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​​​​​​​​1.1 ​​Historical Overview


Intercountry adoption began to be widely practiced in the aftermath of the Second World War and was an ad hoc humanitarian response to children orphaned by the War.  Families in the United States mainly but also in Canada, Australia and Europe, adopted orphans from Germany, Italy and Greece, all countries where emergency situa­tions prevailed. To a lesser extent, children were also adopted from China and Japan. The Korean War in the 1950s created a new generation of abandoned or orphaned children welcomed into adoptive homes in the West. Many of these children were "Amerasians", fathered and left behind by U.S. servicemen. Together with their mothers, they faced severe discrimination in their homelands, as did their Vietnamese counterparts a decade or so later. Initially, concerns about intercountry adop­tion were linked mainly to problems arising from the different legal systems in receiving countries and countries of origin. Of concern also, were the perceived problems of adjust­ment of the children in their new environment and the ability of the adoptive parents to meet their special needs in this regard. Increasingly, the ethical issue was raised as to whether it is desirable to remove a child from his or her country rather than to provide necessary assistance and protection on the spot.

Consultations on such questions were beginning to take place at an international level in the mid 1950's. In 1960 a seminar on intercountry adoption was organised under the auspices of the United Nations to formulate a set of principles.  A World Conference on Adoption in 1971 drew international attention to the inadequacy of international regulations to safeguard the adopted child's interests.

Later in the 1970's serious concerns began to be expressed over the 'mass exportation' of children from economically developing nations. A clear 'demand' for adoptive children had become apparent in the West and was accompanied by an increasing amount of agencies and intermediaries to help meet the demand. Adoption as a practice had also become more socially acceptable than in the past.

While demand for children in adoption has continued to rise in the industrialised world, fertility has fallen (Christchurch fertility specialist Peter Benny stated in a newspaper article that there is a decline in fertility from age 25 onwards and that the major risk of infertility is age 35 and over), and consequently the number of children who can be considered for domestic adoption has declined.  Some of the demographic and social changes contributing to the declining numbers are the greater availability of contraceptive aids, the legalisation of abortion, the higher workforce participation of women, the postponement of childbirth to later ages and an increasing de-stigmatisation of single-motherhood, as well as state support for single mothers in many cases, leading to greatly reduced abandonment rates.

This 'structural' demand for children in adoption in high-income countries has been met with the 'structural supply' of children 'available' for adoption abroad in low-income ones.

Over the last several decades, increasing numbers of children have been abandoned and orphaned in the developing world in the wake of socio-economic change, especially the rapid urbanisation of Latin America, Africa and Central Asian countries; the upheavals in Central and Eastern Europe; the wars and ethnic conflicts and natural disasters that affect populations in different parts of the world.

The number of international adoptions worldwide doubled between 1995 and 2004 and between 1998 and 2004 the overall increase was 42 per cent but there was wide variation between receiving countries, with Spain experiencing a rise of 273 per cent and Ireland a rise of 171 per cent. Sweden and Norway experienced a below average increase and the number of children going to Denmark fell.

The decline in numbers 2004-2011:

The steady increase in the global number of intercountry adoptions was reversed in 2005 and the decline accelerated in 2006 by which time almost all the major receiving countries had experienced a fall in numbers.

 
Evolution of the number of intercountry adoptions since 2003 ​​​​
  2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013​
2014​ 2015
U.S.A 21,616 22,884 22,728 20,679 19,613 17,433 12,753 11,058 9,319 ​8,668
​7,094
6,441​
​5,648
Italy 2,772 3,402 2,874 3,188 3,420 3,977 3,964 4,130 4,022 ​3,106 ​2,825
​n/a
n/a​
France 3,995 4,079 4,136 3,977 3,162 3,271 3,017 3,504 1,995
​1,569 ​1,343
​1,069
​815
Spain 3,951 5,541 5,423 4,472 3,648 3,156 3,006 2,891 2,560
​1,669 ​1,188
824​
799​
Canada 2,180 1,955 1,871 1,535 1,712 1,208 1,411 2,006 1785
​1,367 ​1,242
​905
895​
Germany 1,720 1,632 1,453 1,388 1,432 1,251 1,025 1,412 934 ​801 ​661
​209
​308
Sweden 1,046 1,109 1,083 879 800 793 912 655 538 ​466 ​341
​345
​333
The Netherlands 1,154 1,307 1,185 816 782 767 682 705 528 ​488 ​401
​354
​304
Denmark 522 527 586 448 429 395 498 419 338
​219 ​176
124​
97​
Switzerland 722 658 452 455 394 497 444 301 367
​314 ​280
​226
​197
Australia 472 502 585 576 568 440 441 222 215
​149 ​129
​114
​83
Norway 714 706 582 448 426 304 344 353 297
​231 ​154
​142
​132
Belgium
​n/a
​n/a
​n/a
​n/a
​n/a
​n/a
​n/a
​n/a
360
​265
​219
​144
​136
Total 39,670 43,142 41,921 38,285 35,818 32,834 27,691 27,552 23,258
​19,312
​16,053
​10,897
​9,747

​ 

Country of origin
2010 2011​​​20122013

2014​

2015​

China4,6724,098​3,998​3,316
​2,734
​2,817
Ethiopia3,9773,144​2,648​1,933
975​
​543
Russia3,1583,017​2,442​1,703
​381
​210
Ukraine1,0911,054​713​674
​560
​339
South Korea991920​797
​206
494​
​406
Colombia 1,5491,522​901​562
​355
​356
Vietnam1,243620​216​293
​285
​287
Haiti1,361142​262​460
​551
​236
Guatemala5532​No data​No data
​No data
​No data
India473688​362​298
242​
​233
Philippines413472​374​525
​405
​354
Brazil373359​337​246
​31
​32
Poland307304​236​332
​106
​107
Taiwan310311​291​188
​147
​172
Kazakhstan434179​No data​No data
​No data
​No data
Thailand124258​251​272
​207
​172
South Africa71120​81​147
​176
​172
Nigeria236218​238
​225
​175
​163
Bulgaria230259​350​421
​323
​262
Mali123154​127​4
​36
​25
Dem. Rep. Congo166339​499​580
​240
​229
Ghana128107​172​188
​128
​93
U.S.A14797​178​167
​155
​160
Latvia120116​59​131
​96
​189
Hungary117154​145​104
​77
84​
​Uganda
​No data
​219
246​
289​​203
​208

The face of adoption is being changed by a combination of factors, including more aggressive efforts worldwide to stop illegal child trafficking.

At the same time, several nations e.g. China, Russia and South Korea have begun encouraging more domestic adoptions, and limiting foreign ones, as their economies improve.

Additionally, there is a reducing need for intercountry adoption for healthy young infants in overseas countries as these countries make efforts to support such children either in their own families or in local adoptive families. In recent years these countries have also been attempting to manage a growing number of adoption applications from prospective adoptive parents in receiving countries.

The trend is that the children requiring adoptive families overseas are children with complex needs, older children and children who are part of sibling groups.​

[Sources: (UNICEF International Child Development Centre's Innocenti Digest 4 – Intercountry Adoption); ISS Newsletter October 2012 and November 2016].​