International adoptions and symbols that represent it. Source: Artwork by Christiane Alvarez
Since 2005, there has been an estimated 98 percent drop in international adoptions, according to the U.S State Department. This drop follows after a combination of several world events and international policies, changing international relationships, and documentation of abuse of international adoptees, sparking concerns about the living conditions children are experiencing after adoption.
An infographic sharing where Foreign Adoptees to the U.S come from. Source: Statista
The decrease in international adoptions is in part a result of a smaller pool of children put up for adoption, particularly in countries where adoptions by Americans were once more common. Most adoptees in recent years are from China, India, Ukraine, Colombia, South Korea, Haiti, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
In the late 20th century, the U.S had high overseas adoption rates as a result of war and international conflict that left many children without homes. International adoptions began to rise in the U.S after the Korean war. In the years that followed, many adoptees came from Vietnam after the Vietnam War, and then from various Eastern European countries, including Russia, after the Soviet Union broke down.
However, in recent years, international adoption trends have gone down among the five most common countries for US international adoption because of foreign policy changes and shifting international allegiances.
Some countries, such as China, have made significant policy changes. China was once one of the major countries that U.S. international adoptions came from. Much of this was attributed to China’s one-child policy that started in the late 70s and became more enforced during the 80s. Many families that already had a child would often have few options, and several families put their additional children up for adoption. In addition, prejudice often resulted in female children being abandoned for hopes of a son. In recent years, notably 2015, China began to allow two children in families, and in 2021, allowed for families to have three children.
According to the Associated Press, China has sent fewer adoptees to the U.S because of rising rates of domestic adoption, as well as restrictions on foreign nongovernmental organizations. Other factors, such as a stronger economy, have also meant that households are less likely to abandon their children to welfare. After years focused on economic reforms, China now has a GDP of around 9.5 percent and in the process, has brought 800 million people out from living in poverty.
In other countries, foreign adoptions have been banned as a result of concerns about the well-being and safety of children adopted out. In 2012, a largely publicized case of neglect resulted in the death of a thirteen-year-old Ethiopian girl, Hana Williams, from malnutrition and hypothermia. The child had been adopted by a family from the U.S. and was found unconscious during a cold night outside of her home in Washington state. She had lived with her adoptive parents for three years, and authorities uncovered that she had experienced physical abuse and long-term starvation. Using this case as a primary example of abuse, Ethiopian lawmakers eventually banned foreign adoptions in 2018.
Similarly, Russia’s parliament voted to ban American adoptions as a result of what they claim is concerns over child abuse. However, this has been met with some controversy, as some have mentioned that Russia has more widespread abuse occurring within their own orphanages. The ban was later attributed to sanctions that the U.S government had made in response to alleged human rights violations.
International adoption rates have also fallen for reasons that have nothing to do with the US. In Guatemala, adoptions to the U.S decreased after the government ended the program due to reports of corruption and fraud within the adoption system itself. These investigations cited inaccuracies and irregularities in the adoption process.