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Big Business In Babies: Adoption,
The Child Commodities Market

By Mirah Riben

25 April, 2007

Adoption was once a process by which the community took responsibility for orphans. Increased access to birth control pills and legal abortion, and a lessening of the stigma of single parenting, coupled with an increase in infertility resulted in a demand for babies that outstrips the “supply.” And where there is demand – be it for diamonds, drugs, sex, or babies – corruption follows.

Adoption is racist. The scarcity of “white American-born babies” has led to an increase in international adoptions, fracturing family ties and heritage in what some are calling cultural genocide. Madonna was criticized. Angelina confounds. Westerners, however, continue to believe that adoption “rescues” orphans; though saving children from poverty, one at a time, does nothing to ameliorate the conditions that continue to produce them. And, many so-called orphans are in fact stolen, kidnapped, or their parents were coerced to relinquish them under false pretenses to be sold on the black and gray adoption markets with prices set by age, alleged health, skin color, gender and nationality.

As Americans import mostly light-skinned babies, non-white children are left behind, and the number of black, American-born babies adopted by overseas families has increased significantly in recent years, with black babies being placed with Canadian couples more than ever before. Adoption trends follow poverty and sociopolitical upheaval from Latin America to Asia and Eastern Europe. Since the 1990s, China and Russia have become the largest exporters of children for international adoption. Unrest and poverty in these nations makes them ripe for corruption and trafficking. In April 2007, the U.S. State Department confirmed that Guatemalan babies are kidnapped for adoption and other mothers pressured to sell their babies by corrupt, inadequately supervised notaries. The previous month, a Utah adoption agency was indicted for “systematically misleading birth parents in Samoa into signing away rights to their children while telling adoptive parents in the United States that the children had been abandoned and were orphans” (“Pacific Islands Report: Utah Agency Indicted In Samoa Adoption Scam,” March 5, 2007 All of this while UNICEF is investigating child trafficking and babies being sold for adoption in Nepal (Nepal: Unicef On Inter-Country Adoption

As abuses are exposed, countries are restricting out-of-country adoption of their children. According to Ethica, a nonprofit adoption advocacy organization, 13 countries have suspended or ended their adoption programs in the past 15 years and four more countries temporarily stopped adoptions to investigate allegations of corruption or child trafficking. The U.S. passage of the 2005 Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act verified recognition of international adoption providing an incentive for child trafficking. Yet, ethnocentricity and a national policy of spreading democracy and the American way of life to the world, combined with a desire to parent, continues the romanticized “rescue” myth.

Free enterprise in America is a breeding ground for adoption scams, exploitation and coercion as infant adoptions have become a multi-billion dollar privatized, entrepreneurial industry. The patchwork of laws that vary from state to state create a playground for unscrupulous attorneys—some working in conjunction with facilitators, procurers, or “match-makers” placing ads to lure those in crisis. Unethical adoption attorneys, such as Maxine Buckmeier, Seymour Kurtz and others, are masters at using legal loopholes to their advantage. They set up shop in one state, advertise in another, send expectant mothers to another state and finalize the adoption in yet another. They isolate expectant mothers from their families and create a dependent bond with them by having prospective adopters pay their living and medical expenses and virtually hold them hostage, blackmailing them to relinquish or pay back those expenses.

Randall B. Hicks, an adoption attorney in Riverside, California, and author of Adopting in America, said facilitators are “not licensed nor trained to do anything.” Along with physicians and attorneys—with no training in child welfare or adoption—others such as a Artie Elgart, former car parts salesman and Ellen Roseman, a former flight attendant arrange the transfer of custody of our most vulnerable citizens.

According to Ann Babb author of Ethics in American Adoption there is “no professional association or academics, no certification or licensing procedures, no professional recognition as adoption specialists, and no training or educational qualifications.” Adoption “[p]rofessionals have yet to develop uniform ethical standards… or to make meaningful attempts to monitor their own profession,” says Babb. “In other professions and occupations, licensing or certification in a specialty must be earned before an individual can offer expert services in an area. The certified manicurist may not give facials; the certified hair stylist may not offer manicures ….Yet…individuals with professions as different as social work and law, marriage and family therapy, and medicine may call themselves ‘adoption professionals.’”

Alex Valdez Jr., spokesman for the California Department of Social Services, said, “Essentially, [adoption facilitators] are required to have a business license, publish a list of their services, and [have a] $10,000 bond before they hang a shingle.” These untrained facilitators receive $6,000 to $20,000 often just to introduce prospective adopters to an expectant mother who may or may not decide to surrender her child for adoption. If a match fails, a facilitator can bring the same expectant or new mom to another couple and collect yet again, making adoption risky business for all of the parties involved—the mothers who have their parental rights irrevocably relinquished, those attempting to adopt, as well as the children whose custody is being permanently transferred. Adoption practitioners being paid for results leads to slip-shod home studies that have put many adopted children in serious danger. Since 1996 more than a dozen children adopted from Russia by Americans have been killed by their adopters. Others adopted from Russia and elsewhere have been physically and sexually abused, caged, starved, and criminally neglected. At least two such children were adopted by pedophiles for the specific purpose of rape and child pornography.
Adoption, which was a means of providing care for children who needed it, has become a perverse business of providing children for those who feel entitled to one. Consumerism has led many westerners, particularly Americans, to believe that if they can afford “it” they deserve to have “it”—even when “it” is a human child. Adoption needs to return to basics. We need to halt profiteering from what should be a social service to protect families and children in need. Adoption can only guarantee a different life, not necessarily a “better” one. Adoption moves children from lower to higher socio-economic status, yet even when a child is adopted into a loving, caring family who may provide a more prosperous lifestyle—the end result does not justify the means if the child was kidnapped, stolen or their mothers coerced, deceived or exploited. Adoptions that obliterate a person’s original identity and leave him no legal access to his family are a risk and a violation of human rights as expressed by UNICEF.

All adoptions are not the happily-ever-after fairy tales we’d like them to be. Many are sad and sordid. For this reason we need to stop promoting “adoption” without distinguishing between those that are necessary and in the best interest of children and are handled ethically—from those which are not. The former deserves support; the latter needs to be exposed and ended. We need to stop glamorizing foreign adoption as a rescue mission but recognize that every international adoption leaves behind half a million children in U.S. foster care. Of those, 134,000 children cannot be reclaimed by family members. Adoptions of such children only are worthy of promoting and financial aiding in the form of taxes and other incentives and benefits. Monies paid to non-relative foster parents would be better spent to preserve, maintain and protect the integrity of families in need, including aid to grandparents and other extended family members struggling to keep families intact. Additionally,, the U.S. ought to consider a tax on international adoptions with funds used to support families and children in the U.S. in crisis.

Adoption needs to be far more transparent, open, honest and regulated to ensure it serves the best interest of those it is intended to serve.

Mirah Riben, author of shedding light on…the Dark Side of Adoption (1988) and The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry (, 2007); former director-at-large, America Adoption Congress.

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