Why Do Some Countries Not Allow International Adoption?

In just ten years, the number of international adoptions dropped by 72%.

MK Menon August 15, 2018
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In 2005, there were 46,000 children adopted internationally, and nearly 23,000 children found a new home in the U.S. Ten years later, the number of international adoptions dropped by 72%. What happened?

Many experts point fingers at the global agreement drawn up during the Hague Convention on international adoption in 1993. By 2016, 103 countries had signed it with the intent of making adoption a safer and less complicated process by establishing an international standard of practice. The new requirements for international adoptions included the creation of a central adoption authority, stricter approval processes, and providing specific adoption services such as adoption training to the parents. While the intent is well-meaning and in the best interests of the child, many of the participating countries have a difficult time meeting all the requirements, thereby causing a sharp decrease in adoptions. This has left children in orphanages and foster care systems, for much longer periods of time. Before 2008, 44% of adoptees were less than a year old; yet, between 2008 and 2014, this number dropped to 20% while the number of adoptees between one and two years old increased to 39%.

Another reason for the steep decline is due to policy changes in the five highest international adoption countries: Russia, China, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and South Korea. Russia enacted the strictest change by banning U.S. citizens outright from adopting Russian born children in 2012. The catalyst for this appears to be the Magnitsky Act, signed by President Obama, which placed sanctions on certain Russian alleged human rights violators. China altered their eligibility requirements for foreign adoptions in order to provide the child with a healthy and economically stable family. Specific requirements around maximum body-mass index, disease status and history, education level, marriage duration, and a net worth minimum made many prospective adoptive families ineligible. Reports of child-trafficking being a huge business in Guatemala has put a halt on adoptions from this country—the second largest international adoption country as of 2006. Ethiopia, however, is the most recent country to ban all foreign adoptions. This was potentially spurred by the infamous case of abuse of a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl, who died from malnutrition and hypothermia at the hands of her adoptive parents. South Korea, which considers adoption a taboo topic, changed their rules to make unwed mothers wanting to give up their children for adoption register the child in a database. This shaming along with a national pride of being able to care for their own children has drastically altered the adoptions of Korean born children.

Whether the motivation for changes in adoption policy is driven by politics, country pride, or welfare for the children, the unintended consequences have been longer periods of time in orphanages and often reduced chance of ever being adopted. While the intent is often based on something positive, perhaps we should evaluate whether countries are getting the results they hoped for. Ending foreign adoptions will keep children in their own culture, but when the time is spent inside a parentless foster care facility, the only people who are losing out are the children and the prospective parents. It’s important to look at the net outcome of foreign adoptions rather than focus on the anomalies in the system that give adoptions such a bad reputation.

Additional reading:

How to Solve the U.S. International Adoption Crisis

Bucking Trump Deregulation Agenda, State Department Chokes International Adoption

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MK Menon

MK Menon is a transracial international adoptee. She was adopted as an infant in a closed adoption yet managed to successfully trace her roots in her twenties. This year she hopes to publish her memoir about her journey to her birth mother. She's a vocal advocate for adoptees tracing their roots. She works as a research scientist and freelance writer. When she and her husband aren't chasing their toddler around the house, she loves cooking up a storm. She currently lives in California.

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