In light of the Trump administration's ongoing efforts to reorganize the executive branch, implement significant cuts in foreign aid, and streamline our foreign policy structures, it is important that certain issues do not get lost in the political shuffle. There is an abundance of waste in foreign aid programs, but not all spending is waste. And what emerges from this major reorganization will determine foreign policy priorities for years to come.
To that end, the administration must not allow orphans and extremely vulnerable children in need of permanent families to fall by the wayside.
Last year, UNICEF estimated there are 140 million orphans worldwide and that number is growing. This is a serious problem. These children are victims due to the death of parents, or neglect, abuse, abandonment, conflict, or other tragic circumstances.
Here in the United States, children who are victims of abuse and neglect have the U.S. foster care system. Even with its imperfections, it provides a safety net. Children in foster care can be reunified with their biological families, placed with kin, or placed into a loving permanent family through adoption.
In other countries, many children who are orphaned or are victims of abuse and neglect have no such options. Many languish on the streets, in garbage dumps, or wherever they can find shelter, surviving the best they possibly can. For these, there is no safety net.
Their circumstances are often the result of corrupt governments and bad political leadership, and it's not the United States' job to police those countries. But more can be done diplomatically with countries willing and able to partner on the behalf of vulnerable children.
For some international children, their only hope of protection and security, the sort that only a family can give, is in being adopted by a giant-hearted American family who is willing to go to extraordinary measures to give them a chance at life.
These vulnerable children — and placing them in permanent families while protecting them from being trafficked, abused, or held in orphanage — need to be a diplomatic priority of the U.S. government.
One easy first step the Trump administration can take is to fill the special adviser for children's issues position, which is currently vacant at the Department of State. A second step is to ensure that this position is not diminished by the restructuring. This special advisory, created in 2010, helps to advance U.S. foreign policy issues that impact children, including child abductions and inter-country adoption. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently signaled that he will keep this position, but it should be prioritized and filled with a nominee who is an adoption advocate.
A second step is to ensure that child protection, including child welfare, adoption, child pornography, and child exploitation, are raised as foundational and strategic policy priorities in our relationships with other governments. Trade agreements and other international negotiations cannot be made in a vacuum. Countries that turn a blind eye to the abuse and exploitation of their own children (for instance, the mass producers of child pornography) should be pressed to make their own populations of vulnerable children a priority, through strengthening their laws and child protection systems.
Finally, the United States can provide technical assistance to the governments that wish to do better in the realms of child protection, child welfare, and adoption. We are the forefront of technology with some of the brightest minds in the world. We should use our skills to help reduce the number of children who are trafficked and go missing. This will strengthen other countries' own capacities without making them dependent on U.S. taxpayers.
The solution is not to throw more government money at the problem; it is to leverage the United States' leadership and example in these countries. When the dust settles on the State Department's reorganization plan, a key indicator of success will be whether the federal government has a strong advocate for vulnerable children ready with a robust agenda to protect them.
Mary Vought (@MaryVought) is a communications strategist who resides in Arlington, Va.
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