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Mekfira Livingstone, right, is having fun with her adopted sister Kalkidan at their home Kelowna, B.C. on March 13, 2009. (Jeff Bassett For The Globe and Mail)
Mekfira Livingstone, right, is having fun with her adopted sister Kalkidan at their home Kelowna, B.C. on March 13, 2009. (Jeff Bassett For The Globe and Mail)

Globe Editorial

Violations do occur in international adoption industry, but shutting down a country's entire program does disservice to children Add to ...

The golden era of international adoptions has come to a close. And that is a shame for the hundreds of millions of children in orphanages around the world.

Bureaucracy, escalating costs and more stringent regulations have caused a number of Canadian adoption agencies to close, and made it much harder for parents to adopt overseas.

Nepal, Guatemala, Cambodia and Liberia are on Canada’s adoption blacklist, and in most provinces, so is Haiti. Popular source countries such as China and Ethiopia have reduced the number of children sent abroad for adoption.

The international adoption industry has been fraught with concerns about child trafficking and corruption. Because Canada is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children, the provinces must take these concerns seriously, and ensure Canadians are not inadvertently taking part in the abduction or sale of children.

However, instead of shutting down a country’s entire international adoption program, wouldn’t it be better to investigate specific allegations of abuse, enforce existing laws and penalize those who violate them? Canadian adoption agencies could continue to work with their overseas counterparts that follow regulations, and do not commit adoption fraud. This would allow the thousands of orphans in Guatemala, Haiti, Nepal and Ethiopia to be adopted out, in the event that they cannot be placed in homes in their own countries.

“Even if adoption law violations occur, the harm they cause children and birth parents is minimal compared to the harm caused by shutting down or severely restricting international adoptions,” says Elizabeth Bartholet, a law professor and director of the child advocacy program at Harvard Law School. “Institutions, even the better ones, are almost always terrible for children... seriously harming their life prospects in the long term.”

In the last seven years, the number of international adoptions in Canada decreased to 1,968 from 2,180. In the U.S., it fell to 9,320 from a high of 22,991.

As countries such as China develop, there is also a growing perception by leaders there that international adoptions are something of a colonialist embarrassment. Of course, in a perfect world, Chinese orphans would be placed with families in China. But failing that, the best interests of the child should trump concerns about removing a child from her or his community. Growing up in a stable home with a family is better than being raised in an institution, even if that institution is located in your country of birth.

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