Phnom Penh, Cambodia
June 26, 2012
Last week, I met and talked with Male (MA-lee,) a Cambodian woman whose story shook me to the core. Seven years ago, Male’s husband (who worked on a Thai fishing vessel to support his family) died of tuberculosis, leaving her alone to take care of their five young children (then ranging in age from two to about eight.) Male has little education (during what should have been her middle and high school years, the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, and there was no formal education,) and so could not earn more than the most meager of incomes in this poor country (where nearly 30 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.) She certainly could not earn enough to feed let alone clothe or educate her children.
Male faced a terrible dilemma, and made a tough choice: she took the eldest two to an NGO that arranges international adoptions. Her hope was that they would be adopted by wealthy foreigners who would be able to provide them with better prospects in life than she could. They were soon adopted by an Austrian couple who took them back with them to Vienna, and she hasn’t heard from them since. Later, she took two more of her children to an ‘orphanage,’ where they remain today (and she is still in touch with them). Male kept only her infant child, now a boy of nine.
There is a lot more to Male’s particular story, and I will post it online very soon. For now, though, I want to focus on the situation parents like Male find themselves in, not because it is unusual, but because it is very common. Millions of parents in the developing world face themselves facing dilemmas a lot like Male’s, though details vary widely.
Faced with this terrible dilemma, what should a parent do? If you were in Male’s position, what would you do? Did she do the right thing, or was she wrong to abandon her children?
In a closed discussion on this topic, one student in Geog 101 summarized the view of several members of the class
I wonder if her Male’s two eldest children, were adopted by the Austrian couple, were actually sent to them and are living in a good home. Especially since she is of low socioeconomic status, there is no way for her to know whether her children were sold into child slavery or actually sent to a loving home. In that sense, I question whether giving them up for adoption was actually better for them than keeping them with her? Knowing this and that I would have no way to be sure, I don’t think I would’ve given them up for adoption.
Do you agree? I look forward to hearing from you (and by ‘you’ I mean not only students in Geog 101, but anyone else who happens to stop by this site.)
Donald N. Rallis