Boom-and-Bust Cycles in International Adoption

NPR reports about the downturn in international adoption under a headline that speaks volumes: Fewer Babies Available For Adoption By U.S. Parents.  Boy, doesn't that signal the "real" concern -- making sure babies are available for Americans to adopt?  And here I thought adoption was about finding families for needy kids, not finding kids for wanting parents. . . .

The article focuses on the boom-and-bust cycle of international adoption from poor countries infected with corruption:
Motivated by the desire to provide a home to a needy child, parents . . . don't like to talk about international adoption as a business. But clearly the market forces of supply and demand have been at work.

A country opens its doors to prospective parents, whether because of war, natural disaster, civil strife or chronic poverty. Adoption agencies and their clients rush in, suddenly turning a small country such as Kazakhstan or Nepal into a major exporter of children.

The demand for healthy babies is extremely high among American and European parents, who are willing to spend upwards of $25,000 to $50,000 in fees and travel costs. That kind of money — multiplied many thousands of times over — has led to cases of corruption in many countries.

Numerous countries, including Guatemala and Vietnam, have experienced problems such as judges and lawyers taking bribes, and gangs or even police stealing children. In response to such charges, a nation's government might decide to put a halt to intercountry adoptions, as Romania did a decade ago. Other countries have seen their markets closed, with U.S. or European nations blocking visas for their children, as happened in Nepal.

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Once a country such as Guatemala closes its doors to international adoptions, demand shifts to a new "sending" country such as Ethiopia, and the boom-and-bust cycle repeats itself.

"What we see is a country becoming fashionable," says Susan Jacobs, the State Department's special adviser for children's issues. "People go to the countries where it's easiest to adopt, where the rules are lax and you can do an adoption quickly and perhaps get a baby."
The article also touches on some of the current debates about international adoption:
There seems to be a consensus within international child welfare circles that orphans should be kept within their own families or communities whenever possible and adopted domestically if need be.

How often international adoptions should be allowed for children who can't find a home in their country of origin, however, is a matter of heated debate.

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Some advocacy groups believe that the best way to improve the lives of needy children is to provide services and support for families in their home countries.

"I don't want to say there's a groundswell, but there is definitely a lot more going on to build up child protective systems than we've ever seen before," says Bissell, of UNICEF. "There's an increased ability of countries to take care of their children and a desire to do so."

But Bissell recognizes that children's services remain underfunded, particularly in the poorest countries.

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Alleviating poverty should be the ultimate goal, Franklin [chairman of the board of the Joint Council on International Children's Services] says, but in the meantime there are millions of orphans around the world who could use a home, many of them in the United States.

"My perception is that it's becoming harder and harder to adopt children while the need is getting bigger," he says.