Looking at the statistics recently rerleased by the NCFA, I was startled to see just how much international adoption has declined over the past decade. For a while, 20,000 kids were being adopted into the US each year. Now the number is more like 5,000. I've heard some people say the decline is a good thing - that it means less child trafficking and more in-country adoptions are occurring. But it seems to me like there are still a lot of children growing up in (and aging out of) institutions worldwide - and I've heard people suggest that the US government could do more to address the orphan crisis and encourage legitimate international adoptions. Thoughts?
The U.S. has already done a great deal, and I'm not sure what more it can do, at this time.
1. It already advocates with countries that are closed to Americans because of corruption, to adopt a Hague-compliant system that offers the necessary protections against baby-stealing, baby-buying, visa fraud, etc. With U.S. advice, as an example, Vietnam has recently reopened for special needs adoptions, and if things go well, non-special needs adoptions may be allowed down the road.
2. It also advocates with countries that don't want to place with Americans, like Russia. The State Department has made many efforts to convince the Russians that all Americans are not child-killers, as has been alleged after some high profile cases alleging child abuse have come to their attention. In fact, many of the Russian complaints result more from ultra-nationalist sentiments than from a concern about children, and those sentiments aren't going to go away, just because the State Department wants Russia to restart adoptions.
3. The State Department has greatly improved its handling of adoption.state.gov, which provides detailed information on foreign countries' adoption processes, the Hague Convention, and so on. It used to be updated very infrequently, so its information was often outdated. Today, the information seems to be updated regularly, and breaking news appears as soon as it's verified.
4. In 2000, the U.S. passed three laws that have had a major impact on international adoption, and they are being fine-tuned, as needed. The first law was a version of the adoption tax credit, which ensured that qualifying Americans could get some relief from the high costs of adoption, both foreign and domestic. The second law was the Child Citizenship Act, which enabled internationally adopted children to become U.S. citizens without having to go through naturalization. For children coming home on IR-3 and IH visas, they became citizens as soon as they entered the U.S. For children coming home on IR-4 visas, they become citizens automatically as soon as they were adopted or readopted in the U.S. And, finally, the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 provided the framework for implementation of the Hague Convention in the U.S. While it is true that compliance with the Hague ha meant slightly longer and more costly adoption processes, it has also been true that better safeguards were put in place for children, birthparents, and adoptive families.
5. More recently, the U.S. passed the Universal Accreditation Act, requiring all families adopting internationally to use a Hague accredited agency as a primary provider. While this may increase costs for some families, it is bound to prevent many cases in which families, usually adopting independently, finalize the adoption of a child, only to find that he/she does not qualify for immigration to the U.S. It should also discourage use of facilitators who mislead foreign birthparents about the finality of adoption, practice visa fraud, engage in child stealing or buying, deliberately refer a seriously ill child as healthy, or simply disappear with a prospective adoptive parent's money.
6. The U.S., by making it possible for gay men and lesbians to marry, has said to the world that it considers them no different from any other Americans. In time, this may make it easier for them to adopt internationally, although most countries currently do not accept same-sex couples, except occasionally on a waiver basis; at present, I believe that South Africa, Brazil, and Colombia are among the few with laws that allow same-sex couples to adopt.
Do be aware that, by longstanding custom, as well as by treaties and laws, sovereign nations have the ability to make whatever laws they deem necessary to protect their most vulnerable citizens, such as orphans. Much as we might not be happy with countries that prohibit single women and men from adopting, or that prohibit people who are obese from adopting, it is those countries' right to do so, without interference from foreign governments, because they are doing what they believe is best for parentless children.
Also, do be aware that one thing that's REALLY needed in the U.S. is an overhaul of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is the basis of all U.S. immigration requirements, including (but not limited to) requirements for internationally adopted children. The Act is a patchwork quilt of laws, some of which are very old and probably no longer appropriate. In the adoption area, for example, does it really make sense to tell a family that, if one spouse in a two parent family travels to meet the child and finalize the adoption, while the other spouse stays home to care for other children or to work at his/her job, the child is not considered as having a final adoption and must go through readoption before he/she becomes an automatic citizen? Does it make sense that a person on a permanent resident visa (green card) is prohibited from adopting internationally unless he/she is married to a U.S. citizen? Personally, I don't think so, and I suspect that there are many folks who agree with me. But in the prevailing political climate concerning immigration, I doubt that any meaningful reform of the INA, and especially reform that could be viewed as liberalizing requirements, will be enacted.
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And, by the way, not all decreases in adoption are bad.
It is absolutely true that, as countries become more prosperous, the need for international adoption decreases. Look at South Korea. It was the first country to have a formal adoption agreement with the U.S., beginning shortly after the Korean War. For a long time, it was a major source of internationally adopted children in the U.S.
But times have changed for South Korea. Instead of stagnating, like North Korea, with a totalitarian government, South Korea has become very prosperous and modern. It is known for its telecommunications, electronics, and automotive industries. It is also one of few countries in Asia to have a Western-type medical system, and to support universal immunization against childhood diseases and the diseases common in less developed countries.
Today, the number of healthy infants and toddlers available for adoption has decreased dramatically, in part due to the increasing prosperity. The #1 reason for placing children for adoption, around the world, is poverty, so more prosperity means fewer people who can't afford to raise a child.
Along with becoming more prosperous, South Korea is becoming more Westernized, for better or for worse. For one thing, there are fewer people who hold traditional beliefs about the importance of the "blood tie", and more people who are open to adopting unrelated Korean children. For another thing, girls and young women are not as sheltered as they used to be, and know more about sex and reproduction, including how to prevent pregnancy, so they are less likely to wind up getting pregnant and placing children for adoption. Some single women, as in the U.S. are even choosing to raise children they bear while single. Unfortunately, while Westernization has reduced the need for adoption, one of its downsides has been that there is a great increase in alcohol consumption by young Korean women. The per capital consumption of alcohol in Korea, in general, and especially among young people, is surprisingly high, and what is consumed is often a high-proof version of shoyu, the national drink. Thus, while fewer babies are relinquished for adoption, overall, a higher proportion of them will turn out to have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), sometimes undiagnosed until they reach school age, by which time they are already in adoptive homes. Some of the relinquished children also may have had in utero exposure to illicit drugs and to tobacco use, both of which are more common in young women than it used to be.
Finally, South Korea truly needed help with the number of parentless children in the country, many years ago, but with the reduced number of relinquishments, the South Korean government is more confident now that, over time, it may be able to phase out international adoption completely. As a result, it is beginning to implement programs to encourage more Koreans to adopt domestically -- for example, with tax credits. While South Korea was a little optimistic in its original timeline for phasing out international adoption, it probably will be able to do so at some point down the road, at least for children with no known special needs.
And South Korea isn't the only country going through changes, like South Korea. China has seen a rather dramatic downturn in international adoptions, as a result of increased prosperity, greater public acceptance of domestic adoption by families within China, and government efforts to stimulate domestic adoption. World criticism of China's one-child policy, ultimately leading to China's decision to permit many families to have two children, has also had an effect on child abandonments/relinquishments.
Today, orphanages in some of China's most prosperous cities, once full of relatively healthy baby girls, now house mainly children with special needs, and many of them are boys. Unfortunately, Chinese laws do not protect disabled people from discrimination as well as they should, and do not mandate special accommodations, such as ramps and curb cuts, for people with disabilities as well as they should. And many less educated people still believe that families who give birth to children with special needs did something wrong or were "cursed". So China is now allowing foreigners -- except for those who have been waiting in line for referrals for several years -- to adopt only children who have special needs or who are of school age and likely not to be adopted domestically.
Greater prosperity, greater societal acceptance of adoption, and government incentives to promote domestic adoption are all positive. But at this time, there are many countries in which the number of parentless children remains fairly significant. Unfortunately, not all of these countries permit international adoption, and some of those that do simply don't have a well-organized, transparent system that is relatively free from corruption. Nowadays, the U.S. government is advocating in many of these countries, for both creating a Hague-compliant adoption system and for the opening of the system to Americans. But that's simply not going to happen overnight. While I'd like to see more children in permanent loving families, I hope that we all agree that corruption in adoption must be rooted out, and that we should not be adopting children who may have been bought or stolen, who may have been procured from biological parents who did not understand the finality of adoption, who may not have been adopted according to the laws of their country, and so on.
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