With more than 10 million children living in institutions and over 60 million children living on the streets, international adoption continues to be an important solution to finding loving homes, and more importantly, loving families for children who otherwise are facing a very bleak and potentially dangerous future. And while international adoptions have declined in recent years, it remains an option for many families who are willing to undergo the complex and sometimes difficult process in order to begin or grow their family through adoption.

International adoption is not for everyone—while the process is similar to domestic adoption in many “black and white” paper trail kinds of ways—the mere fact that this path involves a true physical journey for both the adoptive parents and the adoptee is a “deal breaker” for some. Some people argue that it’s not in the best interest of the child to be transplanted from native soil to foreign land as this can lead to the child potentially losing any chance of remaining connected to the country of origin as well as culture and tradition.

On the flip side, with a better understanding of the process than was historically so and through the implementation of education through agencies and the formation of support networks, families are now more prepared and aware of the importance of making an effort to ensure the adopted child maintains a connection with his heritage through support groups, festivals, reaching out to other families who have adopted internationally, and taking advantage of heritage trips.

No matter what side of the fence you’re on, the reality is that thousands of children are currently residing in institutions or managing to survive on their own on the street, and they need and deserve parents. This remains the goal of many governments agencies, adoption facilitators, and humanitarian aid workers worldwide.

Before we take a trip around the world of international adoption to talk statistics, let’s first define what international adoption is and how it began.

First of all – What Is International Adoption?

Before we begin, it’s important to know the facts. According to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs, “Intercountry adoption is the process by which you adopt a child from a country other than your own through permanent legal means and then bring that child to your country of residence to live with you permanently.”

One adoption agency points to World War II as a trigger for international adoption reaching the shores of the United States, as a result of a large number of children fathered by American soldiers abroad and then abandoned by their mothers. At that time, the laws and regulations surrounding international adoptions and adoptee rights were scarce. In 1933, The Hague Convention on Protection of Children was introduced to protect children adopted across national borders. International Adoption Facts and Information provides some history of international adoption as well as stories of several families.

And How Does The Hague Adoption Convention Work?

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is an international treaty that provides important safeguards to protect the best interests of children, birth parents, and adoptive parents who are involved in intercountry adoptions. …All cases filed on or after April 1, 2008, seeking to adopt a child who habitually resides in any country outside of the United States that is a party to the Convention must follow the Hague process.” Travel.state.gov states: “Concluded on May 29, 1993. …The United States signed the Convention in 1994, and the Convention entered into force for the United States on April 1, 2008.” Currently, 98 countries have signed the Hague Adoption Convention (Worldpopulationreview.com):

–          “Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria

–          “Bahamas, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso

–          “Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic

–          “Denmark, Dominican Republic

–          “Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia

–          “Fiji, Finland, France

–          “Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala

–          “Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary

–          “Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy

–          “Japan

–          “Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg

–          “Macau, Macedonia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro

–          “Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway

–          “Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal

–          “Republic of Korea, Romania

–          “Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Servia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland

–          “Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan

–          “Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan

–          “Venezuela

–          “Zimbabwe”

That’s not to say that individual countries didn’t have any protective measures in place before the Hague Adoption Convention, but since its implementation, most governments have signed on in an effort to ensure the rights of all parties involved with intercountry adoption and most especially the safety of the children involved against such things as human trafficking. The Adoption.org article “Should You Adopt From a Hague Convention Country?” answers the question of whether or not you should adopt from a Hague Convention country and why.

International Adoptions in China and Ethiopia Going Down, According to Statistics

According to The Conversation, in 2005, nearly 46,000 children were adopted worldwide, roughly half of these children found homes in the United States. International adoptions have since gone to 12,000 in total just in 2015—that’s a 72 percent drop. Of these children in 2015, a majority of them found their homes in Italy and Spain; only about 5,000 of these kids were adopted in the United States.

The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption shows that 4,059 intercountry adoptions took place to the United States in 2018, down by 655 from 2017. The report goes on to say that “the majority of this decrease (430) occurred in China, which has seen a multi-year decrease in intercountry
adoptions as the result of an improvement in economic circumstances and the sustained development of domestic permanency options for children. …The second largest decrease in intercountry adoptions occurred in Ethiopia, which imposed a ban on intercountry adoption during FY 2018, citing numerous concerns such as missing post-adoption reports, the welfare of children in the United States whose adoptions had been disrupted, instances of adoptive parents returning children to Ethiopia, and corruption and [adoption service providers] conduct.”

International Adoptions on the Rise in Colombia and India According to These Statistics

While international adoptions have decreased with some countries, others have shown an increase in the number of intercountry adoptions to the United States. The FY 2018 Annual report notes that “Colombia…passed new legislation designed to move children in institutional care more quickly to permanent families. This legislation was expected to increase the number of domestic and intercountry adoptions in Colombia, and FY 2018 saw more than a 25 percent increase in intercountry adoptions from Colombia to the U.S., from 181 adoptions in FY 2017 to 229 in FY 2018.”

Similarly, according to the report, in 2018, intercountry adoptions from India increased from 221 to 302.

New Kids on the International Adoption Block

Finally, the FY 2018 Annual Report shows that “2018 saw the first intercountry adoptions in at least a year from 16 countries, including Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Indonesia. The Department facilitated Croatia’s efforts to authorize two U.S. ASPs to operate in that country, laying the foundation necessary to reinstate intercountry adoptions between Croatia and the United States.”

Adoptions from the United States

While we often focus our attention on children entering the United States through adoption, it should be noted that in FY 2018, people from nine countries (Canada, the Netherlands, Mexico, and Ireland, to name a few) adopted 81 children from the United States.

Who Can be Adopted?

Children through age 15 are eligible to come to the United States and join a family through adoption, and children ages 16 and 17 are eligible if their siblings have been adopted by United States families. According to AdoptiveFamilies.com, “In 2014, …just under 5 percent of children adopted by U.S. families were under one year of age, and an additional 55 percent were between the ages of one and four.”

According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, in 2018, children 5 to 12 years old made up the largest population of international adoptees at over 1,300, while children ages 1 and 2 years accounted for just under the 1,100 mark.

Due to stricter guidelines under Hague as well as everchanging worldwide political and social climates, adopting an infant from overseas is less common.

Of the 4,058 total adoptions in FY 2018, 52.1 percent were female and 47.9 percent were male, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

It should be noted that while every country is different, on average, the ages of children coming to the United States has gone up over the years.

How Long Does it Take/How Much Does it Cost to Adopt Internationally?

International adoption is not cheap. Those entering into it should do plenty of research to make sure that all costs are accounted for before beginning the process.

Adoption.com’s “The International Adoption Guide provides the following overview of international adoption fees, including everything from passports to translation costs to government fees and legal fees.

–          “Application Fee: $150-$300

–          “Home Study: $1,500-$2,750

–          “Dossier Fee: $2,700

–          “Adoption Program Fee: (varies by country): $4,750-$12,250

–          “Travel For an Escorted Child: $1,500-$4,000

–          “Post Placement: $700-$1400

–          “Orphanage Fee (required by some agencies): Varies”

–          Legal Fees: (can vary from) $500 to $4,000

–          Government Fees: (typically) $1,000

–          In-Country Stay/Travel: Varies

The Adoption.org article “What Are the Best Countries to Adopt from in 2019? sheds some light on the current landscape of international adoption so far as how difficult the process has become depending on which country you are considering. Countries that make the author’s list of being noted for average timelines and fees included South Korea, China, India, Colombia, and Haiti.

Going back a few years to 2013, Christianity Today magazine pointed out that despite the fact that Mexico is one of the United States closest neighbors by proximity, American adoptions of Mexican children takes the longest to finalize of any other nation measured–at an average of 770 days. Meanwhile, the average number of days for families to complete adoptions in Panama came in at just 53 days. In the FY 2018 report, it says it takes an average of 840 days now to complete an adoption in Mexico.

The FY 2018 report also shed light on the average amount of time it takes in other countries: Adoptions from the Dominican Republic average 344 days, Indian adoptions take about 453 days, and Chinese adoptions take approximately 255 days. 

Abuse and International Adoption

Despite many negative media headlines portraying international adoption in a negative light with suggestions that findings of abuse have led to the decline in some countries allowing adoption to the United States or closing their borders altogether, as did Russia and Ethiopia in 2012 due to two separate cases, the abuse rate is relatively low. The Conversation stated that “of 60,000 adoptees from Russia to the U.S., only 19 have died from abuse or neglect in the last 20 years, according to The Christian Science Monitor. That’s an abuse rate of about 0.03 percent. In Russia, the rate of child abuse is about 25 times higher.”

Domestic vs. International Adoption Back-to-Back

Domestic may be slightly less expensive than international adoption and it may be easier to get background information on child adopted domestically versus children adopted internationally. The only time parents need to travel for domestic adoption is when you’re adopting out of state and then the parents may need to go back to the state the child was born in for finalizing the adoption. Parents are almost always required to travel to their child’s country when adopting internationally. 

Although domestic adoption may appear to be the easier or better choice, that’s not to say that it doesn’t come with its own pitfalls and issues. No adoption process is perfect and every adoption journey is unique.

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.