Baby Girls in China Need Loving Home.”
That was the headline in a church bulletin that suburban New Yorker Lisa remembers reading around 2006. She went to an informational meeting, met some families who had adopted children from China and decided with her husband to go ahead. It was a two-year-long, $40,000 process to bring 10-month-old Abby to the United States, but nothing compared to the process she went through in 2014 to adopt 9-year-old Gabriel.
That three-year experience she describes as “harrowing.”
“Just thinking about the paperwork makes my head spin . . . the piles of documents, the medical clearance, the reference letters and everything had to be authenticated by the county and the state,” she says.
Between Lisa’s first and second adoptions, the United States began to enforce the provisions of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
While the desire for greater accountability and transparency in international adoption is understandable — even and perhaps especially to adoptive parents in the US — the result has been a bureaucratic morass and a steep decline in the number of such adoptions each year. According to new data from The Hague, there were only 5,000 international adoptions by American families in 2015. That’s compared with 23,000 in 2004.
But that doesn’t mean there are fewer orphans. The Christian Alliance for Orphans estimates there are close to 18 million children globally who have lost both of their parents.
Experts say there are many reasons for this drop in international adoptions, not least of which is that a number of countries have simply stopped allowing foreigners to adopt. Guatemala, which was one of the biggest sources of adoptive children, turned out to have an incredibly corrupt system where children were regularly kidnapped. Russia’s ban on foreign adoption took effect in 2014, a response to an American law banning certain Russian officials from entering or holding assets in the United States.
No one wants to be the policymaker or bureaucrat to facilitate more adoption and then a kid gets abused or killed.
When Josh and his wife were looking for a child to bring into their Texas home, he says, he saw “kids listed as special needs that may have things that are correctable. Kids get abandoned for cleft palate or club foot or heart murmur” — conditions that are easily monitored or corrected in the United States. It took them two years and almost $50,000, even though there are plenty of children in China waiting to be adopted.
Lisa, whose son has a moderate heart defect that doesn’t interfere with his daily activities, says that she knew of kids who were abandoned for a birthmark, hernia or because their grandmother thought they brought bad luck to the family.
In the US there are thousands of middle-class families who would gladly welcome such children into their homes. Josh says he knows of a number of families who went into debt to cover what can be as much as a $50,000 bill for such adoptions — and that’s before any medical bills are paid.
But they are faced at every point with bureaucrats in the US who seem to make the process more arduous. In November, the Obama administration proposed a new set of regulations requiring an extra layer of accreditation for agencies working with certain countries and increasing the legal liability of anyone working on international adoption.
“No one wants to be the policymaker or bureaucrat to facilitate more adoption and then a kid gets abused or killed,” Josh says.
He thinks there’s also a belief among the country’s elites and policymakers “that there is something flawed about predominantly Anglo couples adopting Asian or African children.” You can see this in the reaction to the recent movie “Lion,” in which an Indian orphan is adopted by a loving Australian couple.
A reviewer on Vox noted, “The stickiest narrative point that ‘Lion’ has to navigate is the matter of international adoption, especially white families adopting brown children, which brings with it a whole wicket of ethical issues, from white-savior complexes . . . to kidnappings.”
The movie involved neither of these things, but just the image of light-skinned parents and a brown-skinned boy was enough to provoke concern. For the people making adoption policies, these sensibilities may matter more than helping orphans. As Josh says, “Forming families is not priority number one for them. If it were, we’d have a different system.”