Inter-country adoptions falling dramatically

06 October 2017

The adoption of overseas-born children by Australian parents has declined dramatically in recent years.

In 2004-06, there were over 400 intercountry adoptions each year, whereas by 2010-12, the number dropped to just over 100 a year. In 2015, there were only 83 intercountry adoptions into Australia, the lowest number on record.

The Australian experience is in keeping with a decline in intercountry adoptions globally. In Canada, the number of inward adoptions from abroad has halved in the past 4 years. In the US, intercountry adoptions have fallen by nearly three-quarters in 10 years.

Worldwide, intercountry adoptions have declined over 60% in the last decade, from 43,142 adoptions in 2004 to 15,810 adoptions in 2013.


Why intercountry adoptions are declining

This downwards trend is due to a number of factors, including economic, social, political and legal shifts leading to more children remaining with their birth family and more alternative forms of care being available within their country of origin, including adoption.

Other reasons include a clamp down by some countries not wanting their children to be adopted abroad, as well as the cost and difficulties for would-be parents seeking to adopt from abroad.

At the same time, alternatives to adoption are expanding, such as assisted reproduction and surrogacy.


Support is available

While adoptions are now declining, the thousands of Australians who have adopted or been adopted from abroad over the years continue to face particular challenges.

International Social Service (ISS) Australia provides free, practical and emotional support to families who have adopted a child from overseas, including advice, education and referrals on issues common to inter-country adoption.

Importantly, ISS Australia also has a free inter-country adoption tracing and reunification service whereby families who have adopted a child from overseas and adult inter-country adoptees can attempt to locate information and records to trace their birth family. In the past year alone, 135 Australian inter-country adoptees wanting to know more about their origins have begun the search with ISS Australia.

Inter-country adoptions to Australia increased abruptly in 1975, when Vietnamese babies and young children were hastily evacuated in the chaotic final days of the war in Viet Nam. Dubbed ‘Operation Babylift’, around 270 of them came to Australia. Ads appeared in newspapers appealing to Australians to adopt these children, many of whom lacked identity documents and some of whom were not orphans.

“It would be great to find a parent or a sibling or any family member. It’s just all these unanswered questions.”

-- Chantal Doecke, airlifted out of Viet Nam as a baby in 1975 and adopted by Australians


Protecting adoptive children’s rights

As a general rule, children needing adoption are better off staying in their own country and community, where family ties, language and culture can be maintained.

A primary consideration must be doing what is best for each child in their particular circumstances.

International law – both human rights law and a Hague Convention regulating intercountry adoption – imposes strict safeguards to make sure all adoptions are in the best interests of the child.

And that does not mean assuming a child from a poor country is ‘better off’ in a rich country.

Both the 1993 Hague Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) regard inter-country adoption as a last resort for when suitable care cannot be found in a child’s country of origin (CRC, article 21).

As Damon Martin, manager of ISS Australia’s Intercountry Adoption Service explains:

“Intercountry adoption can be a suitable option only when all other options have been explored. This includes looking at restoring a child to their birth family, or placing them with extended family, or perhaps a placement within their village or community, or other alternative care options available in the child’s country of origin. Only then, as a last resort, should we consider whether inter-country adoption is in the best interests of a particular child.”

Get in touch with International Social Service Australia to find out more about our intercountry adoption support services and our international tracing work.