Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Quest for a Child of One's Own: Parents, Markets and Transnational Adoption

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Quest for a Child of One's Own: Parents, Markets and Transnational Adoption

Article excerpt


The global numbers of transnational adoptions have more than doubled recently compared to the situation at the beginning of the 1990s, when researchers believed that the trend would, on the contrary, be a downward one (Altstein & Simon, 1991: 191). According to calculations made by Peter Selman (2007), over 45,000 children changed their country and culture through adoption in 2004. The number of children coming to Finland increased from about 50 in 1990 to nearly 300 in 2004 and 2005 (Sosiaali-ja terveysministeriö, 2006). The flows are from south to north and east to west. From the information available it can be estimated that by the end of the decade there will be close to one million transnationally adopted persons in the world. Even though these figures are small compared to the total number of migrants (at least 185 million according to the World Migration Report, 2005), transnational adoption is one of the few forms of migration that is accepted and actively promoted by the Western receiving states. While the supply of 'adoptable' children sets the limits, adoptive parents are the actors whose decisions, which are rooted in very private hopes and anxieties, determine the number and direction of adoptions.

What is it in the current era that triggered this phenomenon? Why has there been such a tremendous increase in transnational adoptions to Western families recently? This article addresses these issues by first considering the context and briefly looking at the situation in both the receiving countries (why do people in the West travel abroad to acquire children) and the countries of origin (why are there children available for adoption) and the relevant dynamics. Secondly, it explores the following questions on the basis of information gathered in thematic interviews with Finnish adoptive parents: How are adoptive parents' experiences shaping and being shaped by the market in transnational adoption? What kind of issues lie behind the decision to adopt a child from abroad? How do parents build up their expectations concerning the future child?


Adopted children move predominantly from poorer Third World countries or transition economies to richer countries in North America and Western Europe (including Scandinavia, Italy and, recently, Spain). However, as Table 1 below shows, among the major states of origin are also countries experiencing economic growth, such as South Korea and China. China and Russia (with other Eastern European countries) by far outnumber all other continents. Indeed, the huge increase in intercountry adoptions after 1995 coincided with the appearance on the adoption market of these two countries, which have proved the most popular among Western adoptive parents (Table 1). Preliminary data for 2005 and 2006 indicate that the peak for transnational adoptions has been reached, and the numbers have slightly diminished (Selman, 2007). China and Eastern European countries have recently issued new sets of restrictions (Helsingin Sanomat, 2006; 2007), and have since reduced the number of children leaving the country. The demand in the West, however, continues to grow.

In order to understand the logic behind these figures, it is necessary to take a closer look at how and why transnational adoption evolved and has developed. Although intercountry adoption in its present form began after the second World War and humanitarian motives were part of the picture, it did not become common until after the number of suitable infants available for domestic adoption started to decrease during the 1960s, most notably in the USA, Scandinavia and the Netherlands (Hoksbergen, 2000: 93; Triseliotis, Shireman & Hundleby, 1997: 8; Yngvesson, 2000: 183). During that time there were changes in both abortion practices and the availability of contraceptives. Single motherhood was less stigmatised, and in the Nordic countries newly introduced family allowances also played a role. …

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