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International adoption rates plummet, domestic numbers rise

International adoption rates are plummeting because of a crackdown on baby-selling, tighter international regulation, an under-peformoming global economy, and backlash from various kidnapping scandals. Domestic adoptions – around the globe – are increasing.

By The Associated Press / May 10, 2012

International adoption rates plummet as countries emphasize domestic adoptions. In this March 31, 2012 photo, Sharon Brooks shows a room meant for a Vietnamese child she'd identified to adopt but lost after a three and a half year wait because an alleged adoption fraud case there froze US adoptions. She learned in January, that the child would instead be adopted by a Vietnamese family.

Frank Franklin II/AP

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Hanoi, Vietnam

The number of  international adoptions has plummeted to its lowest point in 15 years, a steep decline attributed largely to crackdowns against baby-selling, a sputtering world economy and efforts by countries to place more children with domestic families.

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Globally, the number of orphans being adopted by foreign parents dropped from a high of 45,000 in 2004 to an estimated 25,000 last year, according to annual statistics compiled by Peter Selman, an expert on international adoptions at Britain's Newcastle University.

Some adoption advocates argue the decrease is also linked to a set of strict international guidelines known as the Hague Adoption Convention. Devised to ensure transparency and child protection following a rash of baby-selling and kidnapping scandals, critics say the guidelines have also been used by leading adopting nations, such as the US, as a pretext for freezing adoptions altogether from some countries that are out of compliance.

"It should have been a real step forward, but it's been used in a way that's made it a force for shutting down countries," says Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard Law professor who promotes international adoptions. "That affects thousands of children every year."

She says places where international adoptions are stopped may ultimately see more children stuck in orphanages or on the street where they could fall prey to sex traffickers. "I question whether it's ever true where adoption is all about buying and selling and kidnapping," Ms. Bartholet says.

U.S. adoption officials and international agencies such as UNICEF say the Hague rules, which require countries to set up a central adoption authority and a system of checks and balances, are necessary to safeguard orphans and keep profit-driven players from corrupting a system that should be purely about helping unwanted children.

Alison Dilworth, adoptions division chief at the US Office of Children's Issues and a strong supporter of the Hague guidelines, says they shield adoptive parents from everyone's worst nightmare: "God forbid, that knock on the door ... saying your child that you have raised and loved and is fully integrated into your family was stolen from a birth parent who is desperately trying to look for them."

Much has changed from a decade ago, when busloads of would-be foreign parents flocked to orphanages in poor countries such as China, Vietnam, and Guatemala to take babies home following a relatively quick, easy process.

Waits have become increasingly longer and requirements stiffer, with some countries now refusing obese or single adoptive parents and requiring proof of a certain amount of cash in the bank. Countries embroiled in scandals have pulled the plug on their programs, or been cut off by the US and other countries, leaving hundreds of children caught in bureaucratic limbo.

Sharon Brooks, of New York, knows the story all too well. She waited three and a half years for the release of a little girl in Vietnam after the US froze adoptions there in 2008 amid serious fraud concerns. Finally, in January, Ms. Brooks learned the child she had named Akira-Li would instead be adopted by a Vietnamese family.

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