Sun, Jun 08, 2008 - Page 9 News List

International adoptions slow amid tightened rules, scandals

For Americans, adopting a foreign child has become a much more tortuous process amid a recent spate of child trafficking scandals in countries that send large numbers of orphans to the US, tightened international rules and a shift by many countries toward more domestic adoptions

by Mireya Navarro  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

John and Julie Casserly, both lawyers in St. Paul, have been waiting 11 months to complete the adoption of a Guatemalan girl whom they have named Ruby Rosario. But they say they are afraid to check e-mail messages or answer the phone. It’s always some update from their adoption agency regarding the latest suspension of the process or some other bad news.

In 2005, when they set out to adopt a Guatemalan baby boy, the couple faced the usual jitters, not to mention mounds of paperwork. But none of that stress, the couple said, compares with what they are going through now.

For the first adoption, “It was a matter of when,” said Julie Casserly, 37. “This time, it is a matter of ‘if.’”

Adoption experts say that international adoptions have become more tortuous to pursue. There have been child trafficking scandals in countries that send large numbers of children to adoptive families in the US, tightened rules under an international treaty that took effect in April in the US, and a shift by many countries, including China, Russia and South Korea, toward more domestic adoptions.

Adoptions, even those already in process like the Casserlys’ — have been temporarily shut down in Guatemala as the country tries to clean up a system controlled by private brokers, many of whom had been accused of selling babies.

“It’s a consequence of the world paying attention to international adoptions in a way it never did before,” Adam Pertman, the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and advocacy organization, said of the situation. “Now it’s a highly observed process.”

The world began watching as international adoptions more than tripled from early 1990, reaching as many as 22,884 in 2004 in the US, which registers more international adoptions than all other countries combined. But the number of such adoptions has steadily decreased over the last three years, to 19,400 last year, and adoption experts expect the decline to continue for several years.

“The days of China sending 7,000 kids into the United States are long gone,” said Chuck Johnson, vice president for training and agency services for the National Council for Adoption in Alexandria, Virginia. “We’ve had to work so hard to get 19,000, but countries are making it harder to adopt these children.”

A major change in the adoption landscape is the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, a treaty involving more than 70 countries and recently signed by the US. It establishes new accreditation requirements for adoption agencies and protections against child trafficking. Many in the adoption field expect the treaty to stop the commercial industry that boomed in many countries as demand for international adoptions rose. Ultimately, the regulations are expected to benefit the children and those wanting to adopt them.

But while the number of adoptions may bounce back up eventually, many prospective parents are caught in the turmoil now, even though they were already far enough along into the adoption process to have purchased bigger homes, swing sets and children’s clothes.

Jennifer and Lloyd Komatsu of St. Paul, Minnesota, started their paperwork for an adoption in Vietnam in 2006. They now fear the loss of a child after a two-year, emotionally wrenching process.

Vietnam stopped accepting adoption applications this year after an investigation by the US embassy found many cases in which mostly poor birth parents had been paid or deceived into placing their children in orphanages.

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