Corruption in international adoptions

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Cash required: Bad practice

“The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, suggests that the U.S. Hague regulations should be revised to forbid American international adoption agencies from requiring their customers to carry cash when traveling to pick up their adoptive child. Small amounts of cash for tips are harmless—but significant amounts of untraceable cash are too easy to misuse. In Vietnam, for instance, the State Department regularly received reports of adoption agencies telling prospective parents to carry in and hand over thousands of dollars in cash “humanitarian donations,” for which no receipts were provided, upon picking up their adoptive child. Such staggeringly large—compared to local wages—cash amounts can be too easily used to pay people to “find” adoptable babies by any means necessary, to supply and approve fraudulent documents, to bribe officials, and as other forms of “improper financial gain,” which the Hague Adoption Convention aims to prevent. In Vietnam, for instance, the State Department reported being told “that cash and in-kind donations have been diverted by orphanage officials and used to finance personal property, private cars, jewelry and, in one case, a commercial real estate development.” 

The Hague Guide to Good Practice, which offers advice on implementing the Convention in a way that most effectively accomplishes the treaty’s aims, explicitly discourages cash transactions. (Published in 2008, the Guide is more formally known as The Implementation And Operation Of The 1993 Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention: Guide To Good Practice, was published in 2008.)

  • All child adoption transactions should involve official receipts.
    §5.3 Setting reasonable fees and charges,238. Greater transparency may be achieved if official receipts could be issued in respect of all activities requiring payments abroad, for example, to the adoptive family (e.g., gifts) or to organizations (e.g., sums spent on services in the country of origin).
  • No cash donations.
    §5.5 Donations 246. In order to bring some transparency to the practice of donations made after the adoption is completed, Contracting States could impose certain safeguards, for example, donations should not be in cash but through a bank transfer and paid directly into a bank account…

Before suggesting that adoption agencies be banned from requiring costs to carry cash, the Schuster Institute checked websites to see whether any major adoption agencies still instruct prospective parents to do so. We found quite a few. Below is a suggestive, not exhaustive, list of some of those agencies, as of June 2010.

Adoptions Associates, Inc.

Cash fees required for adoptions from China: cash for adoption related fees in-province; $5,000 required donation to orphanage.

Image screenshot from Adoption Associates website, June 13, 2010.Adoption Associates, Inc.

Adoption Hope International

Cash fees required in Estonia, Nicaragua, Mexico: “Some expenses need to be paid in cash using US currency.” “Prior to leaving the United States, obtain new issue currency with no rips or writing on the bills. For larger fees, you must have large denomination bills ($50’s or $100's).”

See page 12 of their brochure. Image screenshot below, June 13, 2010.

Adoption Hope International

Children’s Hope International
Cash fees required to adopt from:

  • China, approximately $1,600; Orphanage fees: Approx: 35,000 RMB’s.
  • Kazakhstan, family initiated foreign program service fee, $8,500; in-country expenses, approximately $6,000-$12,500.
  • Ukraine, family initiated foreign fees, $12,000; in-country expenses, approximately $6,000-10,000; suggested orphanage donation, $500.

Image screenshots from the Children's Hope International website:

Adoption Fees and Costs
1. China; 2. Kazakhstan; 3. Ukraine; screenshots taken June 13, 2010.

Children's Hope International: Adoption Cost and Fees, China

Children's Hope International, Adoption Fees and Costs, Kazakhstan

Children's Hope International, Adoption Fees and Costs, Ukraine

Dillon International
Cash fees may be required to adopt a child from overseas. “AP may need to take large sums of cash to the foreign country and accept responsibility for the security of the money. When possible, Dillon will wire adoption-related fees that need to be paid in the foreign country, but this is not always possible. Unforeseen circumstances might take place in the foreign country that will necessitate expenditure of additional cash of which Dillon had no knowledge. ”

Screenshot taken on June 14, 2010, from the Dillon "Adoption Info Packet."

Dillon International

Families Thru International Adoption
Families Thru International Adoption says cash fees are required to adopt from China. "When you travel to China you will need to carry $6,000 in new, crisp bills. This includes the required $3,000 orphanage donation and approximately $1,200-$1,500 in provincial legal fees...”

Image screenshot of FAQs-China page taken on June 14, 2010.

Families Thru International Adoption

International Child Foundation, Inc.

Cash fees required to adopt from China: $1500 Foreign Source fee and $5000 Orphanage Humanitarian Aid Fee. See second image from screenshot below. Both screenshots taken June 10, 2010.

International Child Foundation

International Child Foundation

Little Miracles International Adoption
Cash fees may be required in programs in Bulgaria, China, Ethiopia, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia, Uganda, Ukraine. “Remember you must bring the remainder of your fees in cash with you on your adoption journey.”

Image of screenshot taken from Little Miracles "How to Start" page, June 10, 2010.

Little Miracles International Adoption

NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

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Last page update: February 22, 2011