There are millions of children worldwide who are living without families, either in orphanages–which are often understaffed and ill-equipped– or on the streets.  According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, there are approximately 17.9 million orphans who currently need homes.   The official website for the Children in Families First Act describes the plight of these children:  “Children without parents are the most vulnerable children in the world.  They are alone, they are often out of sight, and they are voiceless.”

Because of this, it is alarming to many that international adoptions in the United States have been in sharp decline for nearly a decade.  In 2004, nearly 22,991 children were adopted internationally.  In 2012, that number fell to 8,668.  A large part of that 62% decrease in international adoptions is a result of the policies of countries that had once released large numbers of orphans to foreign adoptive families.  (Most significantly are China’s 2007 imposition of stricter regulations on requirements for adoptive parents and Russia’s gradual decrease in–and eventual 2012 ban of– the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens.)

However, many people believe that there are factors leading to decreased international adoptions that are within the United States Government’s control, including the way it determines whether countries are in compliance with the requirements of the Hague Adoption Convention.

The Hague Convention was established to protect children by defining regulations to prevent the child abduction, exploitation, and trafficking sometimes associated with international adoptions.  However, there are rising concerns that the United State’s enforcement of Hague Adoption Convention requirements on its partner countries has been haphazard and punitive, rather than oriented toward the Convention’s ultimate goal of protecting vulnerable children and facilitating child-centered international adoptions.  Advocates of the CHIFF Act have remarked that there is a tendency for the United States to close off countries for adoptions too quickly– and to re-open them too slowly.

In a December 18 letter to Senator John Kerry, a group of adoption advocates described specific concerns about how the United States has determined a country’s compliance with the Hague Convention.  The letter’s writers called for more clearly defined criteria for determining a nation’s Hague Convention compliance along with more clearly defined procedures for regularly reviewing a nation’s compliance with the Convention.  It described concerns about restrictions being imposed unnecessarily on nations that are currently housing children who are in desperate need of families.

They write, “As a first example, on December 5, we learned that the Government of Cambodia has announced plans to resume placing children for international adoption beginning in 2014.  This is welcome news as it has been more than 12 years since all international adoptions from Cambodia stopped.  During this period, tens of thousands of children in Cambodia have had no chance at a permanent family and have instead grown up or died in institutional care and ended up on the streets or trafficked into the sex trade.  Closing international adoptions did nothing to alleviate the plight of unparented children in Cambodia (or anywhere), and, in fact, serves only to eliminate an important protection option for s uch children.  Thus, we welcome the news that Cambodia, which has joined the Hague Adoption Convention and made changes to their internal structures, is now ready to resume international adoptions.

“However, the Department of State as the Central Authority has retained its notification pasted on its website indicating that the United States does not consider Cambodia to be a Hague partner country because they are not in compliance with the requirements of the Convention.  Further, the Department of State has not signaled when, if ever, it will consider Cambodia a Hague partner country, and on the contrary continues to state public venues that Cambodia remains non-compliant.”

The letter specifically endorses CHIFF as a means for implementing meaningful solutions to the problems it outlines.

CHIFF is advocating for regulation within the context of continued adoptions.  ”It’s really important, when thinking about international adoption, or any humanitarian program, not to lose perspective and get misled because a few tragic cases go badly,” states the official website. “We all grieve those cases.  But we don’t shut down hospitals because a hospital’s error causes harm to a patient.  We don’t shut down the banking system because a bank gets robbed.  Instead, we work to ensure that there are laws in place that protect against errors and crime and prosecute wrongdoers.”

Of additional concern to advocates of CHIFF is the lack of U.S. funding directed toward assisting orphaned children in finding new homes.  Again from the official Act website:  ”According to a recent report from USAID, in 2010 US government invested $2.62 billion in 1,900 orphans and vulnerable children projects in 107 countries. According to this same report, only 52 of these projects focused on children outside of family care and ‘finding or supporting permanent families’ was nowhere among the list of interventions funded. This is still the same today.  And that is why CHIFF is so important.  Without it children outside of family care will continue to be unspoken for and family will remain a consequence, not a focus of, US foreign assistance.”

For more information, try….

Children in Families First Act Seeks to Increase the Number of Orphaned Children Placed With Families

Children in Families FIrst Act is Not the Solution for Child Welfare, Say Opponents