CONGO (BP) -- At least five U.S. families have been stuck in the Democratic Republic of Congo since as early as October amidst red tape and questions in the process of adopting children there, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission reported.
The DRC has suspended its adoption program and the exit permits of the adopted children there, thereby delaying the exit of the families with finalized adoptions in the war-damaged country where UNICEF counts 800,000 orphans and vulnerable children under age 17.
Pray for the families and urge elected officials to intervene to help the families bring their children home, the ERLC urged on its website.
"Our hearts ache for these families," Matthew Hawkins, coalition director for the ERLC, wrote. "In addition to praying for these families and the wisdom of Congolese officials, friends of these families are encouraged to appeal to their respective representatives in the U.S. Congress, educating them on the situation and asking the representatives to encourage the State Department to use every diplomatic effort to bring these families home."
The DRC on Oct. 8, 2013, suspended its adoption program but grandfathered in adoptions approved before Sept. 25 of that year, the U.S. State Department reported. While adoptions were approved before the September cutoff for all of the U.S. families stuck in the Congo, the DRC has refused to let the children depart the country with their new families.
The DRC suspended the children's exit permits, according to the State Department, because of problems not directly related to the families in question. Specifically, the DRC discovered falsified adoption documents by another family, and received reports that children adopted there may have been abused by their adoptive parents or adopted by other families in their receiving countries.
"While international adoptions are often vulnerable to unpredictable bureaucratic red tape," according to the ERLC report, "the Congo situation is unique because the parents had been told their adoptions would be completed in spite of the DRC's broader suspension of the adoption program."
The ERLC identified on its website the families as Justin and Alana Carroll of Tennessee, who've adopted two sons; Katie and Eric Harshman of Kentucky, who've adopted a daughter; Erin and Chris Wallace of Virginia, new parents of a Congolese girl, and Ryan Doherty of North Carolina who adopted a son. The ERLC was awaiting on Jan. 3 details of a fifth family.
"We've attempted to make sense of the situation, making contact with a number of friends from non-governmental organizations and Capitol Hill," the ERLC reported. "Governments like that of the DRC have a responsibility to protect their citizens, especially orphaned children, and international relations is indeed a balancing act."
Erin Wallace, in the Congo 12 weeks with adoptive daughter Lainey, blogged Dec. 30 that her family is contacting congressmen, senators and lawyers.
"We are desperate to return home with our children. If you know anyone or would be willing, please write regarding our case. We have been stuck for too long," she wrote. "We are reaching out to anyone to share and contact your congressmen regarding our case."
Wallace encouraged the public to voice support to congressmen for the Children in Families First bill, aimed at easing international adoptions.
The bipartisan bill "calls for the redirection of a modest portion of the $2 billion the United States currently spends on children living abroad toward ensuring that all children grow up in a family," according to the bill's website. "What's more, it calls for programs funded with U.S. tax dollars to focus on reducing the number of children living without families and increasing the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children."
All of the families in the Congo will remain there until they can bring their children home, blogged Katie Harshman, in the country 11 weeks.
"The five families remaining in the DR Congo are staying until we are returning with our children," Harshman wrote. "We will not leave here without them. They deserve to be at home with their families. All of the families have done everything the 'right' way."
"We have continued to follow the rules and do what was asked of us," she wrote. "Eric and I have been in this process for almost THREE years. Emma has legally been our daughter for over a year! We are ready to finally become that 'Party of Three' we have been striving for since the day we made the decision to adopt from the Congo."
Links to additional information regarding the families are available on the ERLC's website
Compiled by Baptist Press general assignment writer/editor Diana Chandler. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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