In ten years the number of international adoptions halved. A decline so significant that they are starting to talk about an era that is coming to an end. Adoptions went from being humanitarian aid to the Third World to become an industry with so much money involved that it ultimately killed it.
5 December 2013
Eventually the Swedish adoption agency Family Association for the international adoption (FFIA) in Gothenburg had to give up.
The business had gone worse year by year, they had been running a deficit on deficit, the number of children who reached Sweden from Columbia, Thailand and China via FFIA were so few that in October the Board decided that FFIA, the second largest of the five Swedish adoption agencies, should wind up the company during 2014.
„I simply do not have time to answer questions,“ said one of the four employees who are still in the office in Gothenburg. The others have already been fired. What will happen to the 350 families who are currently waiting for a child through FFIA is uncertain.
„It’s not just us who lack children. It’s the same everywhere. But I cannot talk anymore. We are only still four, and none of us has the time, we are in a meeting the whole day, we’re closing down the business. No, you cannot get the manager’s direct number. Try again next time we have phone hours. Goodbye. ‚
Adoption agencies are under pressure. 10 years ago it were around 200 adopted children who came to Sweden via FFIA. Last year it was down to 20. What it looks like in Sweden, where the number of international adoptions has more than halved from 1,008 in 2002 to 466 in 2012. What it looks like in Denmark, where the figure fell from 609 children in 2002 to 219 in 2012. And so it seems in the world where international adoptions have gone from being 43,710 in 2003 to be as low as 23,609 in 2011. Everywhere the numbers go the same way, and demand exceeds supply gradually in a way that you’re talking about a time that is coming to an end.
„Transnational adoption is like the sun that went up and fell down like a pancake,“ says Tobias Hübinette, PhD and researching international adoption by Mångkulturelt center and Södertörn University of Technology in Stockholm. He has seen country after country shut down for adoption, open up a bit again or tighten up rules, regulations and requirements for the adopters in many places, for example, they may not be gay, divorced or single.
„It’s over. Countries closed down one by one, while Africa never really was getting off. The only country on the continent was Ethiopia, where over six to eight years children were rushed out. Then came the scandals.“
Scandals like that of the adopted Ethiopian girls Amy and Masho in Denmark, where there had been a number of errors in the proceedings, for example, that was Mashos parents were dying.
Scandals about adopted children in the United States via Yahoo message boards on the web was passed on to new families because their adoptive parents no longer wanted them, as documented by Reuters in the autumn. About once a week were beaten messages on the now defunct Yahoo forum for adoptive parents sought to have their children placed with new families. As for example in an ad where „a loving and good family wanted for our 14 year old daughter who has been with us for almost a year. She is frankly almost a model child. “
And scandals as that these days strikes the larger of the two Danish adoption agencies, AC International Child Support, in a monitoring report recently was roundly criticized for lack of accounting and mess of the economy. Unfortunate for an industry that for years has tried to remedy a tarnished reputation.
„Of course we have heard of the scandals,“ said Mekonnen Yehualashet from African Child Policy Forum, which has its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa advising African countries on child welfare.
„That is why we recommend the African countries to tighten their adoption laws. There has been a boom in Africa in recent years, while other countries in Asia and Latin America have shut down and tightened their laws. We believe that Africa should do the same. “
The African adoption boom we’ve seen in the last decade, due to which he says that there have been errors in the adoption process. Some of the errors have come to light, and it has for example been Togo, Liberia, Chad, Lesotho and Zambia to suspend adoptions temporarily. But despite the scandals and shutdowns is Africa international adoptions new frontline. The African continent was in 2003 for approximately five percent of all international adoptions. In 2010, the figure had risen to 20 percent, and today Ethiopia after China the country that accounts for most adoptions with 21,368 completed adoption cases from 2004 to 2010.
„The business has been what it has been about. It is money that has driven it all up, not the child’s interests. When there is so much money involved, which is the area of adoption, it is very difficult to ensure that there are taken care of the child, „says Yehualashet and emphasizes that in some cases it has been found that adopted children in fact not have been orphaned, but they were given away for financial reasons.
„In many cases, adoption agencies are not the children who would need to be adopted,“ he said, pointing out that it has been shown that the alternatives to international adoption not been exhausted. The alternatives can be domestic adoption, or the child is allowed to stay with other family members through support from the state.
„Studies show that it is best for the child to live in the family, the cultural context and the language that it knows. We clearly believe that international adoption should be the last resort, not the first. “
From relief to selfishness
In Denmark, Anne – who wishes to remain anonymous and in fact called something else – has already been running for two and a half years. The first nine months went up being approved by the state administration, in April 2012 she was waiting to enter the formal waiting list for Ethiopia, as she has been on since September 2012 and the next year she should have renewed its adoption approval – the expire after three years.
„I have at least three years ahead of me,“ says Anne, who is 38 and works with communication in the IT industry.
She’s trying to protect themselves from the debate, and therefore she reads far from anything that stands in the newspapers. Others do probably the opposite, says Anne, who can tell the same story as many others about fertility treatments failed, a marriage that for that reason fell apart and a subsequent decision to adopt alone.
„At first, people thought it was a fine action to adopt – that saves children without a future from the Third World. Today, the debate is totally the opposite, now it’s more about that in countries exploiting the Third World. It has moved from one extreme to another. “
Of course, this means that she is thinking about what kind of a reality that an adopted child will meet in Denmark.
„The cases which come to light in the past few years, the debate has changed completely. The tone was too harsh, and I am torn because I do not have a child on the wrong terms. It will be my biggest fear to have a baby when things are not going on the right way, it was a child who could have a life where it came from his own biological family. All these media cases have since been many wild thoughts. ‚
Adoption of a child Golden Age
The scandals because of the adoption of industrialization, says Tobias Hübinette from Södertörn University of Technology. That money came into the picture cleverly in the end. It’s one of the reasons that the number of adoptions in the past 10 years has fallen so dramatically, says his analysis.
„The money has become an incentive to buy and sell people, and thus the industry has dug its own grave. Not even the conventions – the Hague Convention to protect adopted children – are effective enough, because there are many countries that have not signed them. Adoption today is driven by private interests, and it was not like that 50 years ago when it started, „says Tobias Hübinette about the time when adoption was missionary work, first with war children after World War II and the Korean War.
Since 1970, every year between 400 and 700 foreign children come to Denmark, mostly from South Korea.
At that time the cost of adopting covered the real costs. That was money for a train ticket for the flight, diapers, clothes and food, said Hübinette.
„When I was adopted from South Korea in 1972, it cost nothing compared to today. There were some costs that were covered. Today, it costs a Korean child up to a quarter million Swedish kronor [30.000 euro], „he says, pointing out that adopted children today are often several years old, when they come here, many of them are ’special needs‘ children who have either mental or physical problems or diseases, but it does rarely apply to a Korean child, and therefore they coveted.
„The Scandinavian countries must realize that the Third World is not what it once was. The African countries are no longer western colonies. “
No mass movement
But not only the number of adopted children who come to the West has declined dramatically in recent years. The Adoption Board’s Officer in Family Division Rikke Koefoed Nielsen also sees fewer applicants for approval of adoption. In 2011, 486 Danes were approved as adopters, in 2012 that figure had fallen to 365.
„We have not studied it, but we generally see a growing awareness among the adopters. They know that these children have experienced relationships that are broken. It’s not like 15 years ago where you had a child at the airport, and so that was that, „says Rikke Kofoed Nielsen and suggests that improved fertility treatments may be another reason for the decline. A third may be that the parent born in 1980 is a little vintage.
She does not see it necessarily as a bad thing that the number of adoptions fall worldwide, the figure is related to a positive development in the countries we usually adopt from.
„If a child has the opportunity to be placed in its own country with its own language, it has priority, and thus international adoption becomes a last resort for the individual child. For example, the number of adoptions in China dropped dramatically because there are more resources in China. We see that the number of domestic adoptions in China has increased. „In addition, it is by the individual nation seen as a cop-out to adopt her children away. Therefore, Russia largely closed down international adoption.
– But why, then, should international adoption be maintained as a practice?
„It is incredibly difficult,“ answers Steen Andersen, Secretary General of the relief organization UNICEF.
„It requires a tremendous experience, a lot of money, a good human knowledge and networks to conduct adoptions, and then one can ask whether we are sufficiently proficient in Denmark. It is shown by cases such as those of Amy and Masho, because they’ve probably been in good faith. But it is striking that there may be three to four times as many Ethiopian children who are available to be adopted compared to 10 years ago, while poverty in the country has fallen. One has to wonder if there are other interests at stake, „says Steen Andersen.
„But back to the question. When everything is completed, and in the child’s best interest, what it’s all about, I cannot say anything but yes, it can be a good and important thing for certain children.
„Adoption can never be a mass movement again, he says. Those days are over. The Ethiopia-list was closed to new adopters in the spring, says Anne, who is on the list.
„It remains to be seen what impact this will have. Ethiopia will shut down on the long term, „says Anne. That’s why she’ll have to keep it all at arm’s length. Because she cannot act on it.
„I have made a choice in my life that is deeply existential and vital,“ she says, and hesitates for a second.
For she does not know whether the choice ever materializes.