Congressional leaders haven’t forgotten about hundreds of children halfway around the world, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who can’t go home.
They have sent letters to Congolese officials, imploring them to let children who have been adopted by people in the U.S. and other countries finally go to their forever families.
But the Congolese leaders haven’t issued exit papers for more than a year, leaving hundreds of children in limbo.
Nearly 200 members of Congress — including Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and U.S. Reps. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Roger Williams of Austin and Democrat U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth — signed a recent letter.
“Some of these children have remained separated from their legal parents for over a year waiting for this final departure permission,” the congressional letter states. “Tragically, some of these children have died while waiting for exit permission, and others are very ill and need immediate medical attention.
“We hope that you will agree that swift action is necessary to prevent further loss of innocent lives and the continued suffering and distress for the children and their legal parents.”
One potentially encouraging sign is that a few of the children in limbo who have medical conditions so severe that they could die — such as HIV or heart or lung defects — have been given exit letters so they can get medical attention.
Earlier this month, Andrea and Chris Stewart of Florida successfully brought their 10-month-old adoptive son, Cruz, home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Cruz needs major surgery because of heart and lung malformations.
“We are beyond blessed with the honor of being Cruz’s family,” according to a statement from the Stewarts. “For now, we will focus on his health and where the next steps take us into caring for orphans around the world.”
Last September, the Democratic Republic of the Congo stopped issuing exit papers after hearing reports that some children from Congo might have been abused by their adoptive families or adopted by other people once they left their homeland, according to the State Department.
“Congolese officials have informed us on several occasions that the suspension was prompted in part by weaknesses in Congolese adoption procedures, which they believe may not adequately protect children,” according to a statement on the State Department’s website. “The suspension was imposed on all inter-country adoptions of Congolese children by prospective/adoptive parents from all countries, not just adoptions by United States prospective/adoptive parents.”
Congolese officials haven’t said when they will resume issuing the papers.
President Joseph Kabila has said the suspension can’t be lifted until the Parliament passes new adoption laws. And although he and other Congolese leaders appear receptive to new adoption laws, there are no such proposals on the table.
Congressional members’ staffs have met with DRC National Assembly members, who have said they need to make sure children in their country are safe — no matter where they are.
A U.S. Department of State delegation is expected to travel to Kinshasa this month to meet with officials.
“We remain committed to ensuring that federal laws in the U.S. continue to protect all children against abuse and neglect and to appropriately punish any persons who violate these laws,” the congressional letter states. “We respectfully request that the Congolese National Assembly and Senate prioritize legislation that strengthens the Congolese intercountry adoption process.
“This legislation would ensure that intercountry adoptions of Congolese children can be completed in an honest, ethical manner and that the children who are currently waiting to be united with their legal parents can finally benefit from living with the security of a permanent, loving family.”
A number of U.S. residents have turned to Congo in recent years for adoption because of the great and growing need there.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second-largest country in Africa, but millions died in a civil war more than a decade ago. Poverty, armed conflict and other problems have taken a toll on the Congolese population, which includes more than 4 million orphaned children.
There, 1 in 7 children dies before turning 5. Fewer than half who survive have access to clean water, nearly one-fourth are underweight, and nearly half aren’t vaccinated for common childhood diseases, according to UNICEF research.
Even so, State Department officials are “strongly” recommending against anyone beginning an adoption in the DRC now.
An online petition that so far has been signed by more than 117,000 people also encourages U.S. officials — including Secretary of State John Kerry — to “take a personal interest in resolving this situation.”
“Every day that passes, these waiting children are being damaged,” the petition reads. “They need a solution now!”