Our Shrinking World?


Last week I attended an international adoption conference in NYC.  At one point, a speaker referred to a policy statement about the Nepal adoption program that the U.S. State Dept. posted on its website. I hadn’t seen it and was eager to read it.  Between speakers I ever so discretely pulled my blackberry from my purse and emailed a friend who happened to be in Nepal….within minutes I was reading the document on my blackberry.  I can’t tell you how much I love being able to communicate with anyone, anytime, anywhere.

It’s common practice for corporate executives to conduct meetings via video conference with colleagues in India, China and Germany. A television commercial with Ellen Page has her video conferencing with her doctor in Copenhagen.  High school and college students view international study abroad as a must.  And our little ones are learning Spanish, Chinese and Russian at even younger ages.

It’s ironic that at a time when our world seems to be shrinking, the world of international adoption is increasingly at risk.

That was the theme of The Adoption Policy Conference: Permanency for Children sponsored by leading international adoption organizations, including The Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and the Center for Adoption Policy.  The panelists and speakers are the leading experts on international adoption. Topics ranged from the crisis of the children left without families in Haiti to the complexities of international adoption law to in-depth studies on the psychiatric effects of children who are institutionalized.

These experts who range from Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard Law School professor and director of the Child Advocacy Program to Dr. Jane Oronson, Founder and CEO, Worldwide Orphans Foundation and Bill Bistransky, Chief of the Adoption Unit at the U.S. Department of State are all concerned that the number of international adoptions continues to drastically decline.  Since 2004, the number of international adoptions has decreased by 50 percent. According to Adoptive Families magazine, after a high of 22,990 intercountry adoptions in 2004, the numbers have continued to fall to just 12,753 in 2009.  Experts say this decline will continue.        

Why is this happening? It’s complicated and there is no one answer –  cultural issues, changing societies, politics, money you name it – all influence adoption. Some countries, like Russia, are seeing an increase in domestic adoption, so fewer children are available for international adoption.  And you can’t wonder if the so called “gendercide” in China and northern India has an impact on adoption.  According to The Economist, in China and northern India more than 120 boys are being born for every 100 girls. “It is no exaggeration to call this gendercide. Women are missing in their millions, aborted, killed, neglected to death.”

And, just when you thought that international children’s organizations would come together and create policies and implement programs to promote adoption….Some international children’s organizations see intercountry adoption as a Euro-American practice robbing children of their heritage.  While I believe a child’s identity and heritage is a critical part of their life and should remain so forever, providing a child with a loving “forever family” is a human right and supersedes keeping them in poverty and institutional environments.  According to Harvard Professor Bartholet, “Children’s most fundamental human rights should trump state sovereignty claims.”

And like everything, politics and money play a role in international adoption.  Haiti and other countries suffering from devastating national disasters often respond to the pressures from UNICEF and others to prohibit international adoption in favor of keeping children in-country, according to Bartholet.

Some of these philosophical differences between child advocates may never be resolved.

No one would argue that giving impoverished countries the tools to create sustainable communities and working toward a system that keeps families intact should be the goal.  But there will always be a place for international adoption. 

Let’s hope that organizations can work together for our global children. In the meantime, there are thousands of children who have no “forever family” and are growing up in institutions.  And there are thousands of loving families who wait sometimes years to provide loving “forever homes.” 

These parents have no borders.



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  • I think it is such a tragedy that the international community is so unsettled as to the best approach for uniting children in need of love and care with "forever families." It's hard to believe that anyone with a heart would want to see a child institutionalized, left in an orphanage, or left to die when there are so many people in this world waiting to take them into their homes to love them.

    Thank you for providing insight into the world of international adoption and the perspective you have provided thus far in your blog. I think the honesty on what people adopting, singles in particular, is refreshing and beneficial for anyone who reads it, because we all know someone single or not, who are either considering adoption, have experienced it already or have been adopted themselves. Your words have really opened my eyes to what people are going through.

  • This is such a sad situation that I just DO NOT understand. So many children needing to be adopted and so many families wanting to adopt. I don't understand why they can't be united. :(

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