How Has Globalization Affected the Popularity of International Adoption?

I used this panel interview with experts mainly as a guidepost to aid my research at the beginning. It spoke of adoption's relevance to international relations, and the US governments commitment to “clear and consistent procedures with some safeguards to prevent the trafficking and selling of babies.” Like the Harvard Law article that I found afterward, it also chronicled the history of adoption—all the way from its origins in the aftermath of WWII to present day.

I chose this article as my first source primarily to have it act as a reminder of the domestic implications of foreign adoption. There are a lot of national policies that go into enforcing international law, and a lot of responsibility falls on "US agencies to protect against violations" to the Hague Convention (Source 2). It also provided good context as to what obstacles adopting parents face in the US—visas, citizenship, etc.

The Hague Convention of 1993 produced the most decisive legislative action regarding international adoptions. It served as a milestone in cooperation between nations, and it standardized a number of adoption-related policies. Among them: safeguards to protect against human trafficking, an establishment of universal norms with regards to adoption, a delineation of the relationship between a "Central Authority (the receiving state) and a Contracting State (the state of origin)."  66 countries initially ratified it.

In terms of globalization, The Hague Convention set an important precedent—it dictated that international adoption is a secondary resort, meant to for cases where a nation is unable to produce any viable candidates of its own. The Hague Convention preserves the Contracting State's precedence over the Central Authority.  It stipulates that, to allow a child to be adopted internationally, a state must “have determined, after possibilities for placement of the child within the State of origin have been given due consideration, that an inter country adoption is in the child's best interests.”

This New York Times article, dated in 2013, looks at the decline in international adoptions. It was written in response to a report published by the State Department. Though it’s two years old, the trend it analyzes—a sharp decline in international adoption—continues to this day.

What makes this article noteworthy are all the explanations it puts forth. First, it looks at the US’s refusal to adopt from certain countries: “Some homeland security officials have questioned the State Department’s decision to prohibit new adoptions from countries like Guatemala, Vietnam and Cambodia in recent years. They argue that the United States should continue to process adoption cases while working to reform the adoption programs in those countries, which have been dogged in the past by allegations of corruption.”

At the same time, the writer, Rachel Swarns, reminds us that the numbers aren’t everything. Quoting State Department’s special advisor for child issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs, she says “‘the right number is the number we can process ethically, safely and transparently.’” In my own research, that’s an important thing to consider—what may be reflected in the data does not necessarily serve as fact.

This Harvard Law research paper contextualizes the topic; it delves into the history of adoption and predicts its future. Adoption, it describes, often happens in waves. The first was after WWII, the second after the Korean War. It’s interesting that turmoil in a region often directly results in loose adoption regulations.  In Romania, for example, the country opened its boarders in 1989 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it tightened its restrictions in 2000 as it stabilized.  

Culturally, too, the article adds context. "Muslim countries," it says, "don't permit" international adoptions due to religious objections. Two other tidbits of interest are that “it has been reported that more than ten million dollars were given directly to Chinese orphanages in 1996 as the result of a requirement that adoptive parents make a 'donation' of $3000 to the orphanage from which their child is adopted (Van Leeuwen 1999),” which seems to suggest that adoptions may have economic benefits for a country. The second fact is that a number of organizations are trying to curtail international adoptions due to concerns about the security of the children involved. Among them? UNICEF. UNICEF suggests that building infrastructure and bolstering the childcare systems countries already have in place is the best alternative.

I consulted this site (( to collect raw data. The Bureau of Consular Affairs under the State Department compiled these facts. Some things I observed:

Adoption has been declining by about 1,000 children per year. There was a big drop from 2007 to 2008. Same countries dominate the adoption field—China, Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea, and Guatemala. The positions don't generally change unless a country’s adoption policies shift dramatically (as was the case in Guatemala). Something that caught my eye, also, was the frequency of states who adopted. The states nabbing the top spots, in almost every year since 2008—the start of the record—were California, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Florida. While most of that likely correlates with population size, it’s interesting to note the geographic diversity: international adoption transcends regional differences, it seems.

The average age of adopted children, too, is interesting: almost 75% of total adopted children from 1999 to 2013 were under two years of age. Teenagers make up only a little over 3%. I’ll explore this fact further in my presentation.