There is something very modern about inter-country adoption. No longer are potential adopters confined to the selection of a child – a baby, very often – from a finite domestic pool, but they can, as in the modern supermarket, sample a blend of exotic variations from far and wide. Money also talks louder on the international stage. Taking a more direct route, the former Dragon’s Den star James Caan, whose estimated wealth is in excess of £100million, offered an impoverished family 100,000 rupees – about £745 – to buy a baby on a trip to Pakistan in 2010, an impulse he later apologised for.
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The growing number of inter-country adoptions has unfortunately also brought with it instances of adopters getting “buyers’ remorse” when the fairytale has not been forthcoming. In April 2010, Torry-Ann Hansen of Tennessee sent her seven-year-old adopted son back to Russia together with a note addressed to the Russian authorities saying she no longer wanted him. Citing behavioural problems, she returned the child, together with his one-way Aeroflot ticket, like an unwanted purchase.
Most of those looking to adopt abroad have, I imagine, the same motivation for doing so as those hoping to adopt domestically: a desire to give a child the best possible start in life. And yet the disparities in power and wealth (as with all disparities in power and wealth) inevitably set up a grossly unequal relationship between budding parents in the west and those who “produce” the adoptees of the future in the developing world. Ethiopia accounted for nearly a quarter of all international adoptions to the US in 2010, second only to China. Adoption is fast becoming Ethiopia’s new export, perhaps soon to overtake coffee. Yet not everybody is happy with the way things are going. “We want people to invest in Ethiopia rather than take our children,” Dr Bulti Gutema, head of the government’s adoption authority, has said. Media investigations have also found evidence to suggest that some adoption agencies have recruited children from intact families.
Without wishing to sound too much like a dyed-in-the-wool nativist, one also need not go all the way to Africa or China to find deprived children. The number of kids in care in the UK has increased by 4,510 – a rise of almost eight per cent – since 2006, when there were 59,890. Yet there were 500 fewer adoptions last year, down from 3,700. Research has shown that children in care are more likely to have no educational qualifications, to become homeless, to commit crime and, in the case of girls, to become teenage mothers. We also know that for every year that a child in care is not adopted, his or her chances of finding parents decreases by 20 per cent. Do not, whatever you do, accept the idea that the “deserving poor” (if you really must use such definitions) exist only overseas.
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