International Adoptions Rising
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Adoption: Pitfalls and Payoffs

Nobody knows what the cause is, though some pretend they do; it like some hidden assassin waiting to strike at you.
Childless women get it, and men when they retire; it as if there had to be some outlet for their foiled creative fire.

- W H Auden

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that humans are motivated by unfulfilled desires.  Listed in the order of importance to the individual, these are:


(Maslow 65).

Physiological needs simply describe our base requirements for universal necessities such as food and water.  While this need is met by the majority of the population, Safety is less simple to define and to achieve.  Safety needs have to do with establishing stability and consistency in a chaotic world (168).  One of the greatest sources of comfort and consistency is family - but a stable, loving family may be difficult to achieve.  If one does find a suitable mate, one generally next wishes to conceive a child - a feat impossible for some.  A widely accepted solution in that case is to adopt, but that is not without its hazards.  Selecting the baby, getting the baby, bonding with the baby, and ensuring that it will have a happy and prosperous life can be very difficult - much more so than if the child were the parents’ own.

The first major obstacle to adoption is, of course, selecting the baby.  It can be surprisingly difficult to find the right baby, since prospective parents will likely have to look at babies from around the world to find the perfect one.  If the baby is from outside the country, there are a multitude of legal difficulties that must be dealt with before a couple can gain custody of the child.  If the baby is in a developing country, then the couple must make certain that they do not catch diseases from the infant by ensuring that their vaccinations are current (Johnson 1958).  Another less-common problem is purchasing a baby, should its current guardian deem that to be necessary.

International Adoptions by US Citizens
Country of origin Number of adoptions Country of origin Number of adoptions
1989 1997
South Korea
All others
South Korea
All others
1994 2002
South Korea
All others
Russian Federation
Republic of Korea
All others

Information retrieved September 14, 1998, from the Internet:


Issues of a legal nature should be taken very seriously for the child’s safety - if a couple fails to familiarise themselves with the laws of both their home country and particular state, they impair the safety of both themselves and their potential adoptee.  In some cases children arrive in the US and are later returned to their home country without the proper paperwork having been filed, leading to the rejected children not having citizenship to any country at all (Perkel).

Also, diseases are not uncommon in foreign children and in some cases can be quite serious.  Tuberculosis, parasites and hepatitis B are all possibilities (Quarles), and while such things as parasites are not easily contagious and are easily curable, care and consideration should be given to the possibility of the child having such maladies or that the parent had a disease, deformity or condition that prevented him or her from earning a living, which may evidence in the child at some future date (Mitchell).

On top of legal issues and disease potential, a couple may also be required to pay the child’s current guardians to part with it.  It is a common view that children are not a commodity and as such, should not be purchased as if they were one (Fitzenrider).  Further, the practice is officially illegal in most countries (but that is not to say it does not occur).  Despite laws to the contrary, the practice persists, especially in developing countries.  Due to the possibility of scams, it is generally a good idea to not pay more than the child’s transportation expenses unless a couple feels especially desperate.  "Why does it cost $20,000 (and up) dollars to adopt a child from a country where the annual per capita income is less than $400 a year?" (Fitzenrider).  Guatemala has begun requiring DNA proof that the woman offering a child for adoption is indeed the birth mother.

The next major obstacle usually faced is getting the baby home safely.  For many people this is simple, as they usually adopt babies that are at a local orphanage, or at least one within a day’s travel.  For some, though, it is not that easy.  If a couple is adopting from a foreign country, there are many difficulties they may face - stolen black-market babies or scams that sell the same baby multiple times are possibilities.  Ideally, if a couple does adopt internationally, they should do so only from a country that has signed the Hague Convention (UNICEF).

The idea of black market babies is a rather odd one, but such babies exist.  A mother with a perfectly healthy baby may be told that her child has died at birth and that baby is then put up for adoption for a hefty adoption fee (Haviland).  If a couple attempts to purchase such a baby, they are supporting an illegal and immoral enterprise and could possibly be the subject of legal action should the baby’s biological parents ever track down their child.

In addition to the black market, babies are occasionally sold without the seller ever intending to supply the child to the family attempting to adopt it.  These babies may already be adopted, or they may be being sold repeatedly until they are finally sent to a fortunate set of parents after no longer being deemed cute enough to make the scammer an easy profit.  To combat these sorts of practices, The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption is a multilateral treaty designed to apply to all international adoptions between countries that ratify it.  It requires a process which ensures that international adoption of a child is determined to be in the child's best interests, and that all measures are taken to prevent the abduction, sale or traffic in children.  It represents the safest way to ensure that a couple will not have any trouble ensuring their baby’s safe arrival.

The third major problem adopting parents face is living with the baby once it arrives.  Since babies are not a commodity, they should not be returned to the place of purchase just because one or both members of the couple decide they do not want to be parents after all.  Total abdication of responsibility is not accepted by society for biological children and should not be tolerated for adoptees as well.  Accommodations must be made in the case of a family’s rejection, such as finding another family.  Nevertheless, this is usually traumatic for both the child and the parents alike, and, particularly for the child, can lead to issues in later life.  The most commonly-occurring problems include those of a failure to bond with the baby (which should ideally be done before the child grows past its ‘cute’ stage), the developing child not looking or smelling like either parent or the child’s adverse reaction at being told that he is adopted.

retty much all babies are seen as being "cute" to adults - if an adult sees any baby, he is likely to say something on the order of "how adorable!" or similar.  However, when it comes to one’s own child, each parent generally has the feeling that his baby is the absolute cutest baby in the entire world.  Ideally, an adopted baby will instill this same feeling in his or her parents, because if it doesn’t, the baby may never get more endearing.  The parents may later see a different adoptable baby that they wish they had chosen instead.  Or perhaps they too quickly judge their adopted child as inferior.  Finally, they may just not feel attached enough to their new baby to make chores like diaper-changing seem tolerable.  Any of these situations can lead to a child feeling unwanted and will often cause problems in later life needing therapy.

While all babies are cute, all people are not.  There inevitably comes a period of transition from the universal cuteness of a baby to the individual characteristics of a developing adult.  During this prolonged phase, instincts instilled in the parent by the baby lessen, often leading the parent to become less attached to the child.  For biological children, this is usually not a problem, as the parents begin to see themselves in the child and that makes up for the loss of cuteness.  However, for adopted children, if the child does not grow up to not look, behave, act, or smell similar to his or her parents, there can be problems that parents may not even be consciously aware of.  Due to factors of unconscious rejection, it may be impossible for the child not to sense that he or she is no longer the family’s "darling."

Problems with bonding can lead to the parents having a strong feeling that the child they have chosen to adopt is inferior to a child they might have produced themselves (never mind that that proved impossible); they begin to treat the child as inferior - which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Many parents who fail to bond with their child first tell them that they are adopted during a fight, and further, they have a tendency to remind both the child and friends and relatives of the child’s adopted status.  It is not uncommon for parents to introduce their child as "so-and-so, my adopted son/daughter."  This gives the child a clear and public message of rejection and causes more incidents to occur between the child and his parents, leading to serious issues in later life for all parties.  Ideally, the child should be enough like a biological child that parents have no need to tell the child that it had been adopted.  If, during adolescence, the child experiences a feeling of not "fitting in" with no apparent reason, it may be because of genes from the child’s natural parents.  In this case, the child should be told by the parents of his adopted status - but only when circumstances deem it necessary.  Otherwise it should be avoided until adulthood.

As long as parents ensure that the baby they select is the right one for them, and that they make sure they can take possession of the child easily without undue legal problems, and that they accept their adopted child as if he were their very own biological child, then they should get along as well.  In some instances, an adopted child is treasured even more than a biological child because, being difficult to obtain, it seems more precious.  It can also allow a couple to feel that they are contributing to the good of society in general and to a homeless, needy baby in particular.  International adoption should be avoided if possible, but if the country one chooses has signed The Hague Convention, then international adoption should be safe.  Adoption is not something to be taken lightly, but it is also not something to be dismissed out of hand.  Babies need parents.  Couples need children to complete their secure and happy families, thus fulfilling the family’s needs for Security and Belongingness/Love.

Works Cited

Fitzenrider, Ellen. "Personal Thoughts on Ethics in International Adoptions." 2004. <>

Haviland, M. "Black Market Adoption." <>

Johnson, Dana E MD, PhD. "The Family Physician and International Adoption." American Family Physician, Vol 58, No 9, December 1998.

Maslow, Abraham. Motivation and Personality. New York: Wiley 3rd ed., 1998.

Mitchell, M A and J A Jenista. "Health Care of the Internationally Adopted Child, Part 1: Before and at Arrival into the Adoptive Home." Journal of Pedriatric Health Care Volume 11:51-60, 1997.

Perkel, Colin. "Sympathy for Romanian Adoptee." 18 February 2005. <>

Quarles, Christopher S. and Jeffeey H. Brodie. "Primary Care of International Adoptees." American Academy of Family Physicians, December 1998 <>

UNICEF. "UNICEF’s Position on Inter-Country Adoption." <>

Rejected Adoptee Sues

Toronto - A Romanian woman, adopted as a child by a Canadian couple who sent her back after only five months, is suing the family and the government for years of hardship and loss of identity, her lawyers said.

Alexandra Austin, now 22, was given up for adoption by her mother and brought to Canada in 1991.  After five months, the couple sent the girl back to Romania where she ended up in legal limbo.  Authorities there refused to recognise the newly named Austin as a Romanian while Ottawa said she did not have Canadian citizenship either.  "She's suing to hold everyone accountable for what happened to her, falling through the cracks," lawyer Jeffrey Wilson said.  "She was a child who was adopted into a foreign country and then, remarkably, sent home on a one-way ticket to Romania.  "She remained there without school opportunities, without health services."

Austin's $C7 million ($NZ8.03 million) lawsuit targets her adoptive parents, who have since separated and live in the United States and Italy.  It also names the Ontario and Canadian governments and Swiss International Air Lines, which flew her back to Bucharest more than a decade ago.  The lawsuit alleges all three failed in their fiduciary duty toward the girl.  The parents, who adopted a Romanian baby 2 days before sending 9-year-old Austin back, are cited for negligence for "reckless infliction of nervous shock, mental distress and abandonment of a child."

"It's not the first case where an international adoption has broken down," Wilson said.  "The obvious answer is simply to place the child in the care of the Children's Aid Society and the child grows up in Canada ... with all the benefits."  Instead, the lawsuit says, she was left stateless in Romania, unable to access state-run services and subjected to grinding poverty.

Austin, the subject of a book and a documentary shown on Canadian television this week, said her life fell apart after she was shipped back to Bucharest where her birth mother no longer had parental rights to her.  "Nobody should ever do this to a child," she told reporters in a brief visit to Toronto.  "I've lost my childhood and my identity."  Austin, whose schooling ended at Grade 3, launched the lawsuit after giving birth to a daughter who was also deemed a stateless person in Romania.

Source: 18 February 2005

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