Thank you for saying this. I was looking for the right words to say the about the same thing.

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wiseholmes NICKIE'S PLACE January 10 2014 at 9:22 AM

children and in the system because their parents were havig sex, violence and alcoholism are seldom involved.

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Sherrie Dobbie January 10 2014 at 9:11 AM

I feel there are children all over the world in need of nurishment and love and family; I have no doubt of this. However, here where I rest my head, my heart is uneasy with the scores of children right here who are starving, being abused, are orphaned, and have been dumped without hope. Please search your heart and think about this before departing for the other countries to save them all.
Charity begins at home; this nation is suffering and so are its children.

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susanmalley7568 January 10 2014 at 9:13 AM


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boland7214 January 09 2014 at 6:39 PM

Many of the adoptions agencies in The USA make people "jump through hoops" to adopt a child...they often make it VERY DIFFICULT. If someone goes over seas OFTEN the red tape paper work is less....and a successful adoption is more likely. If you believe that "this is ONE world" and we are all "brothers and sisters" regardless of our race or nationality, then adopting a child of any race from another country makes sense. Of course, the adopting family must be adopting for the right reasons----to benefit the child. But, if they are adopting to benefit the child and have the financial resources to do so, I say "God bless them"!!! boland7214@aol.com

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1 reply
Kate boland7214 January 09 2014 at 7:08 PM

You're darn straight.

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wiseholmes January 10 2014 at 9:16 AM

These Americans should stop traveling abroad to adopt children of a different culture. Children are a blessing to some culture . There are many, many children in American in need of adoption, People wanting to adopt children should lobby the US/ State gov't for assistance. People should not have to pay anything to adopt a child.

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kostas January 10 2014 at 9:33 AM

The same thing happened in Russia were the government was getting a lot of flack,
about overseas adoptions , And like some people said there are orphanages her to adopt
kids, What worries me is that the standards in the USA or very hard,
So maybe the people that go over seas may not be suitable and that is why some countries are being very care full just my thought,

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1 reply
roncgoodman kostas January 10 2014 at 9:53 AM

When a legitimate reason does exist for a government to suspend foreign adoptions it usually involves corruption and collusion between doctors, lawyers, agents and unfortunately, mothers who are paid by the aforementioned to breed and sell babies. There also exists in the third world stories about rich westerners stealing babies for human organs to fix their own sick kids back home. Westerners have been hacked to death with machetes several times in S America because of this. Such a world!

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1 reply
kostas roncgoodman January 10 2014 at 10:27 AM

I agree about the Organs they did get a woman not to long ago doing this in south America
people like that don't deserve to live .

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lidodex January 09 2014 at 6:31 PM

It's true that there are countless children in need of adoption in this country, and we can only hope and pray that as many of them as possible can find loving homes, but it is not for us to judge or vilify these couples who have made the decision to adopt from other countries. Innocent children are in dire straits all over the world, not only in the US. They are being killed, abused and caught in the crossfire of civil wars and regional conflicts all over the globe. An orphaned child in Africa is no less deserving of a safe home and a family to love them, than a child in this country who is abused or mistreated or brainwashed and taught to hate by its parents. Regardless of nationality or race, children are born as a clean slate. They come to us pure and innocent and are this world's most precious resource. It is the harm that we as adults do to them and subject them to that is the punishable crime, not the desire to reach out and help the ones in need wherever in the world we find them.

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bksbakeryandcatering January 09 2014 at 6:31 PM

I think that it is a nice "idea" adopting underprivileged and orphaned children in poverty striking countries. However It is absurd to turn our backs on our own country,when there are so many children in need of good homes right here in America. The suspension of exit letters is a sign that we are not doing enough for our own people. How can we justify foreign adoptions when our own are in need.

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1 reply
Kate bksbakeryandcatering January 09 2014 at 7:19 PM

Nobody is turning their back on anybody, by adopting anyone. It doesn't matter where a child comes from: if it's an orphan it needs a home. Children abroad are often in great danger as compared to children here, and are far more likely to lose their lives.

The suspension of exit letters has absolutely nothing to do with what we are doing here. It is THEIR government, not ours, that is holding them up.

It isn't necessary to 'justify' an adoption. ANY adoption is a good deed.

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Tom January 09 2014 at 6:28 PM

His choice and his self made problem. When will people learn that when you leave our shores that the laws are not the same. And from what I had read he is not being forced to stay so end of story,

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