Today over 40,000 children annually move among more than 100 countries through the mechanism of intercountry adoption. This paper examines this phenomenon with respect to how it impacts diversity and public policy. First, it creates unique forms of diversity in host nations. Second, it is a morally ambiguous process that has been rife with abuse. The paper discusses existing and needed public policies from the international to the local level, with the objective that intercountry adoption should be in the best interest of children to the maximum extent possible.
This paper examines the case of intercountry adoption--adoption, of children born to parents in one country, by citizens of another country--with respect to how this phenomenon impacts diversity and public policy. My argument is two-fold. First, intercountry adoption is a form of immigration that by its nature increases diversity in host nations, as does any form of immigration (Bean and Stevens 2003), but in a unique form that impacts children, families, schools, communities, and nations (Miller-Loessi and Kilic 2001). Second, intercountry adoption raises important and sometimes disturbing issues that call for careful attention to public policies at multiple levels, from the international level of human rights discourse to the level of individual school district policy.
A Brief Overview of Intercountry Adoption
Since the end of the Korean War, and particularly since the early 1990's, intercountry adoption has increased dramatically worldwide. Today over 40,000 children a year move among more than one hundred countries through the mechanism of adoption (Juffer and van IJzendoorn 2005; Selman 2002). The United States, Canada, Australia, and many Western European countries are major recipient nations, absorbing these children into their populations. In the United States, for example, the 2000 census found that a total of about 200,000 citizens had entered the U.S. as adoptees from other countries (Kreider 2003). These adopted citizens have come predominantly from Asia, Eastern Europe or the former USSR, Latin America, or most recently from Africa.
International adoption is part of a globalized world (McGrew 1992), in which there are flows across national boundaries and over great geographical distances of workers, students, goods, capital, images, ideas, culture, information, crime, pollution, drugs, fashions, viruses--and children. In the case of children, it would be disingenuous not to recognize the flow as governed by supply and demand (Liu 1994). The demand for adoptable children is growing in the affluent West because of delayed childbearing (Menken 1985), rising infertility rates (Carstens and Julia 1995; Menken 1985), the acceptability of new family forms (Liu 1994), and the perceived and/or real difficulties of domestic adoption (Liu 1994; Pertman 2000). At the same time, there is a large supply of adoptable children in many non-Western nations, because poverty, wars, natural disasters, and/or political policies have rendered many children homeless (Liu 1994). Furthermore, new global news media have played a major role in constituting images of particular orphans as objects of pity and concern in need of rescue (Cartwright 2005). Internet searches by eager and affluent would-be parents can now uncover vast numbers of images of available children, particularly in Russia, the former Soviet Republics, and parts of Eastern Europe. While the motives of most Western adoptive parents stem from their desire to love and care for a child (Rojewski and Rojewski 2001), such Internet images raise the specter of children as commodities in a huge global market, and prospective parents as consumers of the most appealing images.
Thus, like so many aspects of globalization and its celebration of unbridled, borderless markets (Greider 1997), intercountry adoption is morally ambiguous. As Volkman states, "All adoption that crosses borders--of culture, race, ethnicity, or class--is shaped by profound inequities in power, by contradictions and ambivalence. …