International Adoption and Child Trafficking

The process by which children are adopted, taken across international borders, and given citizenship through the adoption process is called International Adoption, and sometimes, Intercountry Adoption. It first started in North America primarily as a response to the devastation following World War II. As a more global phenomenon, it has proliferated since then. 

International Adoption Child Trafficking

In 1995, a couple from Oregon named Henry Holt and Bertha Holt secured a special act of Congress that enables them to adopt Korean War orphans. These children had been stigmatized and abandoned because of their visible ethnic differences. The couple later founded the first organization dedicated to large-scale international adoption, Holt International Children’s Services, which still exists today. In a matter of two decades, rates of international adoption began to climb as Western birth rates began dropping. Such a climb increased dramatically after 1992 when China opened its orphanages and allowed Westerners to adopt some of the thousands of daughters abandoned because of the country’s one-child policy. 

The horrifying reality that later on constantly challenges the original intents of international adoption is human trafficking or the exploitation of individuals that have been purchased or coerced to perform manual labor and sexual activities. Even when there are laws and regulations for international adoptions, the problem has continued to flourish as some adoption agencies continue to skirt them. In India, for example, children who are subjects for adoptions were called manufactured orphans due to the fact that a racket called ‘kidnap for adoption’ was reported in 2016 wherein an adoption agency pleaded guilty of stealing infants from marginalized families.

The effective beginnings and spread of international adoption in the aftermath of wars gave birth to the “nation’s experience turned into a mission,” which faces a lot of controversies today as it has been challenged with the astounding painful reality of human trafficking occurring worldwide. Perhaps, one might like to address it now as ‘mission turned into a business.’ Below is a sneak peek of what it is like when adoption practices get fueled by human trafficking.

What to Know About the International Adoption Process

International Adoption Child Trafficking

Major sending and receiving countries

The first countries ever recorded as main countries of origin are Russia, China, Korea, Guatemala, and Vietnam. In 2018, the most recent top sending countries are China, India, Ukraine, Colombia, South Korea, and Haiti. According to studies, the top 10 receiving countries, ranked from large to small, are the United States, Spain, France, Italy, Canada, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Australia. Among these countries, the top 5 accounts for more than 80% of overall adoption, while the U.S. is responsible for around 50% of all cases. 

What to Know about Human Trafficking

In a nutshell

The mere act of moving a child from one country to another is not enough to define human trafficking. The Trafficking Protocol of 2000 established an international definition for human trafficking. The definition consists of three elements: action, means, and purpose.


In human trafficking, the actual action is required. The list of potential actions includes “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons.” There is no doubt that international adoption meets this requirement since a child is always at the very least transported or transferred from the care of one set of adults in one state to adults another in another state.


The second element applies to the means, generally described as fraud, force, or coercion. If these means are involved in the adoption process, there is no question that human trafficking exists.


The action must occur with the purpose of exploitation as in “Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” When considering adoption practices, the purpose is always the one most questioned. Any adoption that occurs with one of the purposes mentioned could probably be considered trafficking. 

Human Trafficking through the Adoption Process: A Business!

In a nutshell

This process begins when recruiters gain physical custody of children through various means. Then, children are often taken to orphanages, which arrange the adoptions, where they are sometimes severely mistreated. Finally, after a forgery of documents to falsify a child’s identity, the child is sent to the West to be united with his or her adoptive parents.

Who are involved?

There is a complex hierarchy within the child trafficking business, which includes governments, orphanages, intermediaries, birth families, and adoptive families. While most of these participants are familiar and self-explanatory, intermediaries are those whose job is to locate extremely impoverished parents. Those who may be willing to hand over their children out of necessity.

Below are instances showing manipulation:

1. Extremely impoverished parents temporarily put their children in orphanages. They are hoping that the community will provide their children with care, housing, and food. It’s only up until the parents are in a more favorable economic situation to take care of the children themselves. Thus, parents may have no intention to renounce their custody or abandon their children.

However, these institutions may take advantage of the child and family’s vulnerability. They may illegally profit by making the child available to overseas adoption, netting orphanage owners thousands of dollars per child.

International Adoption Child Trafficking

2. Children who are separated from their families are labeled as orphans without making an effort to locate their family members. Some orphanages then capitalize on this by putting the child up for adoption.

3. Some orphans are acquired by outrightly purchasing them. Intermediaries, like recruiters, seek out poor women- those who are pregnant out of wedlock, those who are raped, or those who were knocked up at a very young age.

4. Intermediaries make the parents believe that their children will be provided with a better future by the adoptive parents. Also, that the adoptive parents will constantly give them financial support as gratitude.

5. Birth parents are lured with the idea that they will have constant communication with their children. Also, they are given false hopes that they will eventually get to live with their children abroad.

In an effort to protect those who are involved from these corruptions, abuses, and exploitation brought about by human trafficking in international adoptions, the Hague Adoption Convention was created. The preamble to the Convention states that “International adoptions shall be made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights and to prevent the abduction of, the sale of, or traffic in children and each State should take, as a matter of priority, appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin.”

The Hague Adoption Convention

It is an international treaty that provides important safeguards to protect the best interests of orphaned children, birth parents, and adoptive parents who are involved in international adoptions.

Below are important highlights of the Hague Adoption Convention:

1. By “convention,” it does not refer to the gathering of individuals as in a seminar. Rather, it is an established agreement among countries all over the world.

2. It aims to protect the child. It exists to establish a set of standards and best practices for safe and promising international adoptions.

International Adoption Child Trafficking

3. It allows adoptive families access to better information as it mandates sending countries to provide documents regarding the medical and social background of children who are processed for adoption.

4. It is legal. Countries that signed the treaty agree to have all adoption agencies and processes governed by one central authority.

In the United States, the Hague Adoption Convention process includes:

1. Choosing a Hague Accredited Adoption Service Provider (ASP) and perhaps also an immigration attorney

2. Obtaining a home study from someone authorized to complete a Hague adoption home study

3. Applying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before adopting a child or accepting a placement for a determination that one is suitable for international adoption

4. Working with the adoption service provider to obtain a proposed adoption placement once the USCIS approves the application

5. Filing a petition with USCIS, before adopting the child, to ascertain the child’s eligibility to immigrate to the United States based on the proposed adoption

6. Adopting the child, or obtaining custody of the child in order to adopt the child in the United States

7. Obtaining an immigrant visa for the child

8. Bringing the child to the United States for admission with the visa

Related Questions

Does the Hague Adoption Convention apply to all? 

Originally, only 88 countries all over the world signed the treaty. As of March 2019, the Convention has been ratified by 99 states. South Korea, Nepal, and Russia have signed but not ratified it. Many countries that have not ratified the Convention do not permit foreign adoptions of their children nor adoptions of foreign children.

What are the preparations intended for the welfare of those who are involved in the adoption process? 

At least ten hours of adoption training, as well as preparation for parents, should be provided by accredited adoption agencies under the Convention. The adoptive parents should complete the training before traveling to adopt the child, or before the child is placed in their custody. The goal of the adoptive parent training is to guarantee a successful adoption by explaining attachment issues, developmental and medical issues, and the overall international adoption process. This is to make sure that both the adoptive parents and adoptees will be able to handle the cultural shock and emotional dilemma that might occur when the adoption takes effect.

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Eni Gordove

is a freelance writer who has a degree in Bachelor of Arts major in Political Science. She has also taken Bachelor of Laws, making her adept in domestic and international adoption regulations and processes.

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