OUR REPORTING ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION

Corruption in international adoptions

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THE LIE WE LOVE: ORPHANS & INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION
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VIETNAM CASE STUDY: ADOPTION
NEPAL CASE STUDY: ADOPTION
GUATEMALA CASE STUDY: ADOPTION
SIERRA LEONE CASE STUDY: ADOPTION
ETHIOPIA CASE STUDY: ADOPTION
OUR COMMENTARY
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Experts Respond to
  "The Baby Business"


The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism asked a number of experts, practitioners, and advocates in international adoption to respond to “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

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Congressman Albio Sires, House of
Representatives, D-New Jersey,
June 17, 2010

E.J. Graff’s recent article, “The Baby Business,” is an important addition to her thought-provoking work on the promise of intercountry adoptions and the tragedy that can unfold when adoptions go wrong. Last year, over 12,000 children from around the world were adopted by American families, yet only a fraction of these adoptions were processed by accredited adoption agencies. The others occurred under an unregulated process that may not have had the best interest of the families or the child in mind. The “Wild West” environment of intercountry adoption that Graff describes has indeed been tamed by the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. While the Hague Convention’s growing accomplishments are commendable, the benefits of the Hague Convention can only reach so far.

The Hague Convention has created a system of double standards for intercountry adoptions. In 2008, the United States became a full member of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, and for the first time began nationally regulating the intercountry adoption process. Under the Convention, the United States requires that intercountry adoption service providers, who handle adoption cases with other signatories of the Hague Convention, be accredited to improve transparency and accountability in the adoption process, but these rules only apply to adoptions from countries party to the Convention. Adoption agencies that work with non-Convention countries do not need to meet the accreditation requirements, and these agencies continue to conduct unregulated adoptions.

To ensure that all intercountry adoptions processed in the United States are held to the same standard, I am drafting legislation to require accreditation for all adoption service providers that facilitate intercountry adoptions in the United States.
To ensure that all intercountry adoptions processed in the United States are held to the same standard, I am drafting legislation to require accreditation for all adoption service providers that facilitate intercountry adoptions in the United States. Universal accreditation will create an adoption process that is lawful, safe for the child, and respectful of the families involved. As Graff points out, under the current two-tier intercountry adoption system, corrupt adoption practices can simply shift from one country to another if regulations increase in one location. The purpose behind universal accreditation is not to add unnecessary obstacles to the adoption process, but to hold every adoption and every life affected to the same standards, as much as is possible given the different adoption structures and procedures in different countries. Universal accreditation will apply the established safeguards mandated in the Hague Convention to all adoptions.

Unifying this process would require that all fees associated with adoptions are disclosed to prospective parents and to the Department of State. As Graff mentions, there can be a high level of temptation when institutionally weak countries interact with well-funded, adoption-seeking parents. Tens of thousands of U.S. dollars can change hands during the adoption process, significantly incentivizing the increase of adoptions and contributing to potentially fraudulent behavior. My proposed legislation would go further to increase transparency of adoptions fees. Under the Intercountry Adoption Act, the Department of State must include statistics on the fees for Hague adoptions in an annual report; yet the report, as required by law, presents these fees by listing a range of possible charges, making it difficult to draw expectations or conclusions from this very broad information. I believe that there should be improved disclosure of the costs in order to improve transparency of the sometimes ambiguous fees. Prospective adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and the Department of State ought to know who receives the money and how it is used. Through increased fee transparency, we can help shine a light on what may be less than honorable practices.

Tens of thousands of U.S. dollars can change hands during the adoption process, significantly incentivizing the increase of adoptions and contributing to potentially fraudulent behavior…. Through increased fee transparency, we can help shine a light on what may be less than honorable practices.

Expanding safeguards in the intercountry adoption process will duly protect the rights of the children, birth parents, and adoptive parents in the United States.

Expanding safeguards in the intercountry adoption process will duly protect the rights of the children, birth parents, and adoptive parents in the United States. Furthermore, improving our oversight of this system can have positive effects on our national diplomacy efforts. In April, we witnessed the tragedy of an intercountry adoption gone wrong when an adoptive mother in the United States sent her adopted seven-year-old son back to Russia. As is widely known, this unfortunate event is not the first problem to occur in Russia-U.S. adoptions. In response, Russian officials are considering a freeze on all adoptions to the United States. Russia is also seeking a bilateral agreement with the United States to improve reporting between orphanages and prospective parents. This chain of events clearly demonstrates the inconsistencies of intercountry adoption. Russia, while a signatory of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, has not ratified the treaty, and although the United States has fully implemented the Hague Convention, there is no federal oversight for adoptions from non-Hague countries, such as Russia. By creating universally high standards for intercountry adoptions, we can prevent further adoption tragedies from occurring.

At the heart of the proposal for universal accreditation is the goal of a single, well-reviewed adoption process for every adoptee. The United States should not discriminate between those children defined as Hague adoptees and those defined as orphans (children not living in a Hague country). Under the current two-tiered system, the adoption contracts are different and the preparations are different. There are two distinct home study procedures and there are two distinct visa requirements for Hague adoptions and non-Hague adoptions. In order to adopt from Convention countries, parents must apply first for an immigrant visa to evaluate their ability to adopt and the child’s eligibility for adoption. If the child is not from a Convention country, the immigrant visa application is processed after the child is adopted, making it more difficult to manage problems that may arise in the adoption and immigration process. Universal accreditation would put an end to these double standards.

It is my hope that through expanded oversight and increased transparency, the adoption horror stories that Graff describes could be greatly reduced; however, this is just a small piece of the complicated puzzle. In addition to achieving universal accreditation, the United States should continue its dedication to development aid and anti-corruption initiatives. Through these combined efforts we can help end fraud in the adoption process, and improve child and family services around the world.

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~Albio Sires is a current Member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey's thirteenth congressional district.

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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