Justin Carroll left his home in Tennessee and his job as a carpenter in mid-November for what he thought would be a two-week journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to bring his two adopted sons home to his wife, Alana. Eight weeks later, Justin and the couple’s toddler boys, Neema and Canaan, are still waiting to come home.
Carroll is one of five families with newly adopted children stuck in the DRC because the government has suspended exit permits for the children.
The adoption paperwork is complete and the new parents have taken custody of their children, but authorities in the DRC have stopped providing the only thing they need to take their children home—a signature on an exit permit. Left with the decision to wait or leave without their kids, the families are waiting.
“Justin is not going to leave the boys,” said Alana from their home in Jefferson City, Tenn. Alana stayed in the United States to give birth to the couple’s newborn biological daughter, whom Justin has only met via FaceTime video calls. Carson Diane arrived a week after Justin flew to Africa.
Alana blogs about their cross-continental family, a situation she said started like a “dream come true,” but morphed into “nightmare I can’t wake up from.” She describes their son Neema, 2, as outgoing and energetic. Canaan, 3, is quiet and reserved but is slowly warming up to Justin, smiling ear to ear with deep dimples.
UNICEF estimates that war-torn DRC is home to more than 800,000 double orphans—children who have lost both parents. The country was becoming more popular with families looking to adopt internationally. Americans adopted 240 Congolese children in 2012, making them the sixth most-adopted nationality, up from 41 in 2010.
But the Congolese government halted international adoptions on Sept. 25, 2013, and authorities stopped issuing exit permits for children leaving the country with their adoptive parents. Officials claimed they suspended the exit permits amid abuse allegations and concerns that adoptive parents were passing their kids off to a second set of parents after their adoption was finalized, according to an alert from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The suspension will reportedly last for at least 12 months.
A week later, the government told the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa that parents with travel visas for children adopted before the suspension could apply in person and would be granted exit permits. The Carrolls and other families came to the DRC to complete the process, but they are now caught in red tape.
According to the latest alert on Dec. 20, exit permits for adopted children face significant processing delays and increased scrutiny because the Congolese government claimed they received fraudulently obtained documentation. The U.S. Embassy said it is looking into cases in which approved families, like the Carrolls, are unable to get permits.
One way or another, the Carrolls are determined to reunite. “In a dire situation, we would just move [to Congo],” Alana said. “Leaving our sons there is not an option.”