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Intercountry adoption in Europe 1998-2007: Patterns, trends and issues

Intercountry Adoption in Europe 1998-
2007: patterns, trends and issues.
Chapter in Greener I (ed)
Social Policy Review 21: Analysis
and Debate in Social Policy
Peter Selman
Visiting Fellow, School of Geography,
Politics & Sociology, Newcastle University
The author can be contacted at;
School of Geography, Politics &
Sociology, Newcastle University,
Claremont Bridge level 5
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU,
Tel +44 191 222 7538;
Intercountry Adoption in Europe 1998-2007: patterns, trends
and issues.
Peter Selman
School of Geography, Politics and Sociology
Newcastle University
1. Introduction
Critics have raised many doubts about the movement of children for intercountry
adoption, asking whether it is a “global gift or global trade ?” (Triseliotis 2000): “a
global problem or a global solution?” (Masson 2001). In this paper I want to explore
this question in Europe which shares with America the pattern of being a continent
with major movements of children between countries in America from South to
North; in Europe from East to West. However, Europe is of particular interest in the
context of the enlarged European Union which contains both receiving States and
States of origin. I shall look in particular at the pressures on Romania and Bulgaria to
reduce the number of children sent for intercountry adoption in the years preceding
their accession in January 2007, which resulted in the ending of international
adoptions by non-relatives from Romania in 2005 and a major reduction in the
adoptions of children from Bulgaria.
One aim of this chapter is to provide the first detailed analysis of the movement of
children for intercountry adoption between European countries in the context of the
total movement of at least 45,000 children in 2004. The paper starts with a statement
of the countries defined as “European” and clarification of the identification of these
as primarily receiving States or States of origin1. There will be a brief consideration of
the history of intercountry adoption (ICA) in Europe since the Second World War, a
more detailed account of which can be found in a paper presnetd at the 1996 SPA
conference (Selman 1998), but the chapter will concentrate on the pattern of
movement in the first seven years of the twentieth century.
1 The terms “receiving State” and “State of origin” are those used in the 1993 Hague Convention
(see 1.2 below) for countries receiving or sending children for intercountry adoption.
1.1 Countries studied and Classification as sending or receiving States
The study is concerned with the movement of children for intercountry adoption to
and from European countries. The countries chosen were the member states of the
Council of Europe in 2007, with the addition of Belarus as a candidate for
membership. This made a total of 48 states for which data were sought.
In order to carry out the analysis countries were divided into receiving States and
States of origin. Where countries have responded to questionnaires from the Hague
Special Commission (2005) or ChildONEurope (2008), their own definition has been
taken; - although many receiving States send some children as well, only Portugal has
consistently described itself as “both a receiving country and a State of origin”.
Countries not responding to either questionnaire have been classified in accordance
with the available data – i.e. whether they sent or received more children.
Table 1 below shows the division of states, which resulted in 24 States being
classified as receiving States and 23 as States of origin with Portugal self-classified as
“both a receiving State and a State of origin”. The statistical analysis of receiving
States in this chapter is based on 18 countries, as only limited data were available for
Austria, Greece, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Slovenia.
The resultant division is, not surprisingly, between the rich and poor countries of
Europe (See Appendix 1). The poorest receiving country with adequate data (Malta)
had a per capita GNI of $12,250 in 2004. In the richest sending country (Hungary)
the per capita figures was $8,270. The two countries classifying themselves as “both
sending and receiving”, the Czech Republic and Portugal had figures of $9,150 and
$10,441 respectively! The States of origin sending most children had a consistently
lower total fertility rate than the countries to which they sent children.
Table 1: European Countries1 and Intercountry Adoption in 2007
Receiving States States of Origin
European Union Hague European Union Hague
Austria YES Bulgaria YES
Belgium YES Czech Republic YES
Cyprus YES Estonia YES
Denmark YES Hungary YES
Finland YES Latvia YES
France YES Lithuania YES
Germany YES Poland YES
Greece NO (Portugal) 2(YES)
Ireland Signed Romania YES
Italy YES Slovak Republic YES
Luxembourg YES 9 (10) 9(10)
Malta YES
Netherlands YES
(Portugal) 2(YES) Non-EU States of Origin
Slovenia YES Albania YES
Spain YES Armenia YES
Sweden YES Azerbaijan YES
United Kingdom YES Belarus 1YES
17(18) 15(16) Bosnia NO
Croatia YES
Non-EU Receiving States Georgia YES
Andorra YES Macedonia NO
Iceland YES Moldova YES
Liechtenstein4NO Montenegro 3NO
Monaco YES Russia Signed
Norway YES Serbia NO
Switzerland YES Turkey YES
San Marino YES Ukraine NO
7 6 14 8
24 (25) 21 (22) 23 (24) 18(19)
1All the States listed above are members of the Council of Europe (47) except
Belarus whose application for membership is currently suspended.
2Portugal described itself as “both a receiving State and a State of origin” and
supplied statistics supporting this definition for the period 2003-7
3In 2004 Montenegro was still a part of Serbia, becoming a full member of the
Council in May 2007
4Statistics on children received can be found in Liechtenstein’s response to the
Committee on the Rights of the Child
2. Intercountry Adoption in Europe from the Second World
War to the Hague Convention
The movement of children from Europe to distant lands has a long history, notably in
the 160,000 “child migrants” sent by the UK to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and
the United States between 1618 and 1967 (Bean & Melville 1989; Parker 2007), but
intercountry adoption as a legal phenomenon involving formal agreements between
sending and receiving countries is usually seen as developing in the aftermath of the
second world war 
(Altstein & Simon 1991), although during the war itself
there were movements of children within Europe e.g. from Finland to Sweden
(Serenius 1995) – and the widespread “adoption” in Germany of children fathered by
German soldiers (Textor 1991).
2.1 Adoption from European Countries to the United States 1948 to 1991
 !"#$   "%&%%%
*&!  +,- ' +. / 01 & 2
+13  )'4*&%%%
  5 4   
  6 ' !" ,7 $0  8
 9   ,/  7 5  20  8  '   
  +':9444&%%%
  32    '          #$      
Table 2: United States: Major Countries of Origin for children
granted orphan visas + Percentage of total: selected years
1948 -1991 (European in Bold)
1948-1962 1967 1972 1982 1987 1991
El Salvador
19,230 1,905 3,023 5,749 10,097 9,008
@   %  ' A  
2%% sending
 A  4B   2
            '    A    
#.            4 
#$4C,#$$"%% 0
2.2 Intercountry Adoption to and from Europe 1970 – 1994
  D             
23! +. " '
'  ,E'& 0 . % 
 3%
1 "3!! 
 %4,C'&" 0
' '
                    4  
'   
  F&      +&              
  <  4            $&
4 4 #$
$4 '   33 2
                 4  4
  ' ,  !0 >  
4'$@ %
 4     
Table 3 Annual number of intercountry adoptions in USA,
Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and France
1970 – 1995; ranked by number in 1975
1970 1975 1980 1987 1993 1995
USA 2,409 5,633 5,139 10,097 7,377 9,769
Sweden 1,150 1,517 1,704 1,355 934 895
Netherlands 177 1,018 1,599 872 574 661
Denmark 226 770 766 537 473 541
Norway 115 397 384 465 519 488
France n/a n/a 935 1,723 2,784 3,034
Source: Selman (2006)
 %'#$F
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:UNICEF (1999) has estimated that more than 10,000 children were taken from the
country between January 1990 and July 1991, when the newly established Romanian
Adoption Committee finally imposed a moratorium” (Selman 2009). The arrival of
2,594 children from Romania in fiscal year 1991 had boosted the number of orphan
visas issued in the United States to 8,481, but a year later the number had fallen to
6,472 in 1992, less than two-thirds of the number granted in 1987, and many
commentators were talking about an end to intercountry adoption ( e.g. Altstein &
Simon 1991:191).
A similar pattern is found in European countries. During the 5 months from August
1990 to February 1991, 500 or more Romanian children went to France, Germany and
Italy and at least 200 to Greece, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (Defence for
Children International 1991). Thereafter numbers fell back sharply. Table 4 shows
changes in countries sending most children to France 1979 to 1994.
Table 4: France: Major Countries of Origin 1979 - 1994
1979 1981 1985 1991 1994
971 1,256 1,988 2,872 3,058
The rapid growth of ICA worldwide in the 1980s “led to increasing concerns about
abuses of the practice and the failure of many adoptions to meet the needs of the
children involved” (Selman 1998 p 149). Principles to govern the practice were
included in the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In 1988
the Hague Conference on Private International Law set up a Special Commission on
Intercountry Adoption which met during the next five yeara and was attended by more
than 65 states, both sending and receiving. The process culminated on 1 May 1993 in
the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of
Intercountry Adoption which recognised that intercountry adoption “may offer the
advantage of a permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be
found in his or her State of origin”, and provided a framework for cooperation
between sending and receiving countries to ensure that intercountry adoption was only
carried out in the best interest of the child. Fifteen years later the Convention is
supported by 75 States: of the major receiving countries only Ireland has yet to ratify.
3. Receiving States in Europe 1995-2007
Although the number of children adopted from Romania fell dramatically after 1991,
by the end of the decade other Eastern European countries Belarus, Bulgaria,
Russia, Ukraine - had become important new sources of children, alongside China and
in the United States the number of orphan visas had risen to 22,824 in fiscal year
2004, while global numbers were estimated as over 45,000 (see Table 5 below). In
that year European sending countries accounted for over 30 per cent of all
intercountry adoptions despite a virtual cessation of adoptions from Romania. It is to
an analysis of trends in this period that I will devote the rest of the paper.
From the mid 1990s the number of children adopted internationally began to rise in all
European countries, including those which had experienced major falls in the
previous fifteen years (see Table 5 below). Throughout the period France, Italy and
Spain accounted for more than half of the total intercountry adoptions to Europe.
Although about half of all children sent for international adoption since 1998 have
gone to the United States, throughout the period the highest level of intercountry
adoption (per 100,000 population) has been found in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and
(since 2001) Spain and Ireland (see Table 6 below).
Table 5: Intercountry Adoption to the United States and selected
European receiving countries 1995 to 2007: By rank in 1999
Country 1995 1999 2003 2004 2006 2007
United States 8,987 16,363 21,616 22,884 20,679 19,613
Total to
Europe 10,429 13,716 16,922 19,501 16,561 15,431
Total to 23
Countries 1
35,402 3
% to Europe
47% 42% 41% 43% 42% 43%
% to USA 41% 49% 52% 51% 52% 53%
1. The other countries include in the world totals are Australia, Canada, Finland,
Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, and Switzerland - with addition of Israel
and Malta from 1999; Cyprus 1999-2005 (EurAdopt only); Andorra 2001-07.
2. Figures in brackets indicate number of countries for which data were available
each year.
3. No data for Canada or Ireland. Estimated total [in square brackets] assumes
same number in 2007 as in 2006 for these 2 countries
Table 6: Crude intercountry adoption rates (per 100,000 population):
selected EU receiving countries 1998 – 2006: ranked by rate in 2004
Country Number of
Adoptions per 100,000 population 1
2006 2004 2001 1998
Norway 448 9.6 15.4 15.9 14.6
Spain 4,472 10.2 13.0 8.6 3.8
Sweden 879 9.7 12.3 11.8 10.5
Malta 64 14.8 11.4 9.8 10.8
Denmark 450 8.3 9.8 9.8 11.8
Ireland 313 7.4 9.8 9.3 3.3
(U.S.A.) 20,679 6.8 7.8 7.6 5.8
France 3,977 6.5 6.8 6.7 6.4
Italy 3,188 5.4 5.9 4.8 3.9
Finland 58 4.1 5.5 4.2 3.5
Belgium 383 3.7 4.5 4.2 4.8
Germany 583 0.7 0.8 1.0 1.1
U.K. 363 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.4
1. Population data from State of the World’s Children (UNICEF), 2000,
2003, 2006, 2007.
The differing levels of intercountry adoption are very striking and merit further
examination, especially the dramatic rise in Spain and Ireland (see Table 7) and the
continuing low rate in the UK, which has been variously attributed to official policies
(Weil 1984), attitudes of professionals (Hayes 2000), costs (Halifax 2006), the
continuation of domestic adoption in contrast to most of mainland Europe and past
experience of sending children to other countries.
3.1 The growth of intercountry adoption 1998 – 2004
The number of international adoptions worldwide doubled between 1995 and 2004
(see Table 5). Between 1998 and 2004 the overall increase was 42 per cent but there
was wide variation between receiving countries, with Spain experiencing a rise of 273
per cent and Ireland a rise of 171 per cent (see Table 7 below). In contrast total
numbers fell in Canada and Denmark
Table 7: Percentage Change in Number of Adoptions 1998 - 2004:
Selected European receiving States and USA ranked by increase.
Country Adoptions
Spain 1,487 3,428 5,541 + 273
Ireland 147 179 398 + 171
Finland 181 218 289 + 59.7
Netherlands 825 1,122 1,307 + 58.4
Italy 2,233 1,797 3,403 + 52.3
(17 countries)
13,098 14,352 19,502 + 48.9
USA 15,774 19,237 22,884 + 45.1
(22 countries)
31,924 36,379 45,288 + 41.9
UK 258 326 332 + 28.7
Sweden 928 1,044 1,109 + 19.5
Norway 643 713 706 + 9.8
France 3,777 3,094 4,079 + 8.0
Denmark 624 631 528 - 15.0
Source: Selman (2006)
3.2 The decline in numbers 2004-2007
The steady increase in the global number of intercountry adoptions
was reversed in 2005 and the decline accelerated in 2006 and 2007 by which
time almost all the major receiving countries had experienced a fall in
numbers. Overall there was a fall of 17 per cent across 23 states but there
was variation between countries (see Table 4) with the largest decline in
Finland, the Netherlands and Norway, and a rise in Italy and Malta.
Table 8: Changes in number of adoptions, Selected receiving States
2004-2007; ranked by percentage change, 2004/5 to 2007
2004 2005 2006 2007
2004/5 – 7
Finland 289 308 218 176 - 43 %
Norway 706 582 448 426 - 40%
Netherlands 1,307 1,185 816 778 - 40 %
Spain 5,541 5,423 4.472 3,648 - 35 %
Sweden 1,109 1,083 879 800 -28 %
Denmark 528 586 447 429 - 27 %
Belgium 470 471 383 358 - 24 %
France 4,079 4,136 3,977 3,162 - 23 %
Ireland 398 366 313 n/a1
(17 countries) 19,502 18,412 16,557 (15,062)1
(- 21%)
World Total
(23 Countries) 45,288 43,857 39,742 (37,250)2
( -18%)
United States 22,884 22,728 20,679 19,613 - 14 %
UK 334 367 364 356 - 3.0%
Italy 3,402 2,840 3,188 3,420 + 0.5%
Malta 46 39 60 64 + 39 %
1. No data available for Ireland in 2007 – bracketed totals assume 313 (2006
2. Bracketed figure assumes 2006 totals for Ireland (313) and Canada (1,535)
3. States of Origin In Europe 1991 – 2007
In 1991 Romania alone accounted for 28 per cent of intercountry adoptions in the
United States. Five years later Romanian adoptions contributed only 5 per cent but
this had been more than compensated for by the contribution of Russia in the
aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. From 1989-1991 only two of the 20
countries sending most children to the US were European – Romania and Poland. By
1994 this had risen to six with the addition of Russia, Bulgaria, the Ukraine and
Lithuania and in 1997 the total increased to seven, with Russia the most important
source of children. In 2003 seven of the top 20 sending countries were European, but
three years later in 2006 only Russia, the Ukraine and Poland remained in the top 20.
Table 9 below shows the number of orphan visas issued for children from 8 European
countries between 1991 and 2007.
Table 9: Orphan Visas issues in USA for children adopted from
Europe: Fiscal years 1991 – 2007: peak year in bold
State of
1991 1996 2001 2002 2004 2006 2007
Russia <50 2,454 4,279 4,939 5,865 3,706 2,310
Ukraine <50 10 1,246 1,106 723 460 606
Romania 2,954 555 782 168 57 0 0
Bulgaria <50 163 297 260 110 28 20
Belarus <50 <50 129 169 202 0 0
Poland 92 64 86 101 102 67 84
Latvia <50 82 27 33 15 24 32
Lithuania <50 78 30 21 29 14 27
Total = 8
3,046 + 3,406 6,876 6,797 7,103 4,299 3,079
All countries 8,841 10,641 18,477 19,224 21,616 20,632 19,613
8 states as % 34%+ 32% 37% 36% 33% 21% 15%
There have also changes in the movement of children within Europe. From 2001-4
six of the 10 countries sending most children to Italy were European – the Ukraine,
Romania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Russia and Poland: by 2007 this had reduced to three:
Russia, Poland and the Ukraine. A similar pattern is found in France and Spain (3 to
2) and in the EurAdopt agencies- see Tables 10 and 10a below.
Table 10: Countries sending most children to USA, Spain,
France, Italy and Euradopt agencies in 2004: European States
in Bold
China China Haiti Russia China
Russia Russia China Ukraine Colombia
Guatemala Ukraine Russia Colombia India
S. Korea Colombia Ethiopia Belarus Ethiopia
Kazakhstan Ethiopia Vietnam Brazil South Africa
Ukraine India Colombia Poland Thailand
India Bolivia Madagascar Ethiopia Brazil
Haiti Nepal Ukraine Romania Russia
Ethiopia Bulgaria Latvia Bulgaria Taiwan
Colombia Romania Brazil India Belarus
22,884 5,541 4,079 3,998 4,204
Table 10a: Countries sending most children to USA, Spain, France, Italy
and Euradopt agencies in 2007 : European States in Bold
China China Vietnam Russia China
Guatemala Russia Haiti Colombia Ethiopia
Russia Ethiopia Ethiopia Ukraine Colombia
Ethiopia Ukraine Russia Brazil South Africa
Ukraine Colombia Colombia Vietnam Thailand
Colombia Nepal China Ethiopia Korea
Vietnam India Mali Poland India
S. Korea Kazakhstan Ukraine Cambodia Vietnam
India Bolivia Thailand India Brazil
Kazakhstan Mexico Brazil Peru Taiwan
19,613 3,648 3,162 3,420 2,881
Statistics from EurAdopt2 for 1993-2007 show that for member agencies the top ten
sending countries included only two European countries Russia and Romania. In
1993 the top ten were all from Asia or Latin America, with Colombia the most
important source until 1998, since when China has sent most children. Romania was
2 EurAdopt is an organisation of European adoption agencies, predominantly from the Nordic countries
and the Netherlands, with the gradual addition of selected agencies from Belgium, Italy, France and
other European countries
an important source from 1995-1999 and Russia since 1996. Ethiopia has been one of
the top ten countries sending children throughout the period and was the second most
important source of children in 2007 (Table 10a above).
The impending accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU resulted in pressure on
those countries to reduce the number of children sent, despite the fact that EU
countries lead the way in receiving children and several of the new (2005) members
such as Latvia, Lithuania and Poland continue to send many children. There is now
clear evidence of the impact of these pressures on the total number of children sent by
Romania and Bulgaria since 2003 (see Table 11 below). Numbers have also fallen in
Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus, but Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland
all sent more children in 2006 than in 2003 (see Table 12 in Section 5)
Table 11 : Adoptions from Romania to 211 receiving States,
2000 to 2005; ranked by number received by each
country in 2001.
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
USA 1,119 782 168 200 57 2
Spain 583 373 38 85 48 3
France 370 223 42 17 16 n/a
Italy 23 173 40 70 119 0
Ireland 69 48 12 8 2 0
TOTAL 2,478
413 4211
5: The movement of children within Europe 2003-2006
In order to provide an accurate picture of the current movement of children,
this section will concentrate on a detailed analysis of the movement of children to and
from 47 European states between 2003 and 2007. These are the 46 3 countries in the
Council of Europe in 2003 and Belarus. The list includes three countries
Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia - which are often classed geographically as Asian.
Twenty four of these were primarily receiving States, but reliable annual data were
not available for Austria, Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Slovenia.
The data presented, therefore, concern a total of 17 European receiving countries
(with partial data for Austria). Numbers of children sent to the 23 States of origin have
been estimated from the information on source of children from these 18 countries
(see Selman 2002 and 2006 for a discussion of the accuracy of such estimates). Table
12 shows changes in total numbers sent by 16 of the sending countries.
There are major differences amongst countries in the proportion received from or sent
to other European states. Table 13 shows the wide variation in the proportion of
children going to eight European receiving countries from other members of the
Council of Europe. Two of the smaller countries (Iceland and Luxembourg) received
children only from outside Europe. Of the non-European receiving states, in 2004
Israel took children mainly (92%) from European countries (Belarus, Russia and the
Ukraine) but also 11 from Guatemala while Australia took very few from Europe
(none in 2003-4). The overall proportion of children received from other European
countries falls steadily over the period. A similar wide variation was found in the
sending countries (Table 14). The EU countries were most likely to send children to
other European countries while the lowest proportion sent was found in Russia and
the three European/Asian members of the Council of Europe, which sent children
mainly to the United States. Serbia/ Montenegro and Croatia sent few children, all to
other European countries in 2003. Although total numbers have fallen, the proportion
of children sent to other European countries has grown over the period from 43% to
47%. For a fuller account of recent changes in the European Union, including data
from the 9 EU States of origin, see Selman (2008).
3 In 2003 Montenegro was still part of Serbia
Table 12: International adoptions from selected Eastern Europe
Countries to 23 receiving States 2003-2007 4 ; ranked by number sent in
2003. Peak years in bold
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 3
Russia 7,747 9,453 7,468 6,753 4,588
Ukraine 2,052 2,021 1,705 1,031 1,557
Bulgaria 1963 393 115 96 82
Belarus 656 627 23 34 12
Romania 1473 287 15 0 0
Poland 2346 408 378 362 359
Lithuania285 99 78 90 117
Hungary269 68 24 92 123
Latvia265 124 114 140 100
Serbia 59 49 16 14 10
Slovakia253 75 30 28 43
Estonia221 18 24 12 30
Moldova 30 65 66 34 62
Czech Rep218 34 27 25 25
Albania 14 27 20 25 15
All states in
EU in 2007
1. Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on January 1st 2007
2. These 7 states joined the EU in May 2004
3. 2007 data are incomplete due to non-availability of statistics on
adoptions to Canada and Ireland
4. Statistics have also been provided by several of EU States in response
to the questionnaires referred to in Section 1 above (Selman et al 2008)
Table 13 Proportion of children adopted in Europe who came from
other European countries: selected receiving countries
2003 – 2006 ranked by proportion from Europe in 2004
Year> 2003 2004 2006
% from
% from
% from
Ireland 358 55% 398 65% 313 49%
Italy 2,772 62% 3,403 64% 3,188 45 %
Germany 674 33% 650 52% 583 29%
Spain 3,951 48% 5,541 38% 4,472 34%
18 States 16,898 34% 19,502 32% 16,553 25 %
All 23 states 41,529 32% 45,288 31% 39,738 21 %
France 3,995 22% 4,079 21% 3,977 14 %
Sweden 1,046 20% 1,109 16% 879 11%
Norway 714 6% 706 4% 448 6%
Netherlands 1,154 2% 1,307 2% 818 4%
Table 14 Proportion of children sent to other European countries:
selected sending countries 2003 – 2006
Year> 2003 2004 2006
Number % to
Number % to
Number % to
Slovakia 42 98% 75 99% 28 100%
Latvia 65 77% 124 86% 140 83%
Poland 345 72% 408 74% 362 81%
Ukraine 2,052 60% 2,046 60% 1,031 49%
states 12,961 43% 13,956 45% 8,843 47%
All states of
41,529 42% 45,288 42% 39,738 42%
Moldova 18 33% 65 29% 34 56%
Russia 7,746 30% 9,440 36% 6,752 42%
Armenia 73 25% 57 28% 64 31%
Georgia 156 2% 32 6% 9 0%
5.1 Summary
We can see from the above tables that European countries now receive substantially
more children than they send. Between 2003 and 2006 European receiving countries
accounted for about 42 per cent of all adoptions from abroad but the proportion of
adoptions worldwide which involved children from Europe fell from 32 per cent in
2003 to 21 per cent in 2006. By that year only 25% of adoptions to Europe were from
other European countries. This has been the result of a period in which Romania
ended overseas adoption and a number of other East European countries reduced
numbers significantly. The fall is most evident in Romania and Bulgaria, the two
countries seeking membership of the EU during these years. However several of the
existing EU members from the former Eastern block – Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and
Lithuania - actually increased the number of children sent over the same period ( see
Table 12 above) . Nevertheless, if we consider only countries which were EU
members in 2007, intercountry adoptions from these states in 2006 accounted for only
2 per cent of the movement of children worldwide, while EU receiving States
accounted for 40 per cent of all intercountry adoptions in the same year.
6: What has been the impact of intercountry adoption on the well-
being of children in Europe ?
In this final section, I shall address a number of related issues, which impinge on
current discussions about the future of intercountry adoption in Europe and especially
within the European Union (see e.g. Gibault 2008; Lammerant & Hofstetter 2008)
1) What is the experience of the children adopted from outside Europe into
European countries over the past fifty years?
2) What has been the experience of children adopted out of European countries ?
Has there been any difference in relation to children adopted to North America
or Oceania and those adopted within Europe ?
3) Has the practice of intercountry adoption adversely affected the development
of childcare, including in-country adoption in sending countries ?
4) Has the growth of intercountry adoption discouraged receiving countries from
developing special needs adoption for children in care ?
6.1 What is the experience of the children adopted from outside
Europe into European countries since World War Two
There is now a substantial number of “children” from Asia and Latin America
who have grown up as European citizens most still living in West. The long
tradition of overseas adoption in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands has resulted
in a large body of research into such children which extends to the experience of
adoptees as adults (Hoksbergen 1987; Saetersdal & Dalen 1991; Verhulst 2000).
Most of this research is positive, but early research in the Netherlands by Hoksbergen
(1991; 2000) revealed that intercountry adoptees were five times more likely to be in
residential care than native born Dutch children and Dalen (1998) notes that in
Scandinavia there is a substantial minority of adoptees who have major problems. A
longitudinal study by Verhulst (2000) of children adopted in the Netherlands showed
generally good progress but an increase in problem behaviour in adolescence. Further
evidence for this is found in the study by Hjern and his colleagues (2002, 2004) which
showed an increased risk of suicide in adopted people in their late teens and early
twenties. Palacios (2006) has studied adoption disruption in Spain, where
intercountry adoption has grown dramatically in the last decade. A detailed review of
the outcomes for children adopted from overseas can be found in the work of Juffer &
van Ijzendoorn (2009) whose meta-analyses are interpreted as showing a “massive
catch-up in all developmental domains….demonstrating that adoption as an
alternative for institutional care is a very successful intervention in children’s lives”
Issues of identity have been identified as a problem for older adoptees, especially in
the Nordic countries where the number of people from ethnic minorities was very few
in the years when many children arrived for intercountry adoption. Even today a
majority of Koreans living in Denmark were adopted by Danish parents and
Saetersdal and Dalen (1991; 2000) note some of the problems facing the Vietnamese
adopted into Norway in the 1970s who as they reached adolescence sought to distance
themselves from immigrants, the “boat-people” who arrived at the same time.
6.2 What has been the experience of children adopted out of
European countries. Has there been any difference in relation to children
adopted to North America or Oceania in contrast to those adopted
within Europe?
The children adopted to the United States from war-torn Europe are now middle aged
and yet there has been surprisingly little published research on them. There is,
however a vivid account of one such adoption by Peter Dodds (1997), who was
adopted in the United States after being “rescued” from a German orphanage in the
1950s, and articulates some of the problems not recognised by those who sent them
away or who took them in. It is also often forgotten that many Finnish children moved
to other Scandinavian countries during the Second World War; 70,000 to Sweden
alone (Serenius 1995).
There has been a substantial amount of research on the children adopted from
Romania to Canada and the United States (Haugaard, 2000). Most of this indicates
positive gains, at least in the short term, and mirrors the experiences of children from
Romania adopted within Europe ( Hoksbergen 2002, Rutter et al, 1998; 2009)
There has been less research on children adopted from other European countries, but
there have been suggestions of many problems associated with Russian children
suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome and in the United States some of these appear
to have led to major reactions from the adoptive parents with reports of a number who
have killed their adopted children. Issues of adoption from Russia to Italy are
dramatically highlighted in the 2005 Russian film, The Italian. The situation of
children adopted from Russia in the UK is discussed by Farina (2004).
There has been less attention to children adopted from Poland and other countries
joining the EU in 2005. This is urgently needed in relation to the growing placement
of older and special needs children and sibling groups. Likewise no studies have
explored differences in outcomes for children adopted in contrasting receiving states.
6.3 Has the practice of intercountry adoption adversely affected the
development of childcare, including in-country adoption, in sending countries?
Concerns over child-trafficking and other irregularities in intercountry adoption from
Eastern Europe have been expressed by several international charities during the last
twenty years especially in respect of adoptions from Romania and Bulgaria (Defence
for Children International, 1991; Save the Children (UK), 2002.
It has also been argued by that intercountry adoption has had a negative impact on the
development of services for children in European states of origin. This has been most
extensively argued in respect of Romania (Dickens 2002, 2006; Post 2007). Their
findings mirror earlier concerns expressed by Sarri et al (2002) about the impact of
high rates of intercountry adoption in Korea.
In a recent article Chou and Browne (2008) have sought to extend this thesis to all
European sending countries by presenting a Spearman rank correlation which shows a
significant relationship between the proportion of all adoptions which are intercountry
and the number of children in institutional care aged under 3 years. However the data
used is flawed and the exclusion, due to lack of data on adoption, of two key
countries, Poland and the Czech Republic, makes the finding suspect (Gay y Blasco et
al 2008). The Czech Republic has a many young children in residential care (Browne
2005) but a very low rate of ICA and a preponderance of domestic adoption (Selman
et al 2008).
In 2008 Terre des Hommes published a study of six European receiving countries
(Lammerant & Hofsterre 2008) which is highly critical of some practices and calls for
“political measures by the receiving countries, individually and collectively, in the
interests of children, especially within the framework of the Hague Conference on
Private International Law and the European Union”. A discussion in the European
Parliament following the launch of the report revealed large differences concerning
the future of international adoption in the EU, which are discussed further in Section 7
6.4 Has the growth of intercountry adoption discouraged receiving
states from developing special needs adoption for children within these
The Terre des Hommes study was focussed on European receiving states and we saw
earlier in this paper that these countries account for about 42 per cent of all
international adoptions. Although the United States continues to be the main receiver
of children in absolute numbers, the countries with the highest rate of international
adoption standardised against population, Spain, Malta and the three major
Scandinavian countries, (see table 6) are all from Western Europe most notably
Amongst EU members only the UK and Portugal have a rate of less than one per
100,000 population In recent years there has been a growing interest in the UK policy
of encouraging domestic adoption as a solution to the failure of the care system, a
policy shared with the United States but not found in any other European country.
Domestic adoption is rare in many countries (Selman & Mason 2005) and this has
been a trigger for childless couples in many of these countries to turn rather to
intercountry adoption.
In the article mentioned in the previous section, Chou & Browne have argued that
intercountry adoption has a negative impact also on children in receiving states. The
authors accept that the correlation they find between international adoption and
institutional care in receiving countries is ‘open to question’ (2008: 47), but
nonetheless assert that ‘adopting healthy young children from abroad may distract
attention from hard-to-place children within the receiving countries’ (2008: 47).
The weak correlation shown is only made possible by the exclusion of the UK,
Iceland, Slovenia and Norway, the European country with the highest rate of
incoming intercountry adoption but the lowest level of children in institutions. The
analysis also omitted Denmark, where 93 per cent of adoptions were international
incoming in 2001 (ChildONEurope 2006) but there was has a low rate of institutional
care (8 per 10,000 according to Browne 2005). Likewise, Sweden was wrongly shown
as a country with a low proportion of intercountry adoptions despite having the
highest proportion after Norway. It seems likely that the impact of intercountry
adoption varies between countries but many European countries are now reviewing
their policies on domestic adoption of children with special needs.
7. The position of the EU in intercountry adoption
Following the application for membership of the European Union by Bulgaria and
Romania , there seemed to be a growing feeling within the European Parliament that it
was somehow inappropriate for a member country to be sending large numbers of
children for intercountry adoption, despite the fact that many go to other European
countries and member states receive some forty percent of all children placed for
international adoption. The pressure to end intercountry adoption from Europe was
led by a determined campaign by Baroness Emma Nicholson, the European
Parliament’s special envoy for Romania from 1999 to 2005 (see Nicholson 2004;
2006). As early as 1999, Romania was asked to reform its child care system as a
condition of full membership and in 2001 to specifically reform its intercountry
adoption laws which were seen as incompatible with Romania’s obligations under the
UNCRC (Pereboom 2006:18). In March 2004 the Parliament passed a further
resolution calling on Romania to undertake further reforms and expressing concern
about the large number of children sent for international adoption by Bulgaria
(Pereboom, 2006 p 18). In June 2004 Romania introduced a ban on international
adoption other than by a child’s grandparents with the consequence that no
intercountry adoptions have been recorded in recent years. By 2006/7 adoptions from
Bulgaria had fallen to less than 100 a year.
Nicholson’s position was supported by the publication by Roelie Post (2007) of a
diary, dedicated to Baroness Nicholson, which described eight years of work for the
European Commission to help Romania reform its child welfare services. Post
presents evidence of widespread corruption in a market “where global politics and
private interests compete with the rights of the child” and argues that there is no place
or need for intercountry adoption s in Romania’s reformed child protection system.
Post also identified the emergence of a “ferocious” lobby which wanted Romania to
continue such adoptions. Led by parents’ groups and adoption agencies in the US, the
campaign also received backing from US Congress.
Following the end to international adoptions from Romania, the EU Parliament seems
to have experienced some second thoughts and Tannock (2006) has argued that many
members are now lobbying the European Commission and the Romanian government
to reopen adoptions. Pierre Moscovi, who took over from Emma Nicholson as the EU
Parliament rapporteur on Romania, has taken a very different stance on adoption from
Romania and MEPs have called on Romania to allow intercountry adoptions to take
place “where justified and appropriate”
One key issue throughout had been the position of some 1,000 prospective adopters,
whose adoptions were “in the pipe-line”. In February 2004 a petition was brought
before the European Commission by a prospective adopter from Greece arguing that
the adoption which had been authorised should be allowed as the child was left in
“deplorable conditions in a Romanian foster family”. In refusing the petition the
Commission welcomed the new Romanian legislation “as a long awaited step to align
Romanian law with … the practice in EU members states” ( European Parliament
2006) and saw the suspension of the adoption as legal and a matter for the Romanian
government alone. This position was reinforced by Olli Rehn, European
Commissioner for Enlargement, who has ruled that the new legislation applies to all
cases and that it is unlikely that any requests for completion will be accepted
(Tannock 2006).
Within the Parliament itself there continue to be bitter divisions between those
supporting the arguments of Nicholson and Post for an end to intercountry adoption
from EU countries and French MEPs Claire Gibault and Jean-Marie Cavada,
themselves adoptive parents, who argue for the resumption of intercountry adoption
in Romania and Bulgaria to meet the interests of institutionalised children and “the
need to create an adoption procedure common to all European States and to encourage
international adoption where there is no national solution” (Gibault 2008). In May
2008 the European Parliament issued a call for tenders for a study of intercountry
adoption in all 27 EU countries the tender being awarded to ChildONEurope, who
will report in early 2009 (see also Selman et al 2008).
8. Unresolved Questions
The discussion above still leaves many unresolved questions about the impact
of intercountry adoption on children in Europe over the last twenty years:
What are the implications of the reduction in level of adoptions from Romania
and Bulgaria on the well-being of children in those countries?
Why is there no concern over rising numbers of children adopted from other
EU countries such as Poland, Latvia and Lithuania?
Are there advantages in children moving shorter distances for intercountry
adoption – e.g. within Europe – or between South and North America?
What impact will the fall in supply of children have on competition between
receiving countries in Europe and pressure to persuade sending countries to
provide children for the growing number of waiting prospective adopters?
9. Conclusion
The number of intercountry adoptions recorded worldwide has been falling since 2004
after a decade of continuous growth.. The fall in numbers has been greater in Europe
than in the United States and within Europe has been greatest in Scandinavian
countries and the Netherlands (Table 8). A major factor in this dramatic reversal has
been the reduction in the number of children sent from Europe, although the impact of
China’s retrenchment has probably been more significant in total numbers (Selman
One result of this largely unexpected change of direction has been that the number of
people approved for intercountry adoption now far outstrips the number of children
available. Prospective adoptive parents in France and Spain face a long wait for a
child and many may never receive one. China’s decision to end placements with
single women means that this group will face particular difficulties. The fear is that
this will bring out the market mechanisms which many have noted (Freidmutter
2002) and lead to a trade in children, as agencies (and countries) seek new sources of
adoptable children and the “price” of such children rises or - as is already happening
in Italy - prospective parents take on older children with potential problems for which
they have not been prepared.
Although most research into the outcome of intercountry adoption is positive,
showing a remarkable developmental “catch-up” in children who had been in
institutions ( van Ijzendoorn & Juffer 2006; Juffer & van Ijzendoorn 2009), the
findings from Hjern (2002) and others suggest considerable problems for a minority
of those involved and evidence of trafficking has led one commentator to express the
fear that “…the recurrent cycle of scandal, excuse, and ineffective “reform” will
probably continue until intercountry adoption is finally abolished, with history
labelling the entire enterprise as a neo-colonialist mistake” (Smolin 2004:35). A
recent article in the journal Foreign Policy (Graff E. 2008) argues that that many of
the children involved are not orphans but stolen children “laundered” (Smolin 2007)
for international adoption, which has become a trade (Kapstein 2003) or an industry.
Much of the criticism is focussed on US policy before ratification of the Hague
Convention, but similar concerns are now expressed about intercountry adoption in
Australia (Callinan 2008; Rollings 2008) and Europe (Lammerant & Hofstetter 2008).
Although research seems to indicate that the outcome of international adoptions,
including those from Romania, have been positive for most of the children involved,
the impact of the practice on the many children not placed in overseas families
remains unresolved. We should, perhaps, also ponder the words of Roy Parker in the
conclusion to his devastating account of the 80,000 children shipped from Britain to
Canada by Poor Law authorities and voluntary bodies between 1867 and 1917: “One
cannot help wondering how the convictions that are entertained today about the needs
of vulnerable children and how these should be met might ….be judged 100 years
from now” (Parker 2008:293).
Table A1 Intercountry Adoptions in Europe in 2004; Adoption
Ratios (adoptions per 1,000 live births); GNI per capita and
Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in 2004 - in order of ratio
Country Ratio GNI per
capita TFR Country Ratio GNI per
capita TFR
Norway 12.8 52,030 1.8 Russia 7.7 3,410 1.3
Spain 12.4 21,210 1.3 Belarus 7.1 2,120 1.2
Sweden 11.7 35,770 1.7 Bulgaria 6.3 2,740 1.2
Malta 11.5 12,250 1.5 Latvia 6.0 5,460 1.3
Luxembourg 9.3 56,230 1.7 Ukraine 5.0 1,260 1.1
Denmark 8.4 40,650 1.8 Lithuania 3.3 5,740 1.3
Switzerland 8.2 48,230 1.4 Armenia 1.7 3,720 1.3
Iceland 7.0 38,620 2.0 Slovakia 1.5 6,480 1.2
Netherlands 6.9 31,700 1.7 Moldova 1.5 710 1.2
Italy 6.4 26,120 1.3 Estonia 1.4 7,010 1.4
Ireland 6.3 34,280 1.9 Romania 1.2 2,920 1.3
France 5.5 30,090 1.9 Poland 1.1 6,090 1.2
Finland 5.3 32,790 1.7 Hungary 0.7 8,270 1.3
Belgium 4.2 31,030 1.7 Bosnia 0.6 2,040 1.3
Austria (1.14) 32,300 1.4 Georgia 0.6 1,040 1.4
Germany 1.0 30,120 1.4 Croatia 0.5 5,590 1.3
UK 0.5 33,940 1.7 Albania 0.4 2,080 2.2
Cyprus 0.3 17,580 1.6 Serbia 0.4 2,620 1.8
Slovenia n/a 14,810 1.2 Azerbaijan 0.2 950 1.8
Greece n/a 11,098 1.2 Turkey 0.03 3,750 2.4
Andorra 0.0 **2----- Macedonia 0
Liechtenstein n/a **2--- Both Receiving and Sending
Monaco n/a **2----- Czech Rep10.4 9,150 1.2
San Marino n/a **2---- Portugal10.08 10,441 1.5
Non-European receiving States Non European States of origin
Guatemala 8.1 2,130 4.5
New Zealand 6.4 20,310 2.0 Haiti 4.6 390 3.9
Canada 6.0 28,390 1.5 Korea 4.0 13,980 1.2
USA 5.5 41,400 2.0 Colombia 1.8 2,000 2.6
Israel 1.7 17,380 2.8 China 0.8 1,290 1.7
Australia 1.5 26,900 1.7 Ethiopia 0.5 110 5.7
India 0.04 620 3.0
1. Countries stating that they were “both a receiving State and a State of origin”
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Humanitarian reasons are often reported as the main motivating force for undertaking intercountry adoption. This article reports on a qualitative interview-based Australian study in which 32 adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents talk frankly about their desire to use intercountry adoption as a pathway to parenthood, rather than as an altruistic method of providing a child with a family. The study aimed to investigate motivations of intending and recent adoptive parents for deciding to form a family through intercountry adoption and to contribute to understanding about why intercountry adoption is the preferred option over available alternatives for family formation. The findings from this study raise interesting questions regarding recruitment efforts for children needing families; not only in relation to intercountry adoption, but also in developing recruitment strategies for foster carers for local children needing care.
Many first and second generation Asian immigrants experience acculturation challenges to varying extents. These challenges, such as language barriers, racial discrimination, underemployment, the loss of support networks and changes in family role and structure, may exacerbate a myriad of mental health issues. In addition, their help-seeking behaviour, as shaped by a general adherence to a collectivistic worldview and indirect communication style, often creates challenges for the practitioners who are trained under a Western practice modality.
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This article examines the latest trends in intercountry adoption worldwide, based on data from twenty-three receiving countries. Trends in the number of children sent by states of origin are based on their returns to the Hague Special Commission or on estimates derived from country data provided by the receiving states. The analysis concentrates on the period from 2004 to 2010 when estimated annual global numbers declined from 45,000 to 29,000, fewer than those recorded in 1998. The article will also look at changes in the age – and other characteristics – of children sent. Discussion centres on changes in sending countries, exploring the declines in China, Russia and Guatemala, the rise in adoptions from Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 and the emergence of Africa – and in particular Ethiopia – as a significant source of children for adoption. The article concludes with a consideration of the implications of a continuing high demand from childless couples in developed countries on the intercountry adoption ‘market’; and the prediction of David Smolin that, unless truly reformed, intercountry adoption will eventually be abolished and labeled as a ‘neo-colonial mistake’.
The influence of international governmental organisations (IGOs) on child welfare policy and practice in individual sovereign states is little explored. This article sets out the nature of these bodies’ main work with children. It then considers the mechanisms through which they seek to influence national child welfare policy and practice and the extent to which they can make nation states comply. ‘Soft’ mechanisms, such as awareness-raising, compiling statistical data and demonstration projects are contrasted with ‘hard’ mechanisms, such as making law and financial intervention. The article then reviews the effects of this activity and the factors explaining the varied pattern. It concludes that child welfare policy and practice are increasingly subject to supranational influence and that this has important implications for those seeking to influence this field.1
Australian families are changing and parenthood is increasingly being seen as an individual choice. One important arena for exercising such choice is adoption, which today takes place across national boundaries in the form of intercountry adoption. This is now the predominant type of adoption in Australia. In order to reach their goal of parenthood, individuals choosing intercountry adoption must undergo an education and assessment process. This paper presents the findings from research undertaken as part of a larger doctoral study, with prospective intercountry adoptive parents, intercountry adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and support group representatives living in Australia. Three groups were found to exist in relation to the intercountry adoption assessment process: embracers, acceptors, and pragmatists. Factors influencing each group are discussed and suggestions for strengthening the role and efficacy of education and assessment in the selection of Australian intercountry adoptive parents are recommended.
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English Dutch adoptive parents of 1233 children adopted from China and 412 children adopted from India reported on their children’s interest in adoption and feelings about being adopted. Girls showed more interest in adoption than boys and many children expressed the wish to look white or non-Chinese. French Les parents adoptifs hollandais de 1233 enfants adoptés en provenance de la Chine et de 412 enfants adoptés en provenance de l’Inde rendent compte de l’intérêt de leurs enfants pour l’adoption et de leurs ressentis face à l’adoption. Les filles montrent plus d’intérêt pour l’adoption que les garçons et beaucoup d’enfants ont exprimé le désir de paraître blancs ou non-chinois. Spanish Los padres adoptivos holandeses de 1233 niños de China y 412 niños de India reportaron sobre los intereses de los niños en la adopción y sus sentimientos acerca de ser adoptados. Las niñas mostraron más interés en la adopción que los niños y muchos de ellos expresaron el deseo de parecer blancos o no Chinos.
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Peter Selman examines the recent history of intercountry adoption in Europe in the context of the enlarged EU, which contains both receiving and sending countries. The article provides a detailed analysis of the movement of children for adoption between European countries and examines the impact of intercountry adoption on the wellbeing of children in Europe and current debates in the European Parliament on the future of intercountry adoption in Europe.
The policy of re-adoption for UK-citizen parents of intercountry adopted children is designed to protect children and safeguard their best interests, but in fact may breach a variety of rights and international Conventions, and when applied to specific cases can lead to more harm than good. In this review, I want to argue that the policy of re-adoption be reconsidered to minimise the distress to families when they return to the UK with their already legally adopted children. © 2011 The Author(s). Children & Society © 2011 National Children’s Bureau and Blackwell Publishing Limited.
Axford N. Children and global social policy: exploring the impact of international governmental organisations International governmental organisations (IGOs) seek to influence child welfare policy and practice in individual sovereign states. But do they succeed and, if so, in what way? This article outlines the nature of selected IGOs' work, explores the nature of their impact and seeks to explain the pattern that emerges. It also notes areas for further research.
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