Journal Issue: Adoption Volume 3 Number 1 Spring 1993
The adoption of foreign children by Americans began after World War II and grew steadily for the next four decades. However, the reasons Americans adopted these children were not always the same, and the countries from which the children came and the ethnic and racial groups to which they belonged have varied dramatically over the past 45 years. With regard to the wish of Americans to adopt foreign children, Altstein and Simon5 have stated that "in the mid-1940s, Western countries were interested in ICAs (inter-country adoptions) as a solution to the problems of parentless children. By the 1980s their interest was sparked primarily by the needs of childless couples." In the postwar period Americans responded to the needs of European children, mainly from Germany and Greece, who had been orphaned by the war; between 1948 and 1953, some 5,814 children were adopted from Europe. It is important to point out that these were white children adopted by white parents. It is significant, however, that during the same period, half as many children (2,418) were adopted from Asia, of whom two-thirds were Japanese. The rapid reconstruction of the war-ravaged countries together with an increase in childlessness within them caused the period 1948 to 1953 to be defined by Altstein and Simon as "the first and shortest era of ICA, lasting only about five years."
By the mid-1950s the demand for healthy infants by American families clearly exceeded the number of American babies available, a situation that has continued to date. Against this background, Americans turned to the large number of Korean children who had been made parentless by the Korean War. Characterizing this second wave of international adoption, Altstein and Simon state that "the adoption of Korean-born children by Westerners presaged an era in child placement different from the era of adopting racially and culturally similar children after World War II. For the first time in history, relatively large numbers of Western couples, mostly in the United States, were adopting children who were racially and culturally different from themselves." Adoption of Korean children increased steadily for 30 years, reaching a peak of 6,188 in 1986, but has decreased since, with 1,817 such adoptions being recorded in 1991. (See the article by Stolley.) By 1987, some 68,000 Korean children had been adopted by American families, and at the time of this writing, the total number probably exceeds 85,000.
Adoption of children from Central and South America (the third wave) began to accelerate in 1973, rising from about 300 per year to 2,300 in 1987.6 In 1991 approximately 2,500 such adoptions were recorded, the majority of which have been children of color. (See Stolley, Table 3.)
The fourth, and current, wave of international adoption began with the fall of the communist government in Romania in 1989 and the political upheavals in other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Russia, and most recently, the former Yugoslavia. For the first time since the post-World War II period, large numbers of white infants and children were believed to be available for adoption, and couples from the United States and other Western countries traveled to Romania in large numbers.
Bartholet, in her article in this issue, presents data indicating that, between December 1989 and July 1991, some 5,000 children were adopted from Romania, of whom 1,500 were adopted by Americans Stolley's data, obtained from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, documents that the American adoption of Romanian children was significantly greater, quoting 2,552 such adoptions in fiscal year 1991, and states that Romania replaced Korea as the leading source of foreign children for adoption in this country for the first time in 40 years. However, the scandalous conditions revealed in the Romanian institutions and the widespread reports of supposed baby selling and black market adoptions led Romania to close down all foreign adoptions in July of 1991.
The present state of international adoption might well be suggested by the headlines in only a few of the very many reports in the lay press just in the past year: "The Volatile World of Foreign Adoption. Korea's Down, Russia's Up. A Guide to the Hot Spots";7 "Booming Polish Market: Blond, Blue-eyed Babies";8 "Peru Considers Stricter Rules for Adoptions";9 "China Makes Adoptions Easier for Foreigners."10
In her article in this issue, Bartholet presents the stark picture of literally millions of children in poor countries throughout the world who are living in substandard orphanages or state institutions or, even worse, on the streets. While recognizing that "international adoption can play only a very limited role in addressing the problems that children of the world face," Bartholet states that "for most of the homeless children of the world international adoption represents the only realistic opportunity for permanent families of their own."
Bartholet describes the increasing hostility to international adoption in those "sending" countries, where recent political forces and nationalistic tendencies have combined to obstruct and, in some instances, prohibit the adoption of their children by foreigners. Even in countries where international adoption is permitted, legal barriers often make the process of adoption unduly burdensome, lengthy, and expensive.
The immigration laws of the United States, too, pose unnecessary hurdles to foreign adoption. Among the most onerous of the hurdles are: the "orphan restriction," which permits entry of a child only if a very narrow definition of "orphan" is met; the failure to recognize a foreign adoption decree, which necessitates duplicative adoptions; and the requirement that the adopted child apply for U.S. citizenship, rather than become a citizen by virtue of adoption by U.S. citizens.
It seems certain that both recognition of the value of international adoption and facilitation of the process itself will have to depend upon development of international agreements. Encouraging in this regard have been the passage by the United Nations General Assembly of the U.N. Adoption Declaration, in 1986, and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. These documents, while not establishing standards as a legal framework for international adoption, do at least recognize its legitimacy and enunciate principles designed to protect the safety and the rights of adopted children.
It is more likely that workable international agreements may result from the deliberations of the Hague Conference on private international law, which is currently engaged in a project aimed at producing a "Convention on Intercountry Adoption." Professors Joan Hollinger and Elizabeth Bartholet are members of an advisory group to the U.S. State Department which is representing the United States at the Hague Conference. It is expected that the final draft of the Convention will be addressed in Spring 1993. Following agreement on the Convention by the Conference, the individual countries involved (sending and receiving) will decide whether or not to accept it. Bartholet does not believe that the final Convention will actually establish a new legal framework for international adoption. Nevertheless. she indicates that recent drafts of the Convention do suggest a model that would greatly simplify the process of international adoption. Moreover, a Convention would make it "more politically acceptable" for sending and receiving countries to work toward cooperative agreements and might encourage countries, including the United States, to modify their immigration laws.
Bartholet presents seven specific recommendations at the conclusion of her article. Two relate to the development of agreements with other nations while five focus on U.S. immigration laws with the aim of facilitating adoption of foreign children by American citizens. The best interests of the child in being placed in a permanent home should be given highest priority in evaluating these and similar recommendations.
With regard to the outcome of international adoption, Howard Altstein, who with Rita Simon has recently edited the book Intercountry Adoption, has stated that their research "on the effect of intercountry adoption strongly indicates that the children remain proud of their ethnic, racial, and national origins, happy in their adoptive families and countries—and proud of themselves. These children adjust to their new lives very well and nobody loses."5 (See also the article by Silverman in this journal issue.)