The Orphan Manufacturing Chain

Who wants to buy a baby? Certainly not most people who try to adopt internationally. And yet too often that's how their dollars and euros are being used.

The idea that the developing world has millions of healthy infants and toddlers in need of new homes is a myth. In poor countries as in rich ones, healthy babies are rarely abandoned or relinquished -- except in China, with its one-child policy. The vast majority of children who need adoption are older, sick, disabled or traumatized. But most Westerners waiting in line are looking for healthy infants or toddlers to take home.

The result is a gap between supply and demand -- a gap that can be closed by Western money. In some countries, Western cash has induced locals to buy or kidnap children or defraud or coerce their families into giving them up, strip the children of their identities and transform them into orphans for Western adoption. In 2008, Vietnam stopped adoptions to the United States because of these concerns. A cable from the U.S. embassy in Vietnam, recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, said that, "while there are legitimate orphans in Vietnam, the corruption in the adoption process has become so widespread that [the embassy] believes that there is fraud in the overwhelming majority of cases of infants offered for international adoption."

Last year, the United States finally implemented the Hague Adoption Convention, a 1993 treaty designed to address these problems. But the regulations apply only to adoptions from countries that have also signed the treaty.

Of course, not every internationally adopted child has been purchased or kidnapped. But when the orphan manufacturing chain gets going, it generally works like the one below. For more information, visit .

- E.J. Graff, associate director and senior researcher at Brandeis University's Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism

are born to families in countries such as Cambodia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Nepal and Vietnam.
The Money
The orphan manufacturing chain puts a price tag on something priceless: human life.
Child finders,
including orphanage workers, nurses, police officers, village officials and taxi drivers, trick families into selling their children or kidnap the children outright.
Child finders, promising that they’ll see their children again, may offer families “assistance” worth $50-$300 — or kidnap the children and pay nothing.
In-country facilitators,
who may be orphanage directors, lawyers or freelancers, purchase babies from the child finders and bribe government officials for clean identity papers.
In-country facilitators pay child finders as much as $300-$6,000, or the equivalent of a year's middle-class salary in many countries, for each healthy baby or toddler.
Government officials
sign false documents certifying that the children are orphans.
Corrupt officials can rake in enormous sums from in-country facilitators for each set of documents.
U.S. adoption agencies
pay in-country facilitators to refer them to healthy infants or toddlers. They do not guarantee the veracity of the children's papers.
Adoption agencies may pay $10,000- $30,000, or up to 10 times the local per capita income, for each referral.
seeking to adopt submit these papers, often not realizing that their legal burden is to prove that the child is an orphan as defined by the United States.
Parents pay adoption agencies $200-$1,500 in application fees, $1,500-$6,000 in “country fees” and $10,000-$25,000 for completed adoptions.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
investigates the child’s orphan status if it suspects fraud but deals only with the prospective parents in approving or denying these applications.
Grateful adoptive parents often make generous donations to orphanages in their adoptees’ birth countries — the same orphanages that, in some cases, helped place the children in the orphan manufacturing chain. Parents who appeal rejections can pay more than $10,000 in legal fees.
Adoptive parents
bring home a manufactured orphan.
Those who are rejected
may appeal. Some prospective parents abandon their efforts, with little chance of a refund, or start over — if they can afford it.


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