Overregulation of International Adoption is Hurting, not Helping

My last post was about how Russia followed its ban on Adoption of Russian children by Americans with a ban on adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples and by single people living in countries that allow marriage equality.

Russia is fooling itself if it thinks its protecting children by heavily regulating adoption. Reports are now coming out of two countries that have overly stiffened adoption regulations: Guatemala and South Korea. Like these countries, Russia will soon find that it is creating more of the problem it intends to solve – parentless children.

Last year South Korea passed an adoption reform that requires mothers to register the birth of their baby and spend a minimum of one week with the infant before putting it up for adoption. In 2012, before the law was passed, 62 infants were abandoned. That number has rocketed to 152 abandoned during the same period this year.

Although the Hague Convention puts a preference on domestic adoption over international adoption, trying to encourage this effect with draconian laws and international adoption quotas won't work. South Korea is a prime example, where “Confucian values make many families reluctant to raise a child from outside their bloodlines,” and “where it remains taboo for women to birth or raise children out of wedlock.”[1]


Street children in Guatemala City. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Street children in Guatemala City. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Guatemala shut down international adoptions completely in 2008 amid reports of stealing children from mothers, child trafficking and financial abuses within the system. Five years later, the same abuses are taking place, only now on a truly black market, since there is not even the façade of international adoption. One study reports that 93% of Guatemalan OVC living on the street have sexually transmitted diseases, and 90% are drug users.[2] Meanwhile hundreds of orphans mid-adoption languished in orphanages for 5 years before the countries finally agreed to approve the adoptions.

Guatemala and South Korea are prime examples of countries that need to reopen their adoption systems and take part in an international oversight system that would provide transparency to the movement of children.

Two things can actually change the numbers of parentless children who are abandoned and too often doomed to such fates as neglect, child pornography, drugs, or death. The first is fostering economic development in sending countries and by internal change that makes single or young parenthood less stigmatized and more supported. In 1967 Ireland, 93% of children from unwed parents were placed for adoption. Today, that number is less than 1%.[3] But Ireland's change took more than 50 years to come to fruition.

The second option is a viable, realistic solution: international adoption. “Intercountry adoption provides a short term solution by presenting these children with a chance to thrive in a 'real' family setting.”[4]

Over-regulation in international adoption does nothing but perpetuate the orphan crisis, and shutting international down completely is the worst thing we can do for OVC. Russia will soon find itself in the same bind as Guatemala and South Korea. The best thing these countries can do is to open adoption to foreign countries, and get on board with an international oversight organization to minimize corruption.


[1] “Change in Korean Adoption Law Followed by More Abandoned Babies,” by Steven Boroweic, available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303442004579121030310275014.html

[2] “Parentlessness: Adoption Problems Paradigms Policies and Parameters,” by Lynn Wardle, at p. 7. Available at http://www.law2.byu.edu/page/categories/marriage_family/past_conferences/oct2004/lynn%20wardle.pdf

[3] ” Adoption patterns have changed a lot in recent decades, forum hears,” by Carl O'Brien, available at http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/adoption-patterns-have-changed-a-lot-in-recent-decades-forum-hears-1.1544310

[4] “A Modest Proposal? The Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption,” by Lisa M. Katz


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