When it comes to Americans and international adoption, one needn't look far for spectacular examples of recent bad judgment: the church group that traveled to Haiti, hoping to depart with 33 of its orphans; the American mother who returned her seven-year-old adopted son to Russia with only a note, describing him as unmanageable.
"Far from being a humanitarian gesture, international adoption has come to be seen by some as the supreme act of exploitation," writes John Seabrook, who, in this week's New Yorker, tells the history of Americans' particular affinity of adopting children from other parts of the world (particularly during times of crisis) through the lens of his own family's struggle to adopt Rose, a 15-month-old Haitian child.
While "The Last Babylift" is only available online to subscribers, Seabrook does a fantastic job of melding the autobiographical with the historical.
He explains that international adoption is a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning with airlifts of Japanese and German orphans, followed by Korean and Japanese children, depending on wherever our foreign battles were being waged. In the early 1990s, after the Berlin Wall crumbled, children from Russia, Romania, and Ukraine came over, followed by China and Guatemala. By 2004, a peak of 23,000 adopted children from over 90 nations came to the United States.
Flash forward to last year when the adoption rate was cut in half. By 2013, it is estimated to dwindle to 7,000. Industry-wide corruption and trafficking are to blame, not to mention the more complicated question of just what, exactly, is best for children.
At issue, explains Seabrook, is whether the mother was forced to relinquish her child. "Is a mother who cannot afford to feed her child forced into relinquishment by poverty? If so, aren't all international adoptions of social orphans morally indefensible?"
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of orphans wait in the balance. Kids adopted from different countries apparently fare as well as biological children, so long as they are adopted early enough in life, whereas kids that grow up in orphanages have a significantly less chance of ever achieving normal development.
Seabrook quotes Karen Dubinsky, a history professor and author of Babies Without Borders. She is also an adoptive mother. "Adoption, of whatever sort, works best in miniature than on the big screen. In the abstract it is hideous, but individually it can sometimes—even often—make sense."
Are you in favor of international adoption—why or why not?
Image via Yvetta Fedorova.