France: why are international adoptions in free fall?

28 December 2021

he number of children adopted abroad continues to fall. 244 international adoptions were carried out in 2020 against 421 in 2019, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A decrease of 47%. How to explain the continuation of this collapse which has lasted for more than a decade?

For a decade, the number of foreign adoptions has been steadily declining for French nationals or foreigners residing in France. Several factors explain this decrease.

The ethical question

In 2020, 244 children were adopted abroad by French nationals or foreigners residing in France, according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vietnam is the first country of origin for children followed by Colombia, Thailand, Haiti and the Republic of Congo.

Several factors explain the decline in adoptions for several years. In particular, there is a sharp decrease in adopted children in Russia, the first country of origin for a long time, restrictions have been introduced by Moscow.

Russia, China and Brazil have preferred to develop national adoptions. Beijing also ended the one-child policy in 2015, which mechanically lowered the number of children seeking adoption.

Countries that do not offer sufficient levels of legal or ethical certainty (Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic) have also suspended adoptions, sometimes for several years.

These decreases were not offset by an increase in a few other countries such as Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire and Haiti.

Haiti: privileged host families

In 2019, 30 children were adopted by French people in Haiti, against 61 a year earlier. Adoptions have fallen sharply compared to 2010 (992 children) and 2009 (651), according to the French Adoption Agency.

Haiti is in the grip of a serious institutional, humanitarian and security crisis. In November 2020, a French couple from Ardèche was shot dead in November in Port-au-Prince, where they had just arrived for adoption. After this event, couples were called to be extra vigilant.

In order to counter the risks of trafficking and the abuses of orphanages which have multiplied after the earthquake of 2010, Haiti is carrying out a broad reform of its protection of children, in particular by giving priority to their placement in foster families.

The number of facilities accommodating children had more than doubled in the months following the disaster, a boom that was as rapid as it was illegal.

Today, only about fifty of the 754 children's homes identified are accredited or in the process of accreditation with the Haitian child protection administration, IBESR. To regain control, the state banned, on pain of criminal prosecution, any new opening of such institutions.

Another strong measure, Haiti finally signed the Hague convention putting an end to independent adoptions. That the state ultimately has the responsibility of making a child and an adopter appear to be vital in putting an end to the tragedies experienced by some biological parents.

“The person entrusted their child to an orphanage, possibly signed a document but sometimes without even knowing how to read. 'foreigner', recalls with sadness Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, director of the IBESR.

Because 80% of some 27,000 Haitian children currently placed in orphanages have at least one living parent.

South Korea: domestic adoption

After the Korean War (1950-1953), adoption was a way to get rid of children born to the relationship between American servicemen and South Koreans, when the country swore by ethnic homogeneity.

South Korean society remains deeply conservative and patriarchal, and many unmarried young mothers are forced to give up their babies at birth. In 2020, Seoul is the 10th world power according to the OECD. The country has seen its standard of living improve, the better-off population is able to adopt children. Orphans are therefore taken care of by nationals.

South Korea was for a time one of the first breeding grounds for international adoption. At least 167,000 South Korean children have been adopted by foreign parents since the 1950s.

Guatemala: the legacy of civil war

The civil war in Guatemala between 1960 and 1996 left some 200,000 dead according to the Truth Commission under the auspices of the UN. The army carried out the majority of the massacres, mainly targeting Native American communities.

In 2020, around 900 of these children considered missing were reunited with their families, according to Guatemalan humanitarian organizations.

Ignacio Segura, adopted in Canada in the early 1980s, is looking for his biological family. "My dream is to kiss my mom. It would relieve me of a weight that has been crushing me since I was little" he explains.

In February 2020 a campaign is launched in Guatemala so that those who, like him, were adopted during the civil war can be reunited with their biological families.

Notices will be published on social networks and posters proclaiming "I'm looking for my family" will be put up in the streets by a collective called HIJOS (children) which brings together survivors of the civil war.

According to the HIJOS collective, there are more than 5,000 proven cases of missing children, some between the ages of one and six, "kidnapped by army officers" in areas devastated by the military, and who then have been taken to orphanages.

During international adoptions, less than 10% of adopted children are orphans. The others may be abandoned children or whose parents have been deprived of their parental rights.