"When we are adopted, we build ourselves on the idea that we necessarily have a better life in the West"

10 December 2021

Joohee Bourgain, anti-racist and feminist activist, is the author of a book that deconstructs the myths and the colonial imagination on which the international adoption system is based.

A secondary school teacher, Joohee Bourgain is also an anti-racist and feminist activist. Author of International Adoption: Myths and Realities (Anacaona, 17 p., € 15), herself adopted from South Korea, she deconstructs the myths surrounding international adoption. In particular that of the orphan who must be saved from a life of misery, by linking this phenomenon to an asymmetrical power relationship between North and South. For her, abuses are intrinsic to the international adoption system, based on financial transactions around children and women's bodies.

What are the main myths surrounding international adoption?

The myth of abandonment, first of all: we will consider that abandonment is the sole cause of adoption. This myth must be deconstructed, because it tends to throw the responsibility only on the birth parents, and, suddenly, we do not see the whole system that results in a final separation from the birth family. This is why I prefer the term “separation” to “abandon”. There is a whole set of intermediary actors, in particular authorized bodies for adoption (OAA), economic, social, cultural factors ... In South Korea, for example, the "local patriarchy" discriminates against single women, who will be pressured to give up their child for adoption because they are considered incapable of raising him.

The idea is to equate adopted children with biological children

In France, the framework governing intercountry adoption does not authorize simple adoption, as for national adoptions. These are only full adoptions: no link is maintained with the birth family. The idea is to assimilate adopted children to biological children [the adoption judgment serves as a birth certificate, as if the child had been born to its adoptive parents] . It's a whole system that symbolically and legally kills birth parents.

In my essay, I refer to the “necropolitics” , by Achille Mbembe [Cameroonian political scientist and historian] . The fact that the birth parents are symbolically dead allows adopting parents to say to themselves: the child I am adopting has no past, has no parents.

Hence this other myth that you evoke, that of the white beach ...

Yes. It is the idea that when you are adopted, you are virgin of any history. Full adoption legally enshrines this myth.