Why Some Countries Are Closed To Intercountry Adoption

Many countries have closed their doors to adoptions from US citizens.

Jennifer Mellon April 01, 2017
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As of 2016, there were over 140 million orphans in the world. Many of these children, the world’s most vulnerable children, will never experience their right to a safe, loving forever family. In 2015, only 5,648 children were placed in U.S. families through intercountry adoption. As intercountry adoptions continue on the steep decline, United States citizens and prospective adoptive families have growing concerns and questions regarding the state of intercountry adoptions in the future. Parents who are looking to build their family through intercountry adoption should know that many countries have very stable and longstanding adoption programs. However, due to various factors many countries have closed their doors to U.S. adoptions since the height of intercountry adoption placements in 2004. It is important to understand that adopting a child from another country can be complicated and unpredictable.

Here are five reasons countries may close for adoption.

1. Implementation of the Hague Adoption Convention

The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption was established in 1993 and was ratified by the United States in 2008. The Hague Adoption Convention is an international treaty that protects children in the intercountry adoption process. The Convention provides framework for countries party to the agreement to protect the best interests of the children and prevent abduction, trafficking or sale of children. The Convention came out of international pressure for stricter regulations on the intercountry adoption process to protect children from exploitation. The stricter standards instituted within this framework caused many adoption service providers, oftentimes agencies, to close due to their inability to meet the stringent guidelines. It also caused countries that do not meet or agree to the standards outlined in the Convention to close to intercountry adoptions.

Sometimes, countries say they will temporary close to intercountry adoptions as they implement the policies and procedures necessary to be party to the Hague Adoption Convention. Oftentimes this process may take longer than a country expects. It is critical for prospective adoptive families to understand that a temporary suspension may eventually become permanent, or may last for decades. Guatemala passed adoption legislation to implement the safeguards of the Hague Convention in 2007, however the country is still not processing intercountry adoptions with any country at this time. The U.S. Government works with countries, like Guatemala, to establish procedures to resume intercountry adoptions for children who cannot find permanent homes in Guatemala, but the opening dates of this country and others is not known. Vietnam is another country who is working through implementation of the Hague Convention to re-open fully. The United States Department of State suspended adoptions between the United States and Vietnam in June 2011 to ensure they implemented stricter adoption policies and procedures in-line with the Convention.

2. Domestic Legislation

Some countries are permanently or temporarily closed due to their own domestic policies and legislation. For example, adoption is illegal and strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia. Bhutan temporarily suspended all intercountry adoptions in 2011 pending approval of a new adoption law by their King. Other countries, like Argentina, legally can have children placed through intercountry adoption, but it is not currently possible as children are only placed with Argentina residents. Belarus has not processed any U.S. adoptions of Belarusian children since October 2004. The Government of Belarus changed its adoption procedures between 2004 and 2005, requiring an agreement of cooperation between the central authorities of a foreign state and the Republic of Belarus. The United States and Belarus have not entered into such agreement. These are just a few examples of the many countries who do not allow, or whose legislation, makes intercountry adoptions to the United States illegal or not feasible.

3. Changes in Country Requirements

Although this may not cause the full closure of intercountry adoptions from a particular country, changes in requirements for prospective adoptive families can make the finalization of an adoption from the respective country difficult or impossible based on many factors. The country may not be technically closed, but the requirements make adoption for many families impossible. These requirements may include limiting the age of the parents, the number of children already in the family, BMI, mental illness, pre-existing medical conditions, net worth, sexual orientation, single parents, or nationality or citizenship. Countries may also place requirements on the children who can be adopted. The children may need to be older or have special needs, as determined by the country of origin. These instituted policies can make adoptions very difficult.

Sometimes it is not the requirements on the prospective adoptive families, but the many requirements on adoption service providers that prohibit any adoptions from being completed. Some countries, like Nepal, may be legally open to intercountry adoption, however no adoption service providers, or agencies have applied to work within the country, so adoptions are not possible.

4. Natural Disasters, Domestic Turmoil, or War

After an earthquake, like in Haiti, or the tsunami in Indonesia, many individuals wanted to help the children left orphaned by the natural disaster. Famine, war, disasters or unrest cause many families to want to help and believe the best way they can is through adoption. This is the time when those children are most vulnerable. It can be extremely difficult in crisis situations to determine whether children who appear to be orphans truly are eligible for adoption or immigration under U.S. laws. Children who are in orphanages may actually not be orphaned, but rather just separated from parents or extended family members. It is also not uncommon for parents to send their children away during the threat of unrest of disaster to keep them safe. This all makes it incredibly difficult for the country of origin and the United States to safely and ethically determine whether a child is truly an orphan. Thus, oftentimes in these situations, there is a temporary suspension of intercountry adoptions.

5. Political Disputes

In some instances, countries have shut their doors to international adoption due to political disputes with other nations. In December of 2012, President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed into law Federal Law No. 272-FZ which bans the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens, bars adoption service providers from assisting U.S. citizens in adopting Russian children, and requires termination of the U.S. – Russia Adoption Agreement. This ban was imposed in response to a U.S. law, known as the Magnisky Act, that sanctioned some Russians identified as human-rights violators.

Other political disputes may be domestic in their nature. Some countries fight internally over the perception of needing to place their children with families outside of their country. The reasons for closure may be national pride or perceptions they wish avoid. Sometimes this desire to take care of their child leads citizens to better policies and infrastructure, which can support more domestic adoptions and child welfare programs so children find their right to a forever family

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Jennifer Mellon

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.


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