Not always enough adoptive parents in their own country

29 December 2021

Gera ter Meulen, Knowledge Bureau ter Meulen, for Foster Care and Adoption

In the current discussion about intercountry adoption, reference is often made to the principle of subsidiarity. But I come across several publications that show that this may be more complicated than you might think. Like this article with an overview of 9 Asian countries by researchers from Japan and Malaysia.


One of the important points of view in the Hague Adoption Convention is the principle of subsidiarity: If a child cannot live with his or her parents, then preferably care in their own network, otherwise domestic adoption. Intercountry adoption is only a last resort if there is no good reception in one's own country. But is good reception always possible in your own country?

UN Guidelines for Alternative Care for Children

Because it is not just about the principle of subsidiarity. According to the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care for Children (also signed by the Netherlands), the children must also have 'parents forever'. Foster care is a temporary measure, with harmful transfers, and homes are so bad for children's development that they should be banned as much as possible according to the Guidelines.

That is why good care for children should be sought in this order:

Living with the original parents

Reception with relatives or others from your own network

Domestic adoptive parents

Intercountry adoptive parents

Foster parents

A home

Domestic adoption an option?

So domestic adoption and no foster care or home care if a child cannot be cared for in their own network. Then there is still much to do. And are there enough aspiring adoptive parents? The article by Shirashi and colleagues looked into this for nine Asian countries. They looked at the extent to which couples who failed IVF would be willing to take children from youth care into their families. And which factors influenced this choice. It turned out that in many Asian countries the enthusiasm for domestic adoption - and also for foster care - was low.

The following four factors played an important role in this:

1. Cultural and Religious Factors

The culture in many Asian countries emphasizes the importance of consanguinity. This can be a significant barrier to taking in unrelated children, especially if they are adopted. This Confucian premise plays a major role in Japan, for example, where only 12% of children in youth care are fostered and only 1% are adopted.

Religion can also create obstacles. In India, for example, Muslims, Christians and Jews are not allowed to adopt, so that the child can choose religion freely later on. In Malaysia, children of Muslim parents are not allowed to be adopted by non-Muslim parents, but vice versa.

2. Donorship and Surrogacy

Having a child through sperm or egg donors or surrogate mothers is often favored over adoption and foster parenting. However, this is prohibited or restricted by law in many countries. For example, in South Korea, Thailand and India, donorship and surrogacy are allowed, in Indonesia strictly prohibited and strictly restricted in the Philippines. In Japan, donorship is strictly limited and surrogacy is prohibited. If aspiring parents cannot have children through donors or surrogate mothers, they are more willing to consider adoption or foster parenting. There are also countries, such as India, where donors and surrogate mothers are allowed, but where the costs are too high for most Indians. In Malaysia, the (Muslim) law prohibits donorship and surrogacy for Muslims, but Muslims over 40 and non-Muslims have access to private clinics.

3. Structure and/or support for adoption from the government

When a country has a good system for adoption and foster care, the government promotes adoption and/or foster care and/or supports the families financially, this promotes the choice of couples for these forms of parenting. This is happening in South Korea, for example. India and Malaysia.

4. Costs of IVF

High costs of IVF for the population or a ban on IVF among population groups means that larger numbers of unwanted childless couples opt for adoption. In the Philippines and India, for example, IVF is too expensive for the local population and the government facilitates adoption.

Major differences

All these factors contribute to the large differences in the percentages of children in family care in the different countries. The authors conclude that Malaysia, the Philippines, and China have well-established adoption systems and focus most on fostering children in families, particularly through donor and surrogacy restrictions. In Thailand, the possibility of donorship, surrogacy and cheap IVF leads to little attention for adoption, on the other hand, the expensive IVF in India leads to a lot of attention for adoption.

More attention needed for family care

The accessibility of donorship and surrogacy appears to have a strong influence on the willingness to adopt and foster care in Asian countries. Culture, religion, economic conditions and financial government support for the adoption process also play an important role.

At present, little attention is paid to the option of adoption and foster care in fertility clinics in Asian countries.

In order to give substance to the subsidiarity principle of 'care in our own country', attention from the government, fertility professionals and also unwanted childless couples is of great importance.

# the authors provided their information from a search of the internet and scientific literature, supplemented by interviews with clinicians from different countries. They indicate that information was incomplete and difficult to access and a number of countries had to be excluded because information was not released.

[1] UN Guidelines for Alternative care – an elaboration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Shiraishi, E.; Takae, S.; Faizal, AM; Sugimoto, K.:, Okamoto, A. & N. Suzuki (2021). "The scenario of adoption and Foster Care in Relation to the Reproductive Medicine. Practice in Asia." int. J.Environ. res. Public Health: 18, 3466.