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Debate: International adoption

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Should couples be banned from adopting children overseas?

Background and context

With the on going media coverage of the ill-treatment of children in Chinese and Romanian orphanages and the increasing numbers of infertile couples in the developed world, international adoption is cited as solving two problems at once. However, recently, Romania has stopped all international adoptions amid claims of corruption and human trafficking. Similar stories have clouded adoptions from Guatemala. Despite these difficulties international adoptions by US citizens have tripled in the past 5 years and legislation has been passed to make it easier for these adopted children to obtain citizenship. While some children complain of a feeling of cultural dislocation, others are sent to Chinese-American summer camps and seem delighted with their new homes and dual identity. The long-term effects of such migrations are hard to predict but many opponents call for more efforts to be made to house children in their country of birth, with proper support for domestic orphanages and adoption schemes.International adoption offers many advantages and a few disadvantages. While you are pondering whether or not international adoption is the right way to build your family, consider the following. (Keep in mind that perceived advantages and disadvantages are in the mind of the beholder!) [1]


Cultural loss? Do the adopted lose out on their native cultures?


International adoption removes children from the culture into which they were born. Often this causes a sense of dislocation as the child grows older because the do not feel fully a part of their adopted culture nor the culture of the country into which they were born. These feelings can be exacerbated by racial or ethnic distinctions.Pros There are lots of children – both boys and girls, infants and older kids, healthy and special needs children – available for adoption from a wide array of countries. Once you have an approved homestudy, you are practically guaranteed a child. In international adoptions, parents and children are matched by either your adoption agency, the country’s adoption committee, or during an in-country visit. You know about how long it will be before you have your child in your arms. The average time frame is 12 –18 months. Of course, this is just an average. Much depends on the country you choose and any preference you may have expressed regarding the child’s age and gender. The birthmother will not change her mind. The children available for international adoption must be orphans (as specified in an astoundingly complex legal definition). Once you accept the referral of a child, you will almost certainly become the parent of that child. You know (more or less) what the costs will be before you ever begin the process. While the costs of international adoptions can vary markedly, your adoption agency should give you a printed schedule of all the fees before you begin the process. You will (probably) have to travel to another country and learn about another culture. This can be viewed as either an advantage or a disadvantage (see below). If you are going to give your child a sense of his cultural identity, what better way than by experiencing his birth country firsthand?



Whatever maybe lost culturally is more than made up for by the benefits of growing up in a secure and loving environment rather than an ‘institutional’ setting. Many parents go to great lengths to learn about the culture of their child’s birth country giving the child the advantage of learning about two cultures as it grows up. With the growth of multicultural societies in most countries many children having natural parents from different cultures. This means that mixed identities are increasingly common and do not have to be a source of alienation.[3]

"Commodifying" children? Are children being "commoditized" by adoption?


The high fees that western families are willing to pay for international adoptions leads to a commodification of children. In the eyes of both their birth parents and their adoptive parents children become a financial investment rather than a blessing in their own right. This can also be place undue pressure upon a mother unsure about giving up her child. In Guatemala this has reached such great proportions that adoption of babies is thought to generate $40 million for the country each year.[4]


It is wrong to say that spending money on something immediately leads to its commodification. Often the process is so expensive because of the amount of bureaucracy that must be overcome, but many agencies are run on a not-for-profit basis. Many adults could not put a price on the value of having a family and this is why they are willing to pay so much, not just for adoption but other avenues for starting a family like IVF. In many countries they are saving children with a bleak future, such as the abandoned female babies of rural China. In these cases the parents have already abandoned their daughter and do not profit from any subsequent adoption.[5]

Solvency: Does adoption solve problems of international adoption?


A thriving international adoption market fails to encourage states to make adequate provisions for children taken into care. In many cases the worse the condition of a children’s home, the more sympathy and therefore adoptions will be attracted from first world countries. This is particularly problematic for children in foster or temporary care of the state or those, like disabled or HIV-positive children who have a lower chance of being offered an adoptive family.[6]


Many adoptees and their families are very concerned about the ‘left-behind children’. Often they fund raise in their own country to improve the orphanages they left behind. This serves to highlight the conditions in orphanages around the globe as well as raising funds for their improvement. There is no guarantee that governments would spend money on orphans without this pressure.[7]

Domestic adoption: Does international adoption harm market for domestic adoption?


The ability to shop around the globe for the ‘perfect’ baby boy or girl reduces the number of families available for children needing adoption domestically. Often these children are older and may suffer from emotional, behaviour or physical difficulties. Wealthy families from the first world also have the ability to price local families out of the adoption market, reducing the chance of children receiving a home in their country of birth.[8]


It is wrong to assume that everyone who adopts abroad would adopt domestically if the international avenue was denied to them. The decision to take on a very troubled child is a difficult one and many people would simply not feel they had the appropriate skills. Others would be precluded by national rules on the age of adopting parents, being a gay couple or other similar restriction. In some cultures the lack of domestic adoptions is due to a cultural preference for natural families rather than an inability to compete in an ‘adoption market’.[9]

Family development: Does international adoption lend itself to family development?


Many families who adopt from abroad do so because it is quicker and because they do not have to pass all the tests set by domestic adoption agencies (or, indeed because they have taken the tests but been found unsuitable). This often leaves them unprepared for many of the difficulties associated with adoption. Often they have little or no knowledge of the culture of the country their child has come from and they have no support to help them adjust to the medical and behavioral problems that can arise from children with an unsettled early life.[10]


Many international adoption agencies do offer support to parents after adoption, and if they don’t there are many self-help groups run by people who have successfully made it through the process before. Any difficulty in adjusting has to be weighed against the dangers of continued institutional care for the child.[11]

See also

External links


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