Heather Hintze and Professor Jini Roby, Social Work
In the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), international adoption is very common. The RMI has one of the highest international adoption rates per capita in the world. This research project was designed to learn and understand the reasons behind this high international adoption rate in the RMI. The research project focused on investigating the cultural influences that cause Marshallese women to relinquish their child for international adoption. Currently, the work is still in progress. All of the information was obtained from Marshallese birth mothers living in the Marshall Islands. Now the data entry needs to be done at Brigham Young University before all the results can be stated. This research project is intended to be the beginning of more study and research on the various cultural influences that affect international adoption. Hopefully this research project will spur continually interest and more in depth study on international adoption specifically within the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The following is an outline of the research hypotheses and the methodology that was used.
The major research question is: What are the cultural beliefs surrounding international adoption in the Marshall Islands?
Some of the research questions that were asked in this descriptive study are:
• What was the birth parents’ understanding of international adoption (severance of ties with their child or a link between two families)?
• What are the birth parents’ expectations for the adoptive family?
• What were the influencing factors in their decision to place their child for adoption?
• What were the reasons for placing the child internationally?
• What are the expectations of the birth parents and extended family in regards to the returning of the child?
• Were there any promises, understandings, or agreements made between the birth and adoptive parents?
So far, our study appears to support the opinion that the Marshallese culture has a considerably different cultural conception of adoption. Within the Marshallese culture, adoption is viewed as the joining of two families—adoption ultimately expands the family unit. While in the Western culture, adoption is seen as the relinquishment of a child to another family with all ties severed.
As a result, the birth parents are often surprised when the adoptive family does not recognize the adoptive child’s birth family, and the adoptive child is no longer viewed as a common link between two families. Also, within the Marshallese culture, it is considered an insult to refuse to share something when it has been requested. This part of the traditional Marshallese culture heavily influences the international adoptive process with countries such as the United States; in which, there is an inflated view of the U.S. due to their military presence and financial aid given to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The research was conducted by using a 62-item questionnaire. Five students from the College of Marshall Islands interviewed 73 Marshallese birth mothers who have placed their children for international adoption. Each student found the birth mothers randomly within the community. Eleven of the birth mothers were re-interviewed by a different College of Marshall Islands student to test the validity of the interview. The data that was obtained through the interviews with the birth mothers has begun to be entered and analyzed since returning to Brigham Young University. The information collected contains both qualitative and quantitative data.
The major weakness of the study appears to be the questionnaire itself because it has not been tested for validity or reliability. Furthermore, in this study there is a language barrier between the B.Y. U. researchers and the Marshallese birth mothers. The researchers had to rely completely on the College of Marshall Islands students to conduct a thorough and morally correct interview. The selection of participants is also a threat to internal validity as there is little randomization due to the fact that each interviewer found participants that they personally knew of within the community.
The strength of the research is that it generates new knowledge in a very new field of study. Knowledge is the key. With knowledge comes awareness, and then awareness is what brings about change. Throughout the world, international adoption is often considered a “touchy subject.” But with better understanding of cultural differences within various countries and implementing this new knowledge into action, we can help alleviate some of the misunderstandings involved in international adoption. This research has potential for improving international relationships and understanding and may have positive influence on both participating countries.