International Adoptions

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Gwen Outen. Our subject this week is international adoptions.

Adoption is the legal process where people take a child of other parents as their own. The Census Bureau says more than two percent of children in the United States are adopted. That is about one-point-six million children. These numbers are from the national population count in two-thousand.

But since the nineteen-sixties and seventies, the number of American-born children in need of adoption has decreased. So today many people go to other countries to adopt a child. In nineteen-eighty-nine, Americans brought eight thousand foreign children to the United States. By last year, the State Department says the number was more than twenty-one thousand.

The Census Bureau says thirteen percent of the adopted children in the United States were born in another country. Of these foreign-born children, one-sixth are from Europe. One-third are from Latin America. And almost half are from Asia. The largest number of foreign-born adopted children in the United States, twenty-two percent, are from South Korea.

But immigration reports show that, in recent years, the largest numbers of foreign children brought here are from Russia and China. By last year South Korea was fourth, behind Guatemala.

Four years ago, Romania suspended most international adoptions. Romania used to be one of the top countries where Americans adopted children. By last year Romania was twelfth on the list of countries. Two hundred Romanian children were brought here to live.

Romania's president, Ion Iliescu, signed a bill into law last month to bar most foreign adoptions of Romanian children. The law will permit grandparents who live in other countries to adopt their Romanian grandchildren.

Romania wants to join the European Union in two-thousand-seven. E.U. officials were concerned that Romania's adoption system could not prevent the illegal sale of children. So the E.U. urged Romania to pass a new law.

But, in April, American Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called the plan a "tragedy" for children in state care. Critics of the new restrictions on international adoption say Romania does not have enough families for all the children who need parents.

Americans who want to adopt mainly want healthy babies or very young children. But there are not enough in the United States to meet the demand. Birth rates are down. And, in nineteen-seventy-three, the Supreme Court ruled that women have the right to end unwanted pregnancies. This meant fewer babies to put up for adoption.

Yet there are many older children in the United States who need adoption but cannot find new parents. Thousands live in temporary homes under adult supervision as dependents of the state.

Years ago, few unmarried Americans or couples older than about forty adopted children. Today, it is much more common for single people to adopt. The same is true of older married couples as well as older singles. Some couples of the same sex also adopt children.

Laws about adoptions within the United States differ from state to state. People who want to adopt are asked to show that they can provide a safe and loving home. Then they wait until an adoption agency finds a child for them. Sometimes people wait years. Other adoptions happen much more quickly.

Costs differ greatly. Some estimates say the average may be about ten thousand dollars; others say at least twenty thousand dollars.

Adoptions also take place without the services of an agency. In a private adoption, a lawyer or doctor brings together a pregnant woman with people seeking a child. But this does not always guarantee there will be a baby to adopt. Biological parents who decide to surrender a child for adoption are given time to reconsider.

Many adoption agencies in the United States also handle foreign adoptions. For parents, the easiest adoptions often involve what is called direct relinquishment. This means the biological parents may be dead. Or they may have already surrendered their child to an orphanage. The new parents then may take the child directly home to the United States.

Like most adoptions within the United States, international adoptions take time -- in some cases, many months. Adoption agencies and the State Department have a number of requirements for people who want to adopt a foreign child.

A social worker visits the home of the prospective parents, to make sure the home and family will be good for the child. For example, the prospective parent must show the ability to provide financial support. Officials also look for criminal records.

Prospective parents must also meet any requirements by foreign agencies and governments. For example, China recently has been a major provider of children for adoption in the United States. Americans adopted almost seven thousand children from China last year. One American adoption agency says most children adopted from China are baby girls about seven months or older.

Chinese officials will permit single people as well as married couples to adopt children. But China makes a legal difference between children whose parents are dead and those who have been left without care.

Generally only childless people age thirty-five or older can adopt a healthy child who has a living biological parent. People under thirty-five can only adopt children whose parents are dead. This is also true of people who already have a child.

Many foreign adoption centers require prospective parents to make two trips. On the first, the people meet and spend time with a child. On the second, they complete the adoption process. Parents also are advised to repeat the legal process in the United States when they return.

Foreign adoptions can be costly. For example, to adopt a Russian child can cost thirty thousand dollars or more.

International adoptions involve more than just time and money, both for the adoption itself and the travel. They also require energy. And sometimes they even involve safety risks.

For example, many Americans over the years have adopted children from Haiti. But the State Department has lately advised Americans not to travel to the Caribbean nation for any reason, because of political unrest.

Last year, many prospective parents had to delay trips to China. That was because of the health risk from severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS. Some people had already waited a long time to become parents or add to their families.

Earlier this year, cases of measles led the United States to suspend adoptions from an orphanage in Hunan province. American health officials ended the ban last month.

Parents do not always know much about the physical or mental health of a child they adopt in another country. Or problems may develop later. Experts say children who have lived in large orphanages often develop more slowly than others. Children kept in group situations also have a greater risk of infections. And children from some countries may have diseases that American doctors rarely see.

Some doctors in the United States provide special services for parents who want to adopt a foreign child. A doctor can meet with families before they go out of the country to adopt. The doctor can study any medical records that foreign agencies provide for a child. Agencies may also provide videotapes of the child. And the doctor can examine the child after the adoption is completed.

But for many people, all the work and the chances they might have had to take are clearly worth the effort.

Gordon and Jan Forbes live in Rockville, Maryland. They adopted a Korean girl more than thirty years ago. They say it is difficult to express the happiness that their daughter has brought them.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Gwen Outen. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.