August 24, 2012

Best of Nightlight: International Adoption: Is the adoption of healthy infants selfish?

A common complaint of international adoption critics is that most of the world's orphans are older children, whereas most families pursuing international adoption desire -- and ultimately adopt -- an infant or young toddler.

Therefore, the reasoning goes, . . .

1. International adoption fails to address the real orphan crisis, because the most needy children are left behind.

2. International adoption is basically a selfish enterprise of wish-fulfillment for rich Westerners who want babies.

So is it true?

Well, the original observation is accurate: most international adoptions -- but my no means all -- are of infants or very young toddlers. But this is by no means an argument against international adoption. Consider the following:

1. Infants who are adopted through international adoption would, apart from being adopted, grow into older children with less hope of adoption (internationally or domestically). As an older child growing up in an orphanage or in foster care, that child will have more and more developmental and other challenges with each passing year, challenges that could be largely avoided by an early adoption. So the adoption of older children to the exclusion of babies would simply delay the adoption of children until they have more problems; but it would not increase the total number of children helped by adoption. On the other hand, the adoption of infants, while not helping today's older orphans, will reduce the number of tomorrow's older orphans.

2. If wanting a baby is basically selfish, then I suppose most people stand guilty of the charge. If, on the other hand, wanting children -- and more specifically, children that a family can raise as their own from as young as possible -- is a fairly basic human desire, then it is a very good thing to fulfill that desire in a way that provides a home to a baby who might otherwise grow up without a family. So again, while infant adoption does not directly help today's older orphan population, it is one key factor in addressing the larger orphan problem. It matches a natural and good desire of families who have means with a needy child.

As I said, the adoption of healthy infants and young toddlers does not directly benefit older children or unhealthy infants and toddlers. But it's no argument against a good deed that there are other equally good deeds that one could have done. If you give money to an organization that digs wells, I shouldn't find fault because people need food and not just water. Nor should I criticize you by telling you that a billion people need clean water, but the organization you helped will only supply clean water to about 5 villages totaling 700 people.

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