Foreign adoptions by Americans have dropped by more than half since 2005 — from around 22,000 per year, to 9,300 last year. Just in the past year, the number of U.S. adoptions of Ethiopian children has dropped 30 percent. It’s become an all too familiar story in the world of international adoption. The nations that traditionally have sent the most children to the United States, including South Korea, China, Guatemala and Russia, have all cut back.
International adoptions by American parents has fallen by almost 60 percent since its peak and recently released figures show a drop of 15 percent just over the past year. All this in the face of a UNICEF report showing 163 million orphans worldwide, 18 million of those have lost both of their parents. Adoption should always be a last resort when it comes to ensuring the welfare of a child. Equally important, the trade in children requires extreme caution when it comes to inter-country adoptions. No family wants to adopt a child wrongly identified as an orphan. No child wants to be taken away from their country if there are family members who can fulfill the role of parent. But the reduction in the number of adoptions in the United States is alarming.
The demand for healthy babies has been extremely high among American and European parents, who are willing to spend upwards of $25,000 to $50,000 in fees and travel costs. That kind of money — multiplied many thousands of times over — has led to cases of corruption in many countries.
Numerous countries, including Guatemala and Vietnam, have experienced problems such as judges and lawyers taking bribes, and gangs or even police stealing children. In 2008, Guatemala was the leading source of international adoptions in the U.S., with 4,123 children. Over the past year, the number plummeted to 32, as Guatemalan authorities sought to regain control of the country’s troubled adoption system.
New International Accords Have a Dramatic Impact
The “Hague Convention on International Adoption” is an effort to protect against the “sale and trafficking in children.” The international accord, drafted in 1993 and implemented by the U.S. in 2008, is meant to regulate a formerly wide-open international adoption marketplace. Tough questions by the State Dept led to a virtual halt in adoptions from Vietnam, Ethiopia and Guatemala. More than 80 countries have signed on to the convention, including China and India.
And in July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed a pact to create new guidelines for U.S. adoptions of Russian children. The agreement came in response to an incident last year in which a Tennessee woman sent her adopted 7-year-old son on a plane alone back to Moscow with a note saying, “I no longer wish to parent this child.”
The incident and other stories led Russia to reduce the number of children Americans could adopt from a peak of 5,862 in 2004 to 970 over the past year. But the vast majority of the 50,000 Russian children adopted by American parents since 1993 are now growing up in secure and supportive homes.
A Heated Debate
While there appears to be a consensus that orphans should be kept within their own families or communities whenever possible and adopted domestically if need be, how often international adoptions should be allowed for children who can’t find a home in their country of origin has drawn heated debate.
Advocates of international adoption say that the rare cases of abuse and relatively isolated examples of corruption should not be used as an excuse to deprive needy children of the care and nurturing of a family.
Other advocacy groups believe that the best way to improve the lives of needy children is to provide services and support for families in their home countries.
Caring for the world’s most vulnerable children requires both a long-term and a short-term strategy. Alleviating poverty and providing support should be the ultimate goal, and as noted earlier the first and best option is to have a child raised in their own country. But in the meantime there are millions of orphans around the world who could use a home, many of them in the United States.
CBS News and NPR were sources for much of the information contained in this post. The charts are from NPR.