Congress and Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to loosen a deadlock surrounding almost 500 stalled adoptions cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Kerry’s visit to Africa last week included a private conversation with Congolese President Joseph Kabila. In a press conference afterwards, Kerry said he urged Kabila to lift the freeze on exit permits for children in the adoption process.
DRC immigration authorities stopped issuing exit letters to adopted children in September 2013. Adopted children cannot leave the country without an exit letter, even if the adoption has been legally finalized and the U.S. Embassy in Congo has granted the child a visa. There are now 460 children whose adoption cases have been stalled.
In April, almost 170 members of Congress signed a letter to Kabila and Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, pressing them to issue exit permits for the children. The letter requested the DRC expedite the processing of adoptions in cases where children have health risks, issue exit permits for completed adoptions, and provide families still in the process a means to obtain exit permits so they can finalize their adoptions and bring their children home.
“The DRC government’s suspension of pending adoption cases, many of which have already been legally finalized, creates deep distress not only for the families waiting to receive the children, but especially for the waiting children themselves,” said Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, co-chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption.
The letter noted that about 50 of the 460 pending adoptions are “fully finalized—approved by the Congolese courts, the Ministry of Gender and Family, and the United States Embassy in Kinshasa.” Many of these families are living in the DRC with their adopted children while others are paying for foster parents to keep the children until they can get them to the United States.
DRC officials said they suspended exit permits due to concerns about the well-being of Congolese children adopted internationally. A delegation from Congo’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was scheduled to meet families with adopted Congolese children in the United States earlier this spring, but the delegation cancelled the trip. The State Department is now asking families with adopted Congolese children to send photos and videos of their children that it can present to Congolese officials.