International adoptions numbers all over the world have drastically fallen in the past decade, and continue to fall. We often blame wealthy countries for over-regulating adoptions, poor countries for xenophobia, and the international community for creating treaties that dismantle the entire structure for adoptions while removing incentives to create new and effective ones.
But what is really going on here? All of those moving pieces are complex and couldn’t have been efficient at closing international adoption even if it had been an intentional, well-coordinated effort.
I believe the real force behind shutting down international adoption is an effort to maintain the status quo for the powerful.
The status quo is for wealthy countries and companies to exploit poor countries for their valuable resources. Tragically, from the perspective of the powerful, orphans are not “valuable resources.” We are talking about gold, diamonds, cobalt, and cheap labor.
Poor countries know this exploitation makes them look bad. But the powerful, corrupt leaders of these countries don’t stop the exploitation of their people and resources because they profit personally from it. They just want to appear to fight for their countries’ reputations and people while pocketing incentives to take no real action.
So corrupt leaders of poor countries go for the easy, politically popular ask that makes it look like they care about the well-being of their people: “Can we keep our kids at least?” And the wealthy countries say, “Of course! Of COURSE you can keep your kids. We will even help you. See how hard we’re working to slow adoptions down and be respectful of you?”
Then the wealthy countries look benevolent, the poor countries look like they have some control over their destiny, and the powerful stay powerful. And unparented children suffer and die. But those children would have been a valuable resource only to their future adoptive families, who don’t have much power and never had the opportunity to fight for them.
If the status quo is to ever change, we must begin to hold countries accountable under international human rights law for shutting down international adoption. International adoption should never be shut down when there are not enough safe, permanent placement options for children in their birth country.
Countries and leaders and companies will continue to make their power plays, but there should be penalties for using vulnerable children as mere tokens in their games.
Katie Jay is an attorney and blogger who advocates for child-centered welfare policies. Her blog, Children Deserve Families, covers both domestic and international child welfare policy.