|Intercoutry Adoption: Our Position|
What is intercountry adoption?
Intercountry adoption is the legal process by which a child born in a country is adopted by adults who are citizens of a different country and who plan to raise the child in their country. Most intercountry adoptions are of children from developing countries by parents who live in developed countries.
Context, challenges and impact on children
Historically, the practice of intercountry adoption was a humanitarian response to the suffering of children from countries devastated by armed conflict. However, it is now much more linked with the ongoing structural poverty and political or economic instability of many developing countries.
In the past few decades, the number of couples or individuals wanting to adopt children from overseas countries has grown. Between 1995 and 2006, the annual global number of intercountry adoptions nearly doubled from 22,000 to almost 40,000. In Australia, 3,306 children were adopted between 1998 and 2008 with nearly 60% of these children coming from South Korea, China and Ethiopia. The recent growth in intercountry adoptions, coupled with media attention focusing on celebrities adopting foreign-born children, has prompted much debate regarding the practice of intercountry adoption.
Critics argue that intercountry adoption exploits impoverished nations by robbing them of their most precious resource, their children. They state that it denies children the right to their ethnic, religious and cultural identity and may expose children traumatized by the loss or separation from their parents to further trauma and long-term emotional problems. Critics also argue that intercountry adoption diverts resources away from developing local solutions to improve the lives of a much larger number of children.
Supporters of intercountry adoption, on the other hand, argue that it provides a permanent family to children who would otherwise be without adequate care in their country of origin. They suggest that it meets the basic economic and social needs of children and that it is better that children be adopted by foreign parents than live on the streets, in institutional care or temporary foster care. While cultural considerations are important, supporters argue that such factors do not take priority over a child’s right to a family.
Intercountry adoption may meet the needs of some children in developing countries. It can, however, also lead to abuses and illegal practices including the abduction and trafficking of children. The lack of regulation and oversight of many intercountry adoptions, coupled with the potential for huge financial gain by those facilitating the process, has helped to create an industry for intercountry adoption where children, birth parents and adoptive parents may be exploited for financial profit.
Abuses in the intercountry adoption process range from false documentation and lack of proper procedures in evaluating a child’s adoptive parents to the abduction of children. Birth parents may be coerced to give their child up for adoption, pressured to sign adoption papers without fully understanding their rights or they may simply give their child up in the hope of providing him or her with a better quality of life.
In many cases, children thought to be abandoned, living on the street or placed in orphanages or institutions may actually have parents or extended family who could care for them with proper support. According to UNICEF, an orphan is defined as a child who has lost one or both parents. In 2005, there were approximately 132 million orphans, however, only 13 million had lost both parents, and the vast majority of those were living with a grandparent or another family member.
In response to abuses in the intercountry adoption process, many countries including Australia, have ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The Hague Adoption Convention is an international agreement which establishes safeguards and standards of practice for intercountry adoptions. It seeks to ensure that adoption is in the best interests of a child and that children and their families are protected against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad.
The Hague Adoption Convention applies only to countries which have ratified it, however it reinforces principles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a Convention which has been ratified by almost all countries in the world, including Australia.
The UNCRC states that every child, as far as possible, has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents. It emphasizes that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration in adoption and that intercountry adoption may be considered as an alternative form of care only if the child cannot be placed in a foster or adoptive family or cannot be cared for in any suitable manner in the child’s country of origin. The UNCRC effectively provides for overseas adoption as an option of last resort after all other suitable forms of domestic care have been exhausted.
Save the Children’s position on intercountry adoption
Intercountry adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their country of origin. Along with UNICEF, Save the Children strongly supports the Hague Adoption Convention and the UNCRC. Save the Children is not an adoption agency and we do not support or oppose individual applications for adoption.
In all intercountry adoptions, the best interests of the individual child is the paramount consideration in making a decision regarding the adoption. Where possible, a child should be raised by his or her birth family, extended family or a suitable family in his or her country of origin. Intercountry adoption should only be considered an option if all other alternative forms of care for a child in his or her country of origin have been genuinely exhausted, including providing support for the child’s living parents or extended family, placement in foster care or domestic adoption. In the case of adoption, all efforts should be made to keep siblings together, except in rare circumstances where doing so would be contrary to the best interests of the child.
Where intercountry adoption is considered to be in the best interests of a child, which is determined on a case-by-case basis, it should ideally only occur between countries that have ratified the Hague Adoption Convention. Save the Children strongly urges all countries that have not yet ratified the Hague Adoption Convention to do so. In the case of intercountry adoption with countries that have not yet ratified the Hague Adoption Convention, governments, adoption agencies and individuals should, as far as practicable, apply the standards and safeguards of the Convention. Where it is well-established that a country has unethical practices relating to intercountry adoption, national governments should suspend all adoptions from that country until such practices are improved.
In the case of emergencies, such as floods, tsunamis or wars, intercountry adoption should not be considered an option as many “orphaned children” may still have living parents or family members. Instead, significant efforts should be made to trace and reunite surviving parents or family members with their children. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, two years is considered a reasonable period of time to trace parents or other family members. Adoption should not be considered an option until family tracing indicates that there are no living relatives and no community or home which can provide suitable care for the child. Particular care should be exercised in considering intercountry adoption for children who have experienced traumatic events, as further uprooting to a new environment could cause additional trauma.
While intercountry adoption may, in some circumstances, be the best option for some children, adoption does not address the root cause of its existence, namely poverty, wars and natural disasters. If the economic, social and protection needs of citizens in developing countries could be met, there would be little need for intercountry adoption. Consequently, families in developing countries should be supported so that children are able to be cared for in the context of their own families, communities and culture.
Save the Children focuses its work on supporting children, families and communities, especially those who are vulnerable or at risk, with the aim of improving the overall standard of living and quality of life for children in developing countries.
References and Further Reading
Australian Government, Attorney-General’s Department, Intercountry Adoption, Canberra, 2010, viewed 23 March 2010.
The Hague Conference on Private International Law, Intercountry Adoption Section, The Hague, 2010, viewed 23 March 2010.
UNICEF, UNICEF’s position on Inter-country adoption, Geneva, 2010, viewed 23 March 2010.
Policy, Research and Advocacy Department