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Controversy & International Adoption

By Meg Brannagan ; Updated June 13, 2017

The politics of international adoption are controversial. Critics of the process offer reasons why families should adopt within their own country. Sometimes fraud and abuse of the system are very real components. Tighter restrictions, laws and policies must continue to protect the well-being of birthparents in other countries, the children involved, and adoptive parents.


By choosing international adoption, adopting parents are frequently criticized for going overseas when there are children in the United States who also need homes. The number of children adopted internationally is rising, while the number of domestic adoptions of children from foster care has remained steady in recent years. Families who choose to adopt internationally are those who are open to caring for a child of another country. Other families have a heart for those in the domestic foster care system. Adopting internationally is a choice to bring a child home from a world of children in need of families.


The reality of international adoption is that it builds families who are from different ethnic heritages, resulting in interracial families that are noticeable in public. Statements such as “Don’t you want a child of your own?” or “How many real children do you have?” imply that an adopted child is a second-place addition. Many people see international adoption as a choice inferior to having biological children, one that couples make only out of desperation.

Illegal Activity

An internationally adopted child may have little history associated with his story. Adopting parents are given some background about adopted children, but in many cases, the information may be flawed. In 2008, Guatemala suspended intercountry adoptions as the truth came out that many children were available because their birthmothers had been paid. In a country marked by poverty, mothers sold their babies in order to provide for the children left at home. The Hague Adoption Convention is an international treaty between cooperating countries that protects children against abducton and trafficking. The Convention was put into effect in the United States in April 2008, and ensures the best interest of adopted children through use of accredited adoption agencies and enforcing visa standards, which confirm that the child is eligible for adoption.


International adoption is often cited as an example of humanitarianism, yet criticized for the motives behind the process. According to Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard Law School, many people see international adoption as a type of child exploitation, where wealthy, Caucasian families take advantage of poor and destitute parents who have no way of caring for their children. While millions of children live as orphans, international adoption presents an opportunity to bring a family to those who may never have one otherwise. Despite the number of adoptions that do occur, they are only a small percentage of the number of children who wait for families.


Families who adopt internationally are subject to paying fees for the process, a method that many criticize as “baby buying.” While many agencies in the United States facilitate international adoptions, the fees involved vary enormously between agencies. These organizations are in the business of adoption and can charge high fees for their services to waiting adoptive parents. In addition, many countries require a donation to the orphanage, a fee for caring for the child until he is adopted. The families who have money to adopt internationally are criticized for paying money and buying their children.


Internationally adopted children may wonder where they fit into a family of a different race or may feel disconnected from their own country and heritage. Many adults who were adopted from another country and raised in the United States grow up struggling with feelings of loss regarding the country and culture in which they were born, and uncertainty about aspects of their own identity. While international adoption provides a family for a child, it can also evoke loss for a child removed from her place of birth.

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