Of the 192 nations in the world, 86 have signed the Hague convention on cooperation of intercountry adoption. Signing the convention is not necessarily an indication of the desire to cooperate with intercountry adoption. Some non-Hague nations have robust intercountry adoption efforts, while the majority of Hague countries do not participate in any significant intercountry adoption efforts. Furthermore, whenever a country does sign the Hague convention, history would show that adoptions are likely to decline or disappear. Signing the Hague is often a pretense for blocking adoption in general. When people hear this, nearly everyone who asks, “Why would a country block adoption?”
There are a variety of reasons that a nation may not cooperate in intercountry adoption.
National Pride. Some nations fear that it does not reflect well on them to be a “sending nation.” And some countries do not want to be perceived as having a problem with orphaned children. Political figures will use national pride as a means to rise in popularity. They believe their reputation will improve by saying things like “We don’t need the United States or Europe to solve our problems. We can solve our problems ourselves.” While no country has been able to completely solve its orphan problem (even the United States has 400,000 children in foster care), the rhetoric gives an air of strength to a political candidate. Unfortunately, the children end up being a political pawn. It is national pride, rather than the best interest of children, that ends up being the heart of the rhetoric.
Political maneuvering. We all know that Russia’s ban on intercountry adoption with the United States in 2012 was not motivated by the best interest of children. The decision by the Russian Duma was in response to a US policy decision about the “Magnitsky Act.” The US house passed a law stating that Russian foreign officials with human rights violations could not enter the country. Russia’s response was, in essence, “we don’t have people with human rights violations.” To retaliate against President Obama and Congress, Russia passed a law prohibiting international adoption from the United States. In a rare instance of refreshing honesty, no pretense for child welfare was ever invoked. It was a response meant to show Russians that they were strong, when the US attempted to make them look weak.
Bullying. Some nations block intercountry adoption because they are bullied by the international community. Adoption workers in Haiti, for example, informed me that UNICEF threatened to withhold funding of certain programs unless they reduced the number of intercountry adoptions. You may ask, why would UNICEF block adoption? The answer is that they are ideologically liberal. By this, I mean they believe that all people are inherently good, and all people would make great parents if they simply had the education and resources. The other side of the ideological spectrum holds to the notion that some people are inherently bad and not all people will ever be fit to parent. These liberals have an academic view, rather than practical one. In other words, their ideas sound good on paper, but in real life there is a disconnect. If UNICEF is right, that all people can be good parents if they are given education and resources, then intercountry adoption should be replaced by in-country development. But some parents burn their children; others throw them in trash bags. Some starve their children on purpose, or abandon them because they are a girl, or disabled, or fathered by someone else. And this is true in EVERY country, not just the developing world. No amount of resources or education has enabled 100% of Americans to be fit as parents…that’s why we have 100,000 children in foster care awaiting an adoptive family. So we cannot expect reunification to be the answer for all children in other countries.
These bullies have coined a phrase that has gained traction. They say, “You are exporting your most precious resource…your children.” Foreign officials don’t actually believe these children are their most precious resource. Quite the contrary, many developing countries view these children as a plague, offer zero resources for their care, and have contempt for the parents who adopt them and give them a life in America. Nevertheless, the “precious resource” phrase gains traction when spoken by politicians who want to use national pride to bolster their image. In addition, some of these liberal aid organizations are very powerful and can force policy decisions. Even if some foreign officials wanted to offer international adoption to their nation’s children, they are bullied by liberal-minded aid organizations that threaten to withhold funding fi they don’t subscribe to their ideology. In addition, UNICEF receives funding to “care for orphans”. Therefore, they may have a financial incentive for being able to report high numbers of orphans or orphanages.
Islam. The Quran holds orphaned children in very high regard and has many verses imploring people to care for them. But Sharia law prohibits adoption, so the practice is nearly absent from Muslim nations. The Quran has a high regard for preservation of family lineage and inheritance of historic land boundaries. Therefore, Muslim countries prefer guardianship over adoption.
Lack of need. There is a direct relationship between decreased birthrate (through abortion and birth control) and economic progress. Therefore, the most developed countries have far fewer children in need of adoption. In fact, the number of hopeful adoptive parents is far greater than the number of children available for adoption.
Lack of Infrastructure. Some countries do not have the infrastructure to implement the Hague convention’s standards, so they are reluctant to sign or ratify a treaty with which they have no ability to comply. In 2013, Haiti seemed to be moving in the direction of ratifying the Hague convention, but it appeared they would wait until they had the ability to comply. In contrast, countries like Cambodia ratified the convention years ago, but the US will not process adoptions from that country because it has not yet been able to implement the required procedures. In addition, the political condition of some nations is so “broken” that their inability to ratify a treaty typifies the inability to get any political work done. So adoptions do not, or cannot occur either because there is no infrastructure to process cases, or because the bar has been set unrealistically high by the United States and there is no reasonable way to expect developing countries to comply.
It does not help that the Hague Convention itself calls for intercountry adoption to be “subsidiary” to other solutions. In other words, intercountry adoption should be considered as a “last resort” to other options for children. I have written elsewhere about the concept of subsidiarity and why it is misguided.
I wish I could end this blog post with a ray of hope but as it stands it appears we are still moving in the direction of decline in international adoption. Meanwhile, the number of orphaned children abroad continues to rise.
Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D. | President