The Contraction of IA Programs

In response to Pale Rider’s comments to the last posting, a not-so-quick word on the current trend of slow downs in what have been the most popular sending countries in International Adoption.

Just a caveat: I am not an expert on South Korea. We did research the Korean IA program before choosing China but only far enough to realize we did not meet their requirements. I’m also not an expert on Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia or most of the other sending countries although we have looked at most of them. I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible but much of this is based on what I’ve found on the Internet, and of course the Internets are never wrong, right? 😉 At any rate, don’t take any of this as the final word on the subject.

South Korea has had a long history of IA to the US and other countries, dating back to the end of the Korean Conflict. I believe it is the longest running IA program to the US. Certainly for a decades it was the most popular program for US PAPs. But starting in the late 80s and early 90s, Korean began scaling back its IA program. As of 2006 it was still 4th among the sending countries but that was relatively small compared to the top 3 sending countries, China, Russia and Guatemala.

There are a couple of reasons. One had to do with the negative press that South Korea received in the Western press during the ’88 Olympics. The people of South Korea were quite upset by the amount and severity of the negative coverage of their country in what was supposed to be a major source of positive PR for the rising nation. I’ve never actually been able to find the quote, so the tale may be an apocryphal, but it is “commonly known” in the IA world that a US sportscaster made an on-air comment that South Korea’s largest export was its children. Whether this story is true or not, the Media in general definately brought negative attention to the South Korean IA program.

South Korean officials were also becoming increasingly aware that some of the original reasons for IA (orphans due to the Conflict and extreme poverty) were no longer valid in a nation that was becoming increasingly quite rich. So Korean officials tightened the requirements for international PAPs and attempted to increase domestic adoption. Unfortunately there are strong cultural barriers to domestic adoption in South Korea. But there has been a great deal of work to change attitudes and to some extent it is working. Their stated goal is to close IA altogether, although that doesn’t appear to be imminent. Domestic adoptions still do not keep up with the number of children in need of families and probably won’t in this generation.

Still, South Korea is at the forefront of what appears to be a trend in the largest sending countries, China, Russia, South Korea and Guatemala. For the most part the trend is due to the rising economic strength of those countries. Both China and Russia have had recent major overhauls of their adoption systems and have worked toward increasing domestic adoptions. Both can now afford to be far more picky about the people they allow to adopt from abroad. The Hague convention on IA is also playing a part in this as it emphasizes domestic over international adoption as well.

Guatemala, which in 2006 surpassed Russia as a sending country, is a whole other can of worms. I won’t go too deeply into the reasons why IA in Guatemala is rapidly contracting but the fact that the State Department requires not one but TWO DNA tests on the child and her putative birth mother is indicative of serious ethical problems in the program. I hope that the government of Guatemala can address these issues in a timely manner to the benefit of the children. But unfortunately a lot of children and PAPs have been caught up in political and ethical issues beyond their control and many families are facing an uncertain future.

On the other hand, Ethiopia is rapidly growing its IA program. It was the 5th largest sending country in 2006 and I suspect climbed higher in 2007. I believe it will continue to be a very popular program although it will probably only surpass the current top sending countries as a product of those countries wind down their IA programs.

Vietnam was a popular country in 2007 but the issues they are having now with questionable paperwork and potential ethics violations, as well as the impending expiration of the bilateral agreement that reopened adoptions to the US, it is likely to close that program down again.

There are a few scattered smaller programs such as Kazakhstan which are becoming popular, and some countries which had closed their program, like Ukraine, are coming back. However, as the number of people looking overseas to adopt increases, this decrease in the number of available children – hopefully a positive thing for them – definately adds another level of difficulty to an already lengthy and complex process.

Anyway, I don’t have a grand wrap up or a conclusion on this matter. I think each country has every right to make whatever rules and plans for its IA that they feel is right. At any rate, in the larger scheme of things, we should see the trend in the traditionally largest sending countries as a positive sign for their children. At least, I hope it is true that more orphans are finding families in-country and that those left in the orphanages are getting better treatment.

Time will tell.



Update – I discovered from another source that in 2007, domestic adoption within South Korean outnumbered international adoptions from that country for the first time. This is wonderful to hear.


One Response to “The Contraction of IA Programs”

  1. Pale Rider says:

    Very cool! Thank you!

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