International adoption, like any business, is driven by market forces. In this month’s Mother Jones, Jim Carney tells the story of a boy adopted from India into an American family who is later revealed to have been kidnapped rather than relinquished. After the news is broken to both families, the boy’s Indian parents wish to have contact with their American counterparts, who choose instead to cease all communication. The article is accompanied by a podcast interview with Carney, who elaborates on what happened after the story was published, as well as his own views on how the supply and demand of international adoption contribute to its corruption.
“American families don’t want children who have lived in orphanages for too long,” he explains, noting the vulnerability of institutionalized children toward diseases, neurological problems, and general lack of care. “They aren’t very saleable.”
So, corrupt adoption brokers look for healthy children of “better stock”, i.e. from loving families, abduct them, and then concoct back stories that label the children as willingly relinquished. Thus, the receiving families, predominantly from the global west, get what they want, and the brokers get paid.
Systemic corruption in international adoption is not limited to India, either, with similar reports common from other sending countries.
For further examination of international adoption’s supply chain, check out E.J. Graff’s op-ed in The Washington Post, “The Orphan Manufacturing Chain,” which breaks down the system.
Beneath the traditional rhetoric of international adoption as save-the-children altruism lies the undeniable influence of basic economics. Framing international adoption in economic terms allows us to deconstruct the various forces that drive it and contribute to its corruption.