The XX Factor

International Adoptions: Fewer, Maybe Better

There were fewer international adoptions in 2010 than there have been in any year since 1995: 11,059, down from a high of 22,884 in 2004. Most of those children were from China (3,401), Ethiopia (2,513), Russia (1,082), and South Korea (883). There’s no lack of interest from adopting families, and to what degree the lower number reflects fewer children in need of families is debatable. What is clear is that the United States government has increased its efforts to end baby- and child-trafficking in countries that send large numbers of children to the U.S. for adoption, and those increased efforts mean both fewer corrupt adoptions, and fewer adoptions overall.

There’s a downside to increased vigilance. Families caught up in the investigations into adoption fraud in Guatemala (more than 4,000 adoptions in 2008, 51 last year) found themselves financially, morally, and sometimes legally responsible in Guatemala for children the United States would not allow them to bring into this country. Some were caught in that situation for months or even years while completing ever-increasing steps to affirm that the child they had taken on was, in fact, in need of adoption. But that morass served a purpose: it signaled an end to the days when Guatemalan babies could be easily rolled into an adoption pipeline and sent home with paying families. Where there’s money, there will be corruption-ask Ana Escobar, a Guatemalan mother whose 6-month old was kidnapped at gunpoint and was on the verge of being adopted when her mother found her, months later.

That corruption has tainted nearly every large adoption program. Frequent XX Factor contributor E.J. Graff investigated the State Department’s discovery of systematic fraud within the Vietnamese adoption system for Foreign Policy in a piece that included these chilling words: “even when the embassy was all but certain that a child had been fraudulently taken from a birth family – but did not have evidence strong enough to stand up against the necessary ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard in [Vietnamese] court – it still at times had to allow an American family to bring home that child.” Who would want to risk being that American family? Allegations of baby-theft, payment for children, and officials tricking women into giving up their infants have been made in nearly every country involved in international adoption, including  China , and many suspect Ethiopia is next. ( CBC News reported on adoptive parents who found they’d been lied to by officials involved in their adoptions there in 2009.)

Falling numbers and longer waiting times probably look bleak to parents hoping to adopt internationally, but every adoptive parent should welcome the changes that led to the drop-and, perversely, hope for even lower numbers in years to come. Yes, there are more hoops to jump through than ever before. Yes, there are still children in other countries who need homes and futures they’re unlikely to find without willing international help. But there are also those who are willing to profit from the those kids, and their victims can be found on both sides of the oceans that separate adopted children from their birth countries. The laws and regulations that attempt to curtail that profiteering are far from perfect, but they’re better than the Wild West alternative, and certainly better than wondering, long after the fact, if your beloved child left a grieving family behind.