Monthly Archives: June 2013

The need for international adoption oversight

Yesterday’s New York Times front page article, “Eager to Adopt, Evangelical Families Face Familiar Pitfalls Abroad,” was heartening because it shows that people are beginning to accept the ethical duty to adopt. Christians have been the first identifiable group to articulate this duty. Don Browning once said, “all Christians should be willing to adopt when the need arises.”[1] As the NYTimes article shows, the need is here. “The orphan crisis is the greatest humanitarian issue in modern times,” it points out.

The article also demonstrates the need for international adoption auditing. Without a good system of international adoption auditing, adoption can succumb to corruption and can seem more like trafficking than fulfilling a moral duty. “Eager to Adopt” points out that families are more likely to adopt following a crisis – the article profiles a family who started adoption proceedings for four children after reading “about the dismal orphanages in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.”

But adopting following a crisis that has torn a country apart can be risky. Look at what happened when families were motivated to adopt following the Haiti earthquake: “Some Haitian orphanages were nearly emptied, even though they had not been affected by the quake or licensed to handle adoptions. Children were released without legal documents showing they were orphans and without regard for evidence suggesting fraud.”[2]

The article mentions that adoptions are less corrupt in countries that have signed the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, signed in 1993, “establishes standards and procedures for the intercountry adoption process.”[3] It has rigorous compliance standards, such as requiring each member country to establish a Central Authority “to discharge the duties which are imposed by the Convention” and to cooperate with the Central Authorities of other contracting states to “protect children and to achieve the other objects of the Convention.”[4] It requires signing countries to accredit adoption agencies, and has criteria for accreditation to ensure that adoptions are not for financial gain, and that the children are in fact, adoptable by virtue of being orphans or of having the parents’ consent.

However, many countries are simply unable to ratify the Convention – “for governments struggling to overcome war, poverty, and disease, complying with the Hague Convention is impossible.”[5] Moreover, the Hague Convention is something of a band-aid, failing to address underlying social and policy issues that cause the vast number of orphans and vulnerable children across the globe.[6]

Plus, as the New York Times Article points out, parents may give consent not always understanding what they are consenting to. “There have been instances where parents placed their children in orphanages believing it would be a type of temporary foster care and, as a result of the child’s placement, lost the child through intercountry adoption.”[7]

The overall message here is that people are starting to come around to the idea that ignoring the orphan crisis is immoral; but to address it, we need greater involvement by nonprofit organizations to audit the process. As we move into the future of family formation, adoption auditing must be at the forefront of the practice.


[1] “Adoption and the Moral Significance of Kin Altruism,” by Down Browning, page 72, in The Morality of Adoption: Social-Psychological, Theological, and Legal Perspectives , William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005

[2] “After Haiti Quake, the Chaos of U.S. Adoptions,” by Ginger Thompson, New York Times, August 3, 2010

[3] ” Intercountry Adoptions: Are the Biological Parents’ Rights Protected?”, by Cynthia Ellen Szejner, in Washington University Global Studies Law Review, Jan 2006, p.213.

[4] “The Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000: The United States’ Ratification of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children, and its Meager Effect on International Adoption,” by Kate O’Keeffe, in Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, July 2012, p. 1628

[5] Id.

[6] “The

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Politics of Adoptions Across Borders: Whose Interests Are Served? (A Look at the Emerging Market of Infants from China),” by Michelle Van Leeuwen

[7] “Angelina and Madonna: Why All the Fuss? An Exploration of the Rights of the Child and Intercountry Adoption Within African Nations,” by Veronica S. Root, in The University of Chicago Chicago Journal of International Law, 2007, p. 343

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