Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Bartholet ’65 has issued a public letter in support of international adoption as news that a court in Malawi denied a petition for adoption by the entertainer Madonna. Bartholet was joined in the statement by a  group of experts in child welfare. The text of the letter is below.

Save the Children from Save the Children

An appeals court in Malawi will now make a life-changing decision about Mercy James. Will Mercy be allowed to grow up in a permanent family with Madonna as her adoptive mother?

Spokesman for Save the Children, UK, Dominic Nutt, says that Mercy and other children in her position should remain in a Malawi orphanage. For no better reason than that these children may have living relatives, he believes that they should always remain in their original communities. Unfortunately, Nutt ignores the fact that these children’s presence in an orphanage is the surest indication that their relatives are deceased or, if alive, unable to care for them.

The usual justification for Save the Children’s approach is that children who remain in their country of origin can enjoy their racial, ethnic and national heritage. But children doomed to grow up in orphanages or on the streets cannot expect to enjoy their cultural heritage in any meaningful way. And the real choice today for most existing homeless children in most of the countries of the world is between life – and often death – in orphanages or on the streets in their home country and, for a lucky few, life in an adoptive home abroad. Research on children who started their early life in orphanages demonstrates vividly the damage such institutions do.

International Adoption has come under fire recently from UNICEF and others who share Save the Children’s views. But International Adoption provides children the possibility of finding the permanent nurturing homes they need to thrive, homes that are typically simply not available in their countries of origin. And International Adoption is completely consistent with other positive social responses to the problems of unparented children, bringing new resources into poor countries to support such efforts, and developing new awareness of and concern for the plight of poor children and poor communities worldwide.

We are not in possession of all the facts relevant to appropriate resolution of Mercy’s particular case. But we urge policy-makers, including judges making decisions in such cases, to review and consider the International Adoption Policy Statement and Supporting Report, endorsed by the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, the Center for Adoption Policy, the Harvard Law School Child Advocacy Program, and the National Council For Adoption –click here.

Signatories as of April 1, 2009:

Paulo Barrozo, Assistant Professor of Law
Boston College

Elizabeth Bartholet, Professor of Law & Faculty Director Child Advocacy Program
Harvard Law School

Cassie Statuto Bevan, Ed.D, Fellow
The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research
University of Pennsylvania

Jessica Budnitz, Lecturer on Law & Managing Director, Child Advocacy Program
Harvard Law School

Lauren Cleary, Public Health Attorney

Joan H. Hollinger, Professor, Lecturer-in-Residence
Berkeley School of Law, University of California

Chuck Johnson, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
National Council For Adoption

Diane B. Kunz, Esq., Executive Director
Center for Adoption Policy

Mark T. McDermott, Esq.
Law Office of Mark T. McDermott
Past President of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys

Ann Reese, Executive Director
Center for Adoption Policy

William Rosen, Esq., Adoption Attorney
Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys

Jerome Shestack
Former President, American Bar Association
Co-Chair and Founder, American Bar Association Human Rights Center

Hannah Wallace, President
Focus on Adoption (An International Adoption Advocacy Organization)