How Changes In Country Policy Affect International Adoption

A look at the top 5 intercountry adoption nations from 2004-2016.

Jennifer S. Jones September 02, 2017

My son taps my shoulder for the umpteenth time. Without paying much attention I pass the syrup again. He’s had way too many pancakes for a typical morning, but we’re on retreat in the mountains and I know today’s breakfast will be followed by a long hike. “Mommmeeeeee,” he says again, his shoulder taps getting sharper, “Look. Look!” I turn around to see what my son has spent half of breakfast staring at. In the next room sits two long tables of high-school girls, all Chinese, with their white mothers. “They’re just like us!” my son exclaims, “But with no boys!”

I consider my son’s closest friends. All adopted from China, our trio of boys share a common history like the teenage daughters in the next room. Our boys were “waiting children with special needs” just as the girls, as one mother later tells me, were part of China’s “lost daughters.” A look at the top 5 intercountry adoption nations from 2004-2016 shows how changes in country policy affect international adoption. Changes may come from revised adoption policies, to political disputes and domestic unrest, to answering a call for increased international standards.

1. China

According to the U.S. Department of State, in 2004 95.1% of babies adopted from China were female and under the age of 2. Today the percentage is split evenly between boys and girls and 81% of adoptees are over the age of 2. Additionally, the majority of children eligible for intercountry adoption have medical or developmental special needs. So why the change? Some point to a culture more accepting of females, others cite the reversal in China’s one-child policy, others point to a culture in which domestic adoption is more socially acceptable and politically desired. In May 2007, the CCCWA (China Center for Children’s Welfare Association) issued stricter guidelines for foreign adoptions. The policy barred single people (which was reversed in 2011), those older than 50 years of age, and set body mass index, financial, and psychological benchmarks for prospective adoptive parents. In July 2017, the CCCWA issued further guidelines, the effects of which have yet to be seen.

2. Russia

One of the toughest things to understand as a prospective adoptive parent is when a country’s adoption policy changes due to political disputes. Following the dissolve of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia was an intercountry adoption standard. But when the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act of 2012, everything changed. The Magnitsky Act, named for a Russian lawyer who died under suspicious circumstances in a Moscow jail, sought to punish those responsible for Magnitsky’s death as well as those who continued to commit human rights abuses in Russia. In retaliation, the Russians pursued punishing sanctions against the U.S. One of those sanctions? The Federal Law No. 272-FZ which banned the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens, effective January 1, 2013.

3. Ethiopia

For many years, Ethiopia was second only to China in the number of intercountry adoptions. On April 21, 2017 the Prime Minister of Ethiopia declared that all intercountry adoptions would be suspended. No official reason was given and, per the U.S. Department of State, no formal communication regarding the suspension has been issued. Some speculate the suspension is due to the extensive personnel changes in MOWA (Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs) which has contributed to considerable delays in the processing of cases; others cite the domestic political unrest of the country, and others point to Denmark. In March 2016, Denmark suspended Ethiopian adoptions out of concern for the integrity of the adoption process. Ethiopia is not a Hague Convention country and thus has not had to comply with Hague Convention standards at this time.

4. Guatemala

At the height of the program, in 2007, intercountry adoptions from Guatemala to the U.S. accounted for almost as many adoptions as from China. For such a small country, the number of intercountry adoptions seemed almost implausible. Amid serious concerns over kidnapping and corruption, at the end of 2007 Guatemala passed legislation to comply with the Hague Convention on standards for international adoption. These standards included a transparency of fees as well as steps to prevent the sale and trafficking of children. The Guatemalan government has suspended all new adoption applications until they can create a new intercountry adoption process. To date, nothing has been put into place, though the U.S. is actively engaged in helping Guatemala to create a new intercountry adoption program.

South Korea
5. South Korea

Like China, South Korea is another example of how a change in a country’s revised adoption policy affects international adoption. The Korean War opened the door to intercountry adoption in 1953 and for many years the U.S. and South Korea enjoyed a strong adoption partnership. But from 2004-2016 adoptions to the U.S. dropped 85%. In August 2012, political forces seeking to prioritize domestic adoptions implemented the “Special Adoption Act” in response to a growing sentiment against sending orphans abroad. Like China, South Korea has stringent regulations for prospective adoptive parents (such as age, marital status, and income requirements). Also like China, the age of available children has changed from infant to 1-4 years old with minor/correctable needs.

Changes in country policy affect international adoption but while some changes lead countries to close or become more restricted, other policies lead countries to open. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Bulgaria are included in the U.S. Department of State’s 2016 top five intercountry adoption nations. My family’s second adoption will be from India, a country we weren’t even able to consider three years ago. What do you think international adoption will look like in the years to come? Any countries you’re surprised to see listed? Or are there countries you’re surprised are missing?

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Jennifer S. Jones

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and "is this really us?!" whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at

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