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International adoption: A big fix brings dramatic decline

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“The intention of the Hague convention is not to slow down adoptions,” says William Duncan, deputy secretary-general of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, which oversees implementation of the Hague Adoption Convention. “In the last few years, the number of adoptions has tended to drop, but my impression is that has to do with a lot of specific conditions in specific countries.”

The new rules of adoption combined with fewer available children have caused the slowdown, says Pertman. The Hague convention “caused a real shake-up” because a lot of social agencies in developing countries simply can’t comply. And scandals in Guatemala and Romania, and China’s rethink of its pro-adoption policies, dramatically reduced the supply of adoptable children. The result, he says, is “a very long wait period.”

Guatemala’s scandals resulted in the moratorium on international adoption. Likewise, while Haiti deals with the postquake tsunami of international requests to adopt orphaned children, and as it processes the case of the arrested missionaries, it has become acutely aware of the weakness of its documentation process. (“If a child isn’t registered, the child doesn’t exist,” says Jennifer Bakody, UNICEF communications officer in Haiti. “Then there’s no way to protect the child, he/she is really lost from the system.” And that’s how good intentions can turn into scandal.)

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