Foreign adoption seems like the perfect solution to a heartbreaking imbalance: poor countries have babies in need of homes, and rich countries have homes in need of babies. Unfortunately, those little orphaned bundles of joy may not be orphans at all.
As demand for healthy, adoptable infants increases, many international adoption agencies are working to not find homes for needy children -- the ones most in need of adoption -- but to find children for Western homes.
Since the mid-1990s, the number of international adoptions each year has nearly doubled, from 22,200 in 1995 to about 40,000 in 2006. At its peak, in 2004, more than 45,000 children from developing countries were adopted by foreigners. Americans bring home more of these children than any other nationality -- more than half the global total in recent years.
Where do these babies come from? Evidence shows that babies in many countries are being systematically bought, coerced and stolen away from their birth families. Nearly half the 40 countries listed as the top sources for international adoption -- Belarus, Brazil, Ethiopia, Honduras, Peru and Romania -- have temporarily halted adoptions or been prevented from sending children to the United States because of serious concerns about corruption and kidnapping.
Yet, when a country is closed due to corruption, many adoption agencies simply transfer their clients' hopes to the next "hot" country. That country abruptly experiences a spike in infants and toddlers adopted overseas -- until it too is forced to shut its doors.
Furthermore, international adoption has become an industry driven by money -- prospective parents in the United States will pay between $15,000 and $35,000 for the chance to adopt -- yet, charged with strong emotions. Many agencies and adoptive parents passionately insist that crooked practices are not systemic, but tragic, isolated cases.
Source: E.J. Graff, "The Lie We Love," Foreign Policy, December 2008.