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Amy Beeman reads with her 18-month old twin son and daughter, Sam(left) and Lucy(right), at their home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
Amy Beeman reads with her 18-month old twin son and daughter, Sam(left) and Lucy(right), at their home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

The painful new realities of international adoption Add to ...

On Thursday, the province agreed to open up a fee-consultation process and consider raising the cap once again. CAFAC’s retired founders also offered interim financial and personal assistance to keep the agency running.

Ms. Beeman and her husband began working with CAFAC in 2008. After taking a break to create space between the twins and an adopted child, they thought they were close to a match and were devastated by the news that CAFAC was struggling. When she read the latest update from CAFAC to its clients, she was thrilled.

“The idea that we again have the possibility of expanding our already amazing family makes me smile,” she says. “I'm just happy the door hasn't been closed for us.”

Heartbreaking roller coaster

Ms. Beeman has friends who have skipped from failed agency to failed agency; she was not sure she could stomach that roller coaster if CAFAC failed.

“It’s a huge undertaking. Not just financially [she figures they’ve spent $10,000 already on agency fees] but emotionally. It takes a lot out of you,” she says. “With how long it takes you almost need to decide when you’re 23 that you want to adopt internationally, so you’ll start working on it and when you’re 32 you’ll have a child.”

The Hague Convention of 1993 was a defining moment in international adoption. Countries that sign the agreement must comply with strict international standards, such as ensuring that birth parents have truly given their consent and have not been paid, and that efforts have been made to find the child a permanent home in his or her country of origin. Canada ratified the agreement in 1996. In some cases, sending countries close adoptions when they sign the agreement and work to tidy up their system.

Prof. Bartholet, an adoptive mother herself, says U.S. officials have told her that the goal is now “not a single ethical violation,” which she finds too strict.

“In my view there’s nothing human beings do in large scale that has not a single ethical violation. We don’t shut down the stock market because of Bernie Madoff. We send him to jail.

“We should, of course, enforce the law and send people to jail who kidnap babies or pay birth mothers, but we should not imprison the children as a way of solving the problem.”

Some children left behind

In some cases, children may languish in orphanages, but in others, stricter rules may prevent children from being separated from their parents in the first place.

Unicef Canada’s president and CEO, David Morley, says that despite what can be grinding bureaucracy, the Hague Convention rules are “the best we’ve come up with to deal with this incredibly important and emotional issue around caring for the weakest most vulnerable people in the world.”

It’s not just the international community playing policeman; countries can pull up the drawbridge at any moment, motivated by nationalism, perception and their own changing demographics – or the taint of scandal.

In one high-profile case in 2010, a U.S. woman put her seven-year-old adopted son on a plane, unaccompanied, back to his birth country, Russia. As a result, the Russian foreign minister called for a freeze on such adoptions. At present, the country still allows international adoptions, but there is now a mandatory six-month search for adoptive parents within Russia before a child can be adopted internationally.

“The net effect, usually, is kids gets older,” says Prof. Bartholet.

In recent years, China, too, has raised the standards for parents who hope to adopt. No single moms, same-sex couples, obese parents, or those with alcoholic parents or cancer in the family need apply.

“China, today, wants to look good and strong: ‘We don’t need you to take care of our kids any more. We can take care of our own,’” says Prof. Bartholet.

The Children’s Bridge has stopped processing Chinese adoptions, except for Canadians who were born in China or who will adopt older children with medical needs, and pass China’s requirements, says Ms. Murphy.

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