Intercountry Adoption: Who Are the Good Guys?

By Pollack, Daniel | Policy & Practice, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Intercountry Adoption: Who Are the Good Guys?


Pollack, Daniel, Policy & Practice


The January 5, 2005, CNN headline read, "Trafficking a threat to tsunami orphans." Within days after the tsunami hit, Indonesia had begun putting into place policies that prohibited any child under age 16 from leaving the country. Why? The Indonesian Embassy's press secretary in Washington explained that "the government would like to protect the children from potential traffickers." It had cause for concern--estimates of children trafficked each year range from a half a million to 4 million.

Is this concern sufficient to interfere with legitimate intercountry adoption? Indeed, is intercountry adoption an act of unparalleled altruism, or is it a sly way of kidnapping a poor country's children? International child advocates are engaged in finger-pointing at one another. One side confidently asserts that, but for intercountry adoptions, the few children who are saved would be destined to be untouchables in the back rooms of institutions in their native countries. The other side claims that cultural genocide and unofficial baby-buying is what is really going on. So, who are the good guys?

According to the National Adoption Clearinghouse, Americans adopted 21,600 children from abroad in the year 2003. Many of them had confirmed health problems, among them HIV/AIDS, developmental disabilities, malnutrition, congenital defects, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.

Intercountry adoption raises many general questions: Are such adoptions really in the best interest of the child? Are birth parents relinquishing their babies under economic or cultural duress? Do we know, from valid studies, if the adopted child will adjust satisfactorily to a new culture? Is there an element of classism and imperialism when Americans and Western Europeans secure babies from developing countries?

Modern-day adoption statutes and international conventions balance the interests of children, birth parents, adoptive parents, states, cultures, and countries. Indeed, intercountry adoption is not a topic that can be easily divorced from the swirl of geo-politics. Intercountry adoption implicates the international reciprocal rights and duties that people claim for and from each other. But to limit human interactions to those based solely on duties and rights is to overlook the most essential aspect of being human--genuine concern for one another. Focusing on this communal aspect enhances our most human virtues.

Complicating the resolution of these general issues is the need for answers to three specific questions: Which data are really valuable in determining the best place for a child? …

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