Appendix I: Overseas Adoption

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Are you thinking of adopting a child from overseas? There are some special considerations you need to think about.

Why Do You Want to Adopt from Overseas?

First and foremost, don’t consider overseas adopting as a way to get around British adoption agency requirements. If you have applied to a number of British agencies of different kinds (local authorities and voluntary) and been turned down, there are probably good reasons, even if you don’t agree with them. If you have been turned down the agency has to tell you why. Give those reasons serious consideration. To adopt from overseas nowadays you still have to be approved by a UK adoption panel. Do you still think you have a chance of being approved for an overseas adoption? If you are discouraged because you are unable to adopt a baby because of your age, think again about the reasons why upper age limits are set. You may think you’re super fit, but the statistics are against you. A baby from a Third-World country is no less deserving of young, active adoptive parents than is a British baby. An obsession with having a baby, as opposed to having a child to adopt is not a good sign to me. After all, a baby only lasts for a year or so and then it turns into a child. People who really want to adopt shouldn’t be so fussy.

If you or your partner are foreign-born or have roots overseas, you may want to adopt from that home country. This may well be a possibility, and disposes of a number of objections people often raise to foreign adoption. It is still expensive and complicated, though, and it makes good economic sense to think about trying to adopt a British-born child with your ethnic background as a first choice. Adopting a child from within your own extended family abroad is another possibility, giving the child the advantages of a British education and upbringing, while keeping her in contact with family and home culture. The less well represented your nationality is in Britain, the more likely you are to want to turn to your home country for a child.

However British immigration officials are suspicious of adoptions of blood relatives from overseas by British subjects or residents, in case they are sham adoptions (called accommodation adoptions) intended to circumvent immigration regulations. The older the child is the more suspicious the authorities become.

Is Adopting from the Third World Ethical?

Many people consider adopting from the Third World as giving a child a chance at a better life in this country. It is not uncommon for western tourists in Third-World countries to be asked directly by parents to take their children home with them, or for children themselves to ask to be taken home. This happened to my own parents, and not in the Third World, either, but by a Native Alaskan boy in the USA. People see television programmes about street children in Central and South American cities, about orphanages in China, Romania and Russia, and rush to their phones full of good will, volunteering to adopt one of the children. Who can resist these images?

There is no doubt that the children adopted from the Third World into western families do benefit in many ways: individual love and family life, good nutrition and medical care, education, citizenship, English as a native language. These are all Good Things. They are also the main arguments used to support the now discredited forced adoptions of thousands of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children into white families over many years, which has given rise to a whole “stolen generation” of deeply disturbed adoptees, destroyed and traumatised families, and justifiably resentful native peoples.

Would the money spent in adopting such a child and raising him in this country be better spent by improving conditions for many such children in their own country and culture? The Ł90,000 (July 2000 survey estimate) cost of raising a child to adulthood in the UK could provide an awful lot of clean drinking water, schooling, orphanage staff, medical clinics, etc., benefiting many more children, in their country of origin. Bringing a child to Britain does nothing for the children left at home; it would take foreign adoption on an unimaginable scale to deplete the ranks of those needing new families enough for there to be significantly increased resources to spread among those remaining, with any hope of making a real impact on their welfare.

Foreign adoption is tainted by the fact that unknown numbers of children have been the victims of sham adoptions by paedophiles, who then abuse them and possibly sell them on to European and American paedophile rings and brothels. There are also some areas of the world where the people believe, rightly or wrongly, that Americans and Europeans are adopting their children for use as organ donors. Whatever we in Britain may think about these stories, you would hardly want the birth parents of your child to live in permanent anxiety that their child had been sent to such a fate.

As in any unregulated market where there is big, hard-currency money to be made, supply will rise to meet demand. There is no doubt that supplying the foreign demand for babies has led in Africa, South and East Asia, Central and South America and Eastern Europe, to a trade in stolen babies and to baby farming, where women deliberately have babies to sell for adoption, although according to experts the illegal foreign baby market is gradually being stamped out. But UNICEF estimates that 25% of all adoptions from foreign countries still have a commercial, illegal or criminal background. In El Salvador during the 1980s government troops made an industry out of stealing babies and selling them for adoption overseas and to wealthy Salvadorans. There is also a culture of official corruption surrounding foreign adoptions in many countries: bribes to court officials and “donations” to maternity homes which wind up in matron’s Swiss bank account, mendacious lawyers’ fees and middlemen’s “expenses”, forged maternal consent forms and birth certificates, etc. These corrupt practices were all still being documented by the BBC in Romania in February 2000. Do you want to be a part of that, to support that system?

Finally, there is the fact that western adopters want the healthiest, most alert babies from foreign orphanages, leaving the sickliest, most lethargic, most institutionalised children behind. The governments of accepting countries often have high health requirements for children being brought in for adoption. Foreign adoption deprives the poorest countries of the very children they most need for their future, leaving those who will be the biggest care burdens and least likely to survive childhood, which if you look at it purely in economic terms, means that the resources put into them are entirely wasted.

Having said all that, it remains that there are donor countries where adoptions by foreigners are officially encouraged and well regulated. There are also countries where the native culture offers no future for certain classes of children, such as the illegitimate and those of racially mixed relationships. (One example would be the children of US soldiers and Korean women, and South Korea is also a country with a good record of efficient and ethical foreign adoption procedures.) In cases such as these I myself see no difficulty in foreign adoption by properly selected, carefully prepared adopters with long-term post-adoption support.

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