International adoptions plummet globally

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Dilworth, the U.S. adoptions official, says the economic downturn is at least partly to blame, with foreign adoptions typically costing between $20,000 to $40,000.

But the U.S. freezes on adoptions from some countries also are curtailing the supply.

Guatemala used to provide up to 4,000 children a year for international adoption at its peak in 2006. But the U.S. will not accept further adoptions from the country until it has fully revamped its system to root out corruption, Dilworth says.

“They have incredible problems with fraud,” she says.

In one recent high-profile case, a Guatemalan court ruled that an American family must return their 7-year-old adopted daughter to her birth mother after it was discovered that the girl was allegedly snatched from in front of her house five years ago. The child remains in the U.S.

Other countries that have seen large drops in the adoption of foreign babies include Spain and France, which fell 48 percent and 14 percent, respectively, from 2004 to 2010. Canada remained the same and Italy actually saw a 21 percent increase during that period, according to Selman, who analyzed data from 23 countries that are primary receivers of adopted orphans.

Last year’s 25,000 adoptions globally were the lowest amount since 1996, Selman said.

The global numbers could decline further as South Korea, one of the top providers of orphans for foreign adoption, works to phase out its long-running program.

Since the 1950s, it has sent more than 170,000 children abroad, with the majority ending up in the United States. Despite having one of the world’s fast-growing economies, and growing domestic concern about falling birth rates that are already among the world’s lowest, it continues to rank as a top sending county. Experts blame this on a strong cultural stigma against both unwed Korean women who give birth and couples who adopt.

But pressure has been mounting for years for the government to abandon the program. In recent years, lawmakers have created new incentives to help promote domestic adoption, while quotas have allowed fewer children to leave.

If the decline in global adoptions is to be reversed, says Selman, the source is likely to be Africa, where Ethiopia has emerged in recent years as a top source of orphans available for foreign adoption. It’s unclear whether other African countries will follow.

“If it’s going to go up, it’ll be from Africa,” he says. “It could be that they set their pace against adoption, and that could have a profound effect.”

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Romina Ruiz in Guatemala City contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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