The plight of orphans after a tragedy in a poor nation can evoke an ardent desire in people from rich countries to give them a home. Yet the arrest in Haiti of a group of Americans trying to whisk 33 orphans out of that country just days after the Jan. 12 earthquake shows how that desire to adopt requires safe and legal channels. (See related Monitor story by clicking here.)
A need for safeguards became obvious soon after intercountry adoption became popular six decades ago, when Henry and Bertha Holt started a flow of orphans from war-torn Korea to the United States. Steadily over the years, rules have been put in place, most notably with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Simply confirming that a child is orphaned or abandoned, for example, can’t be left to those with a stake in an adoption. And the process needs to be free of profitmaking influence.
Still, that 1993 treaty is accepted by fewer than half of the world’s countries. Fortunately the US – which is by far the largest recipient of foreign adoptees – joined the pact in 2008. This dominant role forces it to accept extra responsibility to enforce the rules – as it recently did after eyeing shady adoptions in Vietnam.
That’s why the State Department needs to have its adoption-watchdog abilities beefed up. A bill in Congress would do just that.
A rush to adopt orphans after a tragedy like the Haitian earthquake or the 2004 Asian tsunami requires the US to respond quickly. (The first rule should always be to find a home for orphans in their own country.)
Vigilance and transparency are also needed as the sources for adoptees change. Places that were once popular, such as China, Russia, and Guatemala, have curbed foreign adoptions for various reasons. Ethiopia and Ukraine are now popular.
Adoption should be made easier – and less costly. But most of all, it needs to put a child’s interests first.
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