Corruption In International Adoption – What Does That Really Mean?


We often hear that an international adoption program was closed because of corruption. We have also heard of international adoption agencies being investigated for corruption. Corruption is a scary word to many and especially prospective adoptive parents. Adoption professionals/advocates, government officials, and adoption agencies from Indiana and across the U.S. have been battling corruption in international adoption. While I know that no person, professional, adoption agency or government is all-knowing or perfect, the ultimate goal is ethical and safe international adoptions in the best interest of the child.

Corruption in international adoption typically comes in the following ways:

  • Governmental officials request bribes as an incentive to place a child for adoption;
  • Orphanage officials request bribes as an incentive to place a child for adoption;
  • Birth Family requests monies as an incentive to place a child for adoption;
  • Adoption facilitator/professional accepting monies and not completing work;
  • Adoption facilitator/professional accepting monies for an adoption that is fraudulent; and
  • Adoption "worker" coerces birth family to sign Consents under false pretenses.

While there are various other problems with paperwork and the international adoption process, the above is the most typical corruption observed in the international adoption field. There have been extreme situations of adoption agencies/facilitators creating false stories of available children or stealing/kidnapping children from families, these are rare yet still unconscionable.

I have followed cases of adoption fraud, coercion, and improper incentives to better understand the pitfalls and problems when dealing with numerous government officials and diverse cultures. I often find that the intent of a gift, money, or other item of value can be of importance in determining corruption. If the item of value is to be an incentive for a placement or specific child’s adoption, then it is deemed corruption. This can be a difficult line to draw and staying extremely strict/conservative on this matter is likely the best approach.

When attempting to equate cultural differences and acceptable practices in the U.S. on adoption matters, it is important to understand that the laws on international adoption are even more strict than most domestic U.S. adoption laws/procedures in an effort to avoid exploitation. For example, in the U.S. it is acceptable in most states to provide the birth family (mother) with reasonable living expenses (some states provide specifics on amount or proof of expenses). However, this practice is much more strict and/or forbidden in the international adoption field.

In the U.S it is often acceptable to pay for an expediting of a government document/certification (passport). However, in the international adoption process, paying for expediting may be a practice that an adoption professional needs to examine to be sure it is ethical.

In the U.S. a gift to a government official during business may seem to be an incentive or inappropriate but in another country it could be considered rude to arrive to a business meeting without some type of gift of "goodwill". I found it delightful that many of my foreign student at Indiana University School of Law brought me gifts on the first and last day of class. While the U.S. students found it to be strange or inappropriate, I knew that the cultural differences translated otherwise. It would have been in their culture inappropriate for the foreign student not to bring his/her professor a gift on the first day of class.

While I know that it is extremely difficult for international adoption agencies to know every action taking place across the globe, it is important to make all efforts to supervise staff and providers in the foreign country. Whether you are adopting from Bulgaria or adopting from Africa; efforts must be made to train your staff/providers and keep in good communication. MLJ Adoption’s program in Samoa has been open for two years and despite expense and the four days for travel, four of our MLJ domestic staff have traveled there and we’ve had two of our Samoan staff visit us in Indiana. This is important for communication especially in a new pilot program due to the many unknowns.

Often I see blogs, groups, comments that talk about the big business or excessive money agencies or attorneys are taking for international adoption. While I agree that international adoption is expensive and I wish it were not, I encourage you to read the article on the expenses of adoption to better understand the issue. I find that most agencies are charging appropriate fees for professional adoption services.

I commend all international adoption service providers. I know that the process is hard enough but understanding and preventing corruption creates additional risk to you and your agency. I commend adoption professionals for taking on the many risks and liabilities in an effort o find homes for orphans.

Photo Credit: Stuart Miles

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MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.