Four-year-old Kaleb speaks English and likes to draw. He shows talent as a pianist and is learning how to read. He has even visited the Kyrgyzstan Embassy in Washington to meet officials from his native country.
Until he was eight months old, Kaleb was Kalychbek Baymyrzaev, an orphan in Kyrgyzstan. Scott and Kami DeBoer of Dayton, Ohio, adopted him in October 2007, just before Kyrgyzstan placed a moratorium on international adoptions. “Kaleb knows that he is adopted and that he was born in Kyrgyzstan,” Scott told EurasiaNet.org.
The first six months in America were difficult. “When we first met Kaleb, he was only 11 pounds. That is very tiny for an eight-month-old. He was not getting enough to eat. He was not sitting up or rolling. He had a lot of trouble sleeping and had night terrors. We kept reassuring him that we were there and after six months he was sleeping through the night. Later he began to smile,” said Kami.
Scott and Kami are waiting to adopt another Kyrgyz boy, Bakyt. When they met in February 2008, he was two months old; now he is over three. “We did not think it would take very long to bring him home. We will keep waiting for Bakyt,” Scott said. “He is a part of our family.”
In 2008, responding to local rumors that foreigners were adopting babies to harvest their organs, the Kyrgyz government imposed a moratorium on international adoptions. Since then, American families, including the DeBoers, have been waiting to bring home 65 children whose adoptions were in progress when the freeze was announced. According to the Ministry of Social Protection, 30 of the 65 orphans have special health conditions and need regular treatment that is difficult to find in Kyrgyzstan. Two have died. Families in Kyrgyzstan have adopted only four.
Since the collapse of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s administration last spring, new officials have promised to lift the moratorium and allow the adoptions to proceed. But Minister of Social Protection Aygul Ryskulova, who served as Minister of Labor, Employment and Migration under the old regime, says the government is just too busy to deal with the adoptions. What’s more, concerns linger about the process and the Americans’ motivations. “The facts are still being investigated,” Ryskulova said of the motivations behind the original freeze. “During the last three years the Kyrgyz government found out the whereabouts of most of the children [who had been adopted prior to the ban]. Some of them were adopted by Israeli families, some by Germans, some of them by US parents. But we still don’t know where some children are. We don’t have an exact number of internationally adopted children, where they were sent, how they live now. We have to find out this information.”
The United States has urged the new government to speed the investigation and lift the ban. In February, Ambassador Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor to the Office of Children's Issues in the State Department, traveled to Bishkek to assure local officials that Washington will regularly inform them about the adopted children's lives in the United States until they turn 18, according to local media reports.
MP Shirin Aitmatova, who has pushed for the adoption process to be reformed, says her colleagues in parliament have difficulties understanding the urgency of the issue, given the wide array of social and economic challenges facing Kyrgyzstan.
Moreover, she says, anyone wishing to help with reforms must combat the persistent rumors that foreigners are using the Kyrgyz children for profit. “There was fear that children could potentially be used as organ donors. Some people also assume that since American families that adopt receive certain financial benefits and tax breaks, they must be doing it less out of the goodness of their hearts and rather to supplement their income. Many unfounded ideas circulate in the local population regarding foreigners who express the wish to adopt local children,” Aitmatova explained.
In 2007, Mala Tyler adopted a Kyrgyz boy, Beck, and brought him home to Concord, New Hampshire. She urges Bishkek to lift the moratorium, arguing that the delay only hurts the children. “If the Kyrgyz government has concerns about the welfare of the adopted children, then they need not look any further than the children who are already home. They are loved, they are cherished, they are happy. Relinquishing a child, whether by a parent or by a country, is surely not an easy decision -- certainly not to be taken lightly -- but these children have homes and parents and siblings waiting for them. They have a life full of love waiting for them,” Tyler said.
Yet it seems a knee-jerk fear remains a persistent challenge to any hopes for reform. A parliamentary deputy and former human rights ombudsman, MP Tursunbai Bakir uulu, says that Kyrgyz society is right to be concerned about how these children, often living in underfunded institutions in Kyrgyzstan, will be treated abroad. Without providing evidence, he told EurasiaNet.org: “There are so many stories in the world when adopted children were abused, humiliated, even killed. I don’t support international adoption."
Beishe Bulan is the pseudonym for a Kyrgyz journalist.