International adoption rates are at their lowest point since 1982, according to an annual report by the US State Department.
In the past decade alone, international adoptions have fallen by more than 70 percent — from 22,991 in 2004 to 6,441 in 2014. Some parents appear to have shifted toward domestic adoption in the same time period. Adoptions out of foster care in the United States, for example, have risen from 11.9 percent in 2008 to 13.1 percent in 2012.
There's no single reason for the sharp decline. The causes are complex: domestic and international policies — some of which directly target the US — have attempted to reform what has been a dangerously unregulated system. Here are three of the key reasons driving the changes.
1) New international laws more tightly regulate adoptions
In 2008, the US joined the Hague Convention on Adoption, which sets global standards for international adoptions. Originally formed in 1993, the convention includes a list of 106 countries cleared for adoption in an effort to prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children due to inter-country adoption.
Under the Hague rules, member countries must establish a central authority to improve communication and consistency in the adoption process. In the US, the State Department serves as that authority.
In order to guarantee transparent and ethical practices, American adoption service providers also need to be accredited on a national level to facilitate adoptions from Convention countries.
For the adoption agencies, that means undergoing a formal evaluation of their standards and practices.
Some critics say the Hague Convention has failed in its original intention, making it too difficult to get kids in need of adoption into homes abroad.
Harvard Law School's Elizabeth Bartholet has argued that the Convention has "functioned primarily to prevent children from getting the homes they need because it has been responsible for shutting down rather than opening up international adoption opportunities."
2) Some of the most popular countries for American adoption are now off-limits
Americans are still restricted from adopting from some countries that are signed on to the Hague conventions — including Guatemala, Vietnam, and Cambodia — due to suspicions of corruption in their adoption practices. And previously, these tended to be some of the countries where Americans would adopt the most.
Before the US joined the Hague Convention in 2008, Guatemala was the top site for American adoptions. Due to high demand and hefty processing fees, adoption became a lucrative business in Guatemala, where 53.7 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, according to World Bank estimates.
Following high-profile media coverage of adoption fraud — including at the popular adoption agency Casa Quivira, where 46 babies were seized by the Guatemalan government after the group was charged with child abduction — Guatemala shut the door on adoptions to the US.
3) Policies abroad have restricted adoption opportunities in recent years
New laws in China and Russia, two other popular countries for adoptions, have contributed to the drop.
In 2012, a new Russian law began prohibiting Americans from adopting. The Dima Yakovlev Law was named after an adopted Russian child who died when his American father left him in an overheated car. Some saw the law as a reaction to a US law signed a few weeks before that banned certain Russian officials charged with human rights abuses from the country.
Since 2000, Russia had consistently been among the top three most popular countries for US adoption. Adoptions fell to 0 by 2014.
In China, a series of financial, educational, age, and health requirements have been put in place for foreign adoption. Any prospective adoptive parents with AIDS, facial deformations, schizophrenia, or obesity can be disqualified.
While primarily intended to guarantee the health and safety of Chinese adoptees, the policies are also intended to quell overwhelming foreign demand.