DALLAS, February 2, 2014 —In the war-ravaged city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Erin Wallace anxiously sits in the small room where she has spent the past three months. Her reason for being there is the adoption of a sixteen month old Congolese girl whom she and her husband have named Elaine or as they fondly refer to her “Lainey.”
In October of 2013, the Congolese Ministry suspended exit permits for adopted children whose paperwork had been filed after September 25th of that year. Erin and her husband Chris felt confident as they had filed their paperwork before the September 25th deadline, but requests for an exist visa by the couple were unsuccessful placing them in a perpetual “holding pattern.” In her blog http://www.tinydreamercreative.com Erin speaks about her frustration with the current Congolese suspension of exit permits and the growth of their beautiful daughter: “Lainey has changed so much since we first met. She’s attached. By ALL legal rights she is our daughter. She has a US Visa and we meet all the criteria that the Congo has stipulated during their suspension, yet we are still unable to receive an exit permit.”
Her husband, Chris, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Navy, suffers endless frustration as he attends school back in Virginia. He routinely speaks with Erin via Skype as he awaits any word from his wife about the young girl who has stolen their hearts and whom they already refer to as their youngest daughter, Elaine.
In Maryland, Erin’s parents are caring for the couple’s two children, Noah and Cami. In her blog Erin also speaks about her separation from her children. “Before I arrived, the longest I’ve ever been away from Camille and Noah has been for two days. After Chris returned from his deployment at the end of February we were determined to all be together.
The U.S. State Department reports that On December 19 the Congolese Minister of Justice, Minister of Interior and Security, and the General Direction of Migration (DGM) confirmed to members of the diplomatic corps, including the U.S. Ambassador that the current suspension on the issuance of exit permits continues.
This announcement confirmed information reported in the Department of State’s October 23 adoption alert regarding the suspension of issuance of exit permits to adopted Congolese children seeking to depart the country with their adoptive parents.”
The reason for the suspension according to the U.S. State Department is that “Applications for exit permits for adopted children are facing increased scrutiny following reports of an apparently falsely backdated bordereau letter submitted by a U.S. family. The DGM reported that a number of additional applications appear to include fraudulently-obtained documentation as well.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is best known for its brutal civil war, which has incorporated the use of child soldiers. According to the U.N. Refuge Agency, UNHCR,“ Since the beginning of 2012, ethnic tensions and inequitable access to land have led to renewed violence in the east and north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), resulting in the displacement of more than 2.2 million people inside the country. In addition, almost 70,000 people have crossed the border into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.”
According to UNICEF, “DRC is at the top of the list of countries where armed forces and militia groups use children as soldiers, sexual slaves or laborers. There may be as many as 30,000 Congolese children fighting or living with armed forces or militia groups; an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of them are girls. Children are forced into service, and many are left with no choice but to join the militias, which may offer some protection and provisions.” The U.N. Refuge Agency UNHCR also reports that” Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) continues to be a major concern for UNHCR. Such violence prevents women and girls, as well as boys and men, from leading healthy lives. Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) are particularly at risk of rape and sexual abuse at home, in public places and at school, while the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted and punished.”
Many children in DRC do not live to see the age of five. Widespread poverty and armed conflict grip this country of 75 million, second largest country in Africa. According to Amnesty International, “Seven years of almost continuous war in the Democratic Republic of Congo have led to the death of over three million people since 1998 alone, most of them civilian men, women and children.” In 2008 Child the Soldiers Global estimated approximately 30,000 children were involved in armed forces and other militias at the end of 2003. Under these conditions, children struggle for a future and dream of a full stomach and a warm bed. Some estimates place the number of children without families at five million.
Erin Wallace and husband Chris began their journey to adopt from the DRC when they learned of the overwhelming number of orphans created by the harsh conditions of the war there. The roadblock for Erin and Chris came when the Congolese government began the suspension of exit visas for children adopted in that country and Erin and Chris are hoping for an intervention from the U.S. State Department, Erin hopes to meet with the U.S. Ambassador but sporadic fighting in the streets keeps her indoors.
Erin describes a recent attempt to journey out into the unpredictable environment that surrounds her: “Day 78 in country, I woke up took my bath-shower and pulled out something other than a t-shirt and yoga pants. I was on my way to meet with the Ambassador after all. I got ready, touching up make-up, leaving my hair down, febreezing my best shirt and least wrinkly skirt. I dressed up Lainey in one of her cute outfits. I stepped outside and the phone rang: shooting and riots in the streets, our driver and in-country guy couldn’t make it, our meeting is cancelled. Angry, but not surprised, I came back into my room, pulled off my fancy shirt and shoes and put on a t-shirt and flip flops.”
They are also asking for support for a new bill introduced into Congress called “Children in Families First.” The bill would bolster foreign adoption, and its chief sponsor is Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Who, in a statement to the Huffington Post says; “Every child needs and deserves to grow up in a family. While our foreign policy has done much to keep children alive and healthy, it has not prioritized this basic human right. “ A rarely seen bipartisan effort has led support of the bill from both sides of the aisle. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts are both co-sponsors of the bill.
Erin and Chris Wallace are not alone in their frustration as they, along with four other families, wait for the Congolese government to allow them to leave the DRC with their adopted children.
The outlook for now is bleak and the U.S. State Department has recently warned; “The DGM continues to estimate that the suspension will last a year. Adoptive families, prospective adoptive families, and adoption service providers are cautioned that the DGM has not committed to processing applications for exit permits within a given timeframe once the suspension ends.”
For now Erin and Chris pray for the day when all of their children can play together and they can again be a family.
If you would like to help please contact your representative in Congress and tell them to support the Children in Families First bill. You can learn more about Erin Wallace and her struggles to bring her daughter home as she blogs at http://www.tinydreamercreative.com.