International Adoption in the U.S. Prompted by War, Poverty and Social Upheaval

United States citizens started adopting children from other countries in substantial numbers after World War II (1939-1945).[1] Many of the children adopted were European and Japanese war orphans. Additional adoptions followed after the civil war in Greece (1946-49), the Korean War (1950-53) and the war in Vietnam (1954-1975). But war and its aftermath are not the only factors leading countries to allow their children to be adopted abroad. Desperate poverty and social upheaval have been critical factors in the adoption of children from Latin America, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe over the last twenty years. In China, government population control policies contributed to abandonment of infant girls and overcrowded orphanages, factors in the government’s decision to facilitate international adoptions. [2]

Over a Quarter Million Children Adopted In Three Decades
Between 1971 and 2001, U.S. citizens adopted 265,677 children from other countries.[3]

International Adoptions Have More Than Doubled in the Last 11 Years [4]

Internationally Adopted Girls Predominate

One reason internationally adopted girls far out-number boys is that children from China now constitute more than one-quarter of the children adopted internationally by U.S. citizens and most of these Chinese children are girls.[5]

Nearly Half Are Infants
Almost 90 percent of internationally adopted children are less than 5 years old.[6]

China and Russia have Replaced South Korea as the Primary Countries from
Which U.S. Citizens Adopt[7]
Though U.S. citizens adopted children from 106 different countries in 2001, nearly three-quarters of all children came from only five sending countries.[8]

In 2001, 95% of Internationally Adopted Children Came from Twenty Countries[9]

Top 20 Countries in 2000 and 2001 Remain Essentially the Same
The top 10 countries from which children were adopted are the same for 2000 and 2001, though there was some slight movement in ranking. Among countries ranking 11-20, in 2001 Moldova and Bolivia fell off the list, while Jamaica and Liberia joined the list.

Annual Adoptions from China Approaching 5,000 After Rapid Growth
Chinese population control policies that penalize families producing more than one child — along with the greater value placed on male heirs in Chinese culture — have led many families to abandon female infants.[10] Before 1992, a small number of U.S. citizens adopted children from China each year, but the number of adoptions increased rapidly after the Chinese government made it easier for foreigners to adopt by establishing administrative procedures and adoption regulations.[11]

China Institutes Adoption Limits
In October 2001, concerns about timely processing of large numbers of adoption applications led the China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) to develop new policies restricting the number of applications by U.S. agencies. For 2002, each agency has an application quota based on their average number of adoptions for the years 1998 to 2000. Additionally, China has limited the number of single parent placements for each agency to only 5% of an agency’s adoptions.[12]

Adoptions From Russia Have Grown Exponentially Since the Soviet Union Dissolved
In 2001, thirteen times as many children were adopted from Russia as when it was newly independent in 1992. Additionally, there have been a substantial number of adoptions from other former Soviet republics such as Kazakhstan, which had 672 in 2001.[13]

Adoptions from Ukraine Dramatically Climb Despite Stringent Polices
In the past six years, since the government-imposed moratorium on international adoption was lifted, adoptions from the Ukraine have gone from a low of 1 to a high of 1,246.[14] This spike occurred despite the strict procedures and regulations outlined in Ukraine’s 1996 Resolution on Adoption, which include a provision that bans adoptive parents from receiving any information on available children until they complete an application process and travel to the country.[15]

Adoptions From Romania Peaked in 1991
The break-up of the Soviet Bloc also played a role in the sudden spurt of adoptions from Romania during the first half of 1991. These adoptions followed the December 1989 overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s president for 25 years, and subsequent publicity in the United States about the thousands of children living in inadequately staffed and funded orphanages.[16] The burgeoning orphanage numbers resulted from government policies aimed at increasing the population, as well as the severe poverty that led to many families abandoning their children. [17]

The sudden drop in adoptions in 1992-1993 was the result of a temporary suspension of adoptions by the Romanian government.[18] Subsequently, American interest in adoptions declined after unfavorable press reports about health problems, including HIV infection and developmental delays, experienced by Romanian children adopted from orphanages.[19] Recently, American adoptions had been increasing, but in June 2001, the Romanian government suspended international adoptions for one year in order to revise its adoption procedures.[20] Romania recently extended the moratorium until October 8, 2002.[21]

South Korea: Over 100,000 Adoptions Since 1958[22]
Many of the children adopted immediately after the Korean War were fathered by U.S. military personnel and were ostracized in their birth country for their biracial heritage. In the ensuing years, out-of-wedlock births and a small social welfare budget have been the prime reasons for international adoptive placement.[23] In 1990, South Korea was the primary country from which U.S. citizens adopted, representing over 30 percent of U.S. international adoptions. In 2001, South Korean adoptions dropped to 10% of the total.[24]

Guatemala Now Leads Central and South America in Adoptions
U.S. citizens began adopting children in significant numbers from Central and South America in the 1980s. Since 1992, U.S families have adopted more children from Guatemala than from any other country in Central or South America, while in the 1980s, Colombia was the leader. Over the past two decades, children also have been adopted in substantial numbers from Chile, Paraguay and Peru, and in fewer numbers from a dozen other countries.[25]

The Number of Adoptions from Vietnam Peaked in 1974 and is Currently Experiencing a Resurgence[26]
Over four decades, U.S. parents have adopted 7,093 children from Vietnam.

Vietnamese Government Previews New Adoption Decree
Credible concern that Vietnamese children offered for adoption were bought or stolen led the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to announce a review of the Vietnamese adoption process.[27] Subsequently, the Government of Vietnam has announced it is amending its adoption regulations which will take effect January 2, 2003. Changes include a requirement for countries to enter bilateral agreements with Vietnam and the creation of a central foreign adoption office to approve petitions. The U.S. State Department issued a notice stating, “In light of the uncertainties facing international adoption in Vietnam with the implementation of the new regulations, especially the likelihood of an indefinite suspension, American citizens who have not already done so are strongly urged not to enter into an agreement with an adoption service provider to adopt in Vietnam at this time.”[28] To access the State Department Notice, see http://travel.state.gov/vietnamupdate.html.

INS Halts Cambodian Adoptions Until New Adoption Process Can Be Established
Citing “baby selling and baby abduction” as well as a “seriously flawed” adoption process in Cambodia, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service declared an immediate suspension of U.S. adoptions from Cambodia on December 21, 2001. The INS and the U.S. Department of State are working with the Cambodian government to create a new adoption system that will protect children, birth parents and prospective adoptive parents.[29] To access the Immigration and Naturalization Service Director’s letter to prospective adoptive parents about the suspension of Cambodian orphan petition processing, see http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/publicaffairs/prospe.pdf and for INS Questions & Answers about Adoption Processing in Cambodia, see http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/publicaffairs/questsans/QAadopt.htm.

The Number of International Adoptions by State Does Not Correlate to State Population[30]

Number of U.S. Children Adopted Abroad Not Officially Recorded
While the exact number of U.S. children placed for adoption in other countries is not reliably reported, adoption experts put the number at 500 annually a decade ago.[31]

1.5 Million Children in Central and Eastern Europe in Out-of-Home Care
A recent UNICEF report finds that in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States alone, 1.5 million children are in out-of-home care, a 150,000 increase in the last decade.[32] These children are primarily in institutions, with the rate of infant institutionalization increasing in many countries.[33] For instance, in Russia, the number of children who each year are left without parental care increased from 49,000 in 1989 to 114,000 in 1999, with the number of these children placed in institutional care increasing 3.5 times.[34] UNICEF also found increases in the number of countries placing children for adoption internationally. Additionally, in many countries, international adoptions have increased as a proportion of total adoptions.[35]

Top 40 Countries Experience Fluctuation in International Adoption in Last Decade.

* [36]

Sources and References
[1] [Dates for wars represent the entire length of the conflicts, not just U.S. involvement.]

[2] Gailey, Christine Ward, Race, Class and Gender in Intercountry Adoption in the USA, at 298-303, INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION: DEVELOPMENTS, TRENDS AND PERSPECTIVES, Peter Selman, ed. (2000).

[3] U.S. Department of State, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1971-2001. [Data from FY 2001 is preliminary and subject to change, last update was issued February 26, 2002. Summary data from FY 1989 – FY 2001 is available at http://travel.state.gov/orphan_numbers.html. Federal fiscal year (October 1 – September 30) data are used throughout. Thus, a reference to 1992 is FY 1992, October 1, 1991 – September 30, 1992.

U.S. State Department data on international adoptions is based on the number of visas issued to children being adopted from other countries by U.S. citizens, although technically the visa data tracks the immigration of the children to the U.S., not their adoptions. Two types of visas are issued: IR3, for orphans adopted in their birth country and then immigrating to the U.S.; and IR4, for orphans whose adoptions are finalized in U.S. state courts after immigration to the U.S. The regulations of the birth country determine which procedure is used.

Although the visa records are a reliable substitute for adoption records, the year a visa was issued may not be the year the adoption was finalized. For example, a child receiving an IR4 in September 1991, the last month of the 1991 fiscal year, might not be formally adopted in the U.S. until October 1991, FY 1992. A child receiving an IR3 visa in October 1991, the first month of FY 1992, likely was adopted in FY 1991 in his or her birth country.

Because the federal government changed its fiscal year dates in 1976, there was a “temporary quarter” from July 1 to October 1, 1976. The total number of adoptions in Charts 1 and 9 includes this temporary quarter.]

[4] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1991-2001.

[5] Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Justice, Immigrant-Orphans Adopted by U.S. Citizens by Sex, Age, and Region and Selected Country of Birth, at 65-66, Table 15, 1998 STATISTICAL YEARBOOK OF THE IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICES (Nov. 2000), available at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/aboutins/statistics/1998yb.pdf.

[6] [The term infant refers to a child under one year old.] Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Justice, Immigrant-Orphans Adopted by U.S. Citizens by Sex, Age, and Region and Selected Country of Birth, at 65-66, Table 15, 1998 STATISTICAL YEARBOOK OF THE IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICES (Nov. 2000), available at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/aboutins/statistics/1998yb.pdf.

[7] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1990, FY 2001.

[8] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 2001.

[9] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 2001.

[10] Selman, Peter, The Demographic History of Intercountry Adoption, at 32-33, INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION: DEVELOPMENTS, TRENDS AND PERSPECTIVES, Peter Selman, ed. (2000).

[11] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1989-2001.

[12] [The October 12, 2001 letter from the China Center of Adoption Affairs to U.S. adoption agencies which officially announced China’s new adoption restrictions to the U.S. is posted on the Families with Children From China website, http://www.fwcc.org/quotas.htm.]

[13] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1989-2001.

[14] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1996-2001.

[15] U.S. State Department, The Bureau of Consular Affairs, International Adoption: Ukraine (June 2001), available at http://travel.state.gov/adoption_ukraine.html.

[16] Selman, Peter, The Demographic History of Intercountry Adoption, at 32, INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION: DEVELOPMENTS, TRENDS AND PERSPECTIVES, Peter Selman, ed. (2000).

[17] Selman, Peter, The Demographic History of Intercountry Adoption, at 32, INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION: DEVELOPMENTS, TRENDS AND PERSPECTIVES, Peter Selman, ed. (2000); UNICEF, A Decade of Transition, at 108 (Nov. 29, 2001), available at http://www.unicef-icdc.org/presscentre/presskit/monee8/eng/index.html.

[18] [The suspension was from July 1991 to June 1993.] Groza, et al., A PEACOCK OR A CROW: STORIES, INTERVIEWS AND COMMENTARIES ON ROMANIAN ADOPTION, at 53-55 (Willes e-press 1998).

[19] Gailey, Christine Ward, Race, Class and Gender in Intercountry Adoption in the USA, at 302, INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION: DEVELOPMENTS, TRENDS AND PERSPECTIVES, Peter Selman, ed. (2000).

[20] [There had been a de facto moratorium in effect since December 2000.] U.S. State Department, The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Update on Romanian Moratorium on International Adoptions (Dec. 5, 2001), available at http://www.travel.state.gov/adoption_romania.html.

[21] U.S. State Department, Update on Romanian Moratorium on International Adoption (Mar. 14, 2002), available at http://travel.state.gov/adoption_romania.html.

[22] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1958-2001.

[23] Chun, Byung Hoon, Adoption and Korea, at 255-257,CHILD WELFARE, Vol. LXVIII, No. 2, (March-Apr. 1989); Selman, Peter, The Demographic History of Intercountry Adoption, at 33, 34, INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION: DEVELOPMENTS, TRENDS AND PERSPECTIVES, Peter Selman, ed. (2000).

[24] [From 1963-1966, the actual number of Korean orphans adopted by U.S. citizens is likely lower because the State Department records of immigrant visas issued for children include orphans and United States citizens’ children.] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1958-2001.

[25] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1981-2001.

[26] U.S. State Department, IMMEDIATE RELATIVE VISAS ISSUED, FY 1958-2001.

[27] U.S. State Department, The Bureau of Consular Affairs, INS Announces Suspension of Cambodian Adoptions and Offer of Parole in Certain Pending Cases (December 21, 2001), available at http://www.travel.state.gov/ins_cambodia.html; U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Review of Orphan Petitioning Process in Vietnam, Jan. 23, 2002, available at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/publicaffairs/statements/orphan.htm.

[28] U.S. State Department, The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Important Notice Regarding Adoptions in Vietnam (February 12, 2002), available at http://www.travel.state.gov/vietnamupdate.html.

[29] U.S. State Department, The Bureau of Consular Affairs, INS Announces Suspension of Cambodian Adoptions and Offer of Parole in Certain Pending Cases (December 21, 2001), available at http://www.travel.state.gov/ins_cambodia.html; U.S. State Department, The Bureau of Consular Affairs, The Adoption Process in Cambodia-An Update (February 21, 2002), available at http://www.travel.state.gov/cambodiaremarks.html.

[30] National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, Intercountry Adoption, available at http://www.calib.com/naic/pubs/s_inter.htm (updated Aug. 2, 2000); U.S. Census Bureau, Resident Population by State 1980 to 1999, at 23-24, Table 20, STATISTICAL ABSTRACT OF THE UNITED STATES (2000).

[31] Jill Smolowe, Babies for Export, TIME, at 64 (Aug. 22, 1994).

[32] [The Commonwealth of Independent States is comprised of: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.] United Nations Children’s Fund, Innocenti Research Centre, UNICEF, A DECADE OF TRANSITION, at 95-96 (Nov. 29, 2001), available at http://www.unicef-icdc.org/presscentre/presskit/monee8/eng/index.html.

[33] United Nations Children’s Fund, Innocenti Research Centre, UNICEF, A DECADE OF TRANSITION, at 95-99 (Nov. 29, 2001), available at http://www.unicef-icdc.org/presscentre/presskit/monee8/eng/index.html.

[34] United Nations Children’s Fund, Innocenti Research Centre, UNICEF, A DECADE OF TRANSITION, at 95-96 (Nov. 29, 2001), available at http://www.unicef-icdc.org/presscentre/presskit/monee8/eng/index.html.

[35] United Nations Children’s Fund, Innocenti Research Centre, UNICEF, A DECADE OF TRANSITION, at 107 (Nov. 29, 2001), available at http://www.unicef-icdc.org/presscentre/presskit/monee8/eng/index.html.

[36] Adapted from information provided on the Holt International Children Services website, please refer to http://www.holtintl.org/insstats.shtml.

For more statistics about adoption click here:
Overview of Adoption in the United States
http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/FactOverview.html
Domestic Adoption Facts
http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/FactOverview/domestic.html
Foster Care Facts
http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/FactOverview/foster.html
International Adoption Facts
http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/FactOverview/international.html
Costs of Adoption
http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/FactOverview/costs.html
State Statistics
http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/resstates.html