The Foreign Service Journal, September 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2017 77 AFSA NEWS Protecting Vulnerable Children in Uganda THE WI L L I AM R . R I VK I N AWARD FOR CONSTRUCT I VE D I SSENT BY A MI D - LEVEL OF F I CER WENDY BRAFMAN AFSA CONSTRUCT I VE D I SSENT AWARDS Wendy Brafman is described by her nominator as a pro- tector of U.S.-citizen parents and vulnerable Ugandan children. Consular officers at U.S. Embassy Kampala had been raising concerns about adoptions in Uganda. Among their concerns was the fact that documentation was frequently non-existent; if it did exist, documents were often fraudulent. The Ugandan government was not enforcing its own rules and policies, so vulner- able children were being accepted for adoption and rushed through the system without due diligence. In addition U.S. citizens were being pressed to pay bribes, and adoption intermediaries charged substantial fees. On her arrival at post in 2015, Ms. Brafman immedi- ately faced pressure to expe- ditiously process immigrant visas for Ugandan children being adopted by American citizens. However, on inves- tigating, she discovered an increasing number of unethi- cal and fraudulent practices, including cases where the birth family had been misled about what would happen to their children. The average U.S. family pays more than $30,000 in fees and expenses in an adoption. With profit to be made, adoption agency offi- cials duped U.S.-citizen par- ents into beginning adoption procedures for children who were not actually orphans. Though Ms. Brafman saw these practices on the ground, she was con- tinually pressed to proceed with cases. The pressure came from the prospective adoptive parents, attorneys and members of Congress advocating on behalf of their constituents. Cast as “anti-adoption,” Ms. Brafman was vilified on social media and harassed by pro- spective adoptive families. Adoption agencies even advised their cli- ents that Ms. Braf- man was blocking adoptions and that they should not tell the truth when attending the embassy for their interview with a consular officer. Despite the challenges she faced, Ms. Brafman con- tinued to conduct diligent reviews of all adoption cases and report frequently on the alarming fraud and illegal conduct she and her con- sular team were discovering. She also repeatedly raised her concerns about violations of Ugandan law and regulations, initially in conversations with CA colleagues and then via cables. She produced a body of 15 reports outlining the preponderance of fraud and the fleecing of U.S.-citizen parents that was occurring in Uganda. Thanks to her diligence and perseverance, Ms. Brafman persuaded CA to ban a particular adoption provider—not only in Uganda but worldwide. The bureau is also considering formally suspending all adoptions in Uganda to protect the vulnerable children and their families there as well as U.S. citizens seeking to adopt. Accepting the award, Ms. Brafman thanked her colleagues at Embassy Kampala for “seeking what is right for U.S. citizens and the Ugandan children they sought to adopt.” Consider- ing the need for constructive dissent, she quoted William Faulkner: “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed.” Wendy Brafman joined the Foreign Service in 2005. She has served in Kinshasa, Cairo, Baghdad and Wash- ington, D.C., and is now con- sular chief in Kampala. Ms. Brafman has a B.A. in French and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Her husband is also a Foreign Service officer. n William R. Rivkin Award winner Wendy Brafman (center) with Ambassador Charles Rivkin (left) and AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson. The award is named for Amb. Rivkin’s late father. Wendy Brafman at Embassy Kampala with her colleague Naela, a member of the local staff there. COURTESYOFWENDYBRAFMAN AFSA/TOYASARNOJORDAN