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A Q&A with Ingi Iusmen on international adoption

In recognition of Adoption Month, we interviewed two scholars, Peter Hayes and Ingi Iusmen, about intercountry adoption (ICA) to raise awareness of some of the complexities presented by intercountry adoption. Today, we present a brief Q&A with Dr. Ingi Iusmen, Lecturer in Governance and Policy at the University of Southampton and author of “The EU and International Adoption from Romania” in the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family.

Where is independent, intercountry adoption (ICA) legal?

Private international adoption occurs outside the legal framework of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (1993) as in those countries where the Convention has been implemented, private adoption is forbidden. Private adoption entails that the adoptive parents are responsible for arranging the adoption directly with the child’s country of origin, according to the legislation of that country. For instance, countries such as Haiti, Republic of Korea, or Nepal have signed but have not yet ratified the Hague Convention, therefore, in theory, private international adoption is legal in these countries.

Why has ICA become an increasingly contentious issue?

There are a number of reasons which make ICA a contentious legal and political matter. Legally, some countries and political actors don’t interpret the provisions in the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in conjunction with the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Whilst the ‘best interests of the child’ have to be prioritised — by both conventions — whenever a decision on a child’s international adoption has to be taken, the UN Convention also highlights the need for any childcare solution to preserve the cultural identity of the child (Article 20). To this end, in-country childcare solutions have been prioritised over international solutions, such as international adoption. Politically and demographically, we witness a general trend of Western families who tend to adopt children from poor or developing countries due to the drop in birth rate in the West. Sometimes, these children are, indeed, orphans and their adoption by Western families seems to be the best childcare solution available to them. Yet, most often the children in developing countries end up in institutions due to their families’ poverty and not due to being orphans, and, in these circumstances, their international adoption violates international provisions in this area, according to which the state has to support a child’s biological family not to abandon the child. Finally, poorly regulated or unregulated cases of intercountry adoption have often been associated with child trafficking, particularly where post-accession monitoring mechanisms are lacking and there are no means to trace what happened to the child after he/she has been adopted internationally.

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In what ways is ICA both being extended and restricted?

I think that ICA has been extended recently due to the declining birth rates in the West and the public’s perception that there are many children in need of a family in the poorer countries. This explains why most of the Western countries are the receiving countries in relation to international adoption. Of course, international adoptions can become more restricted whenever issues such as child trafficking and corruption come into play. The restriction of ICA can also be an upshot of a reformed system of child protection and children’s rights legislation – as was the case in Romania during EU accession negotiations – which prioritise in-country childcare solutions and target child abandonment. At the same time, ICA can be restricted due to a better regulated international system of ICA, whereby the abuses and irregularities contained in the practice of ICA are prevented from occurring in the first place.

What are some of the factors which shaped the European Union’s changing policy on ICA in relation to Romania?

A number of factors have shaped the EU’s position on ICA in relation to Romania after 2007. First, the Union institutions provide easy access to various interest groups and actors which try to influence the EU’s policy process. In the Romanian case, given the ban on ICA (with few exceptions) provided by the Romanian legislation post-2007, various adoption agencies and NGOs have lobbied EU institutions demanding that the Romanian government relaxed its policy on international adoptions. Therefore, it can be argued that some of the EU institutions were receptive to this pro-adoption lobby. At the same time, the Union has recently developed a child rights policy and role, which of course, could be extended to international adoptions as well. In other words, some of the EU institutions, such as the Parliament, justified their pro-ICA position by connecting it to the EU’s child rights agenda, which, indeed, has become more developed lately. Finally, sensitive media reports of cases of child abuse in care institutions in Romania provided pro-ICA actors and the European institutions with the justification for their demands that the Romanian government relax the legislation on ICA

What does Adoption Month mean to a scholar of ICA policy?

Perhaps this month can bring into the spotlight and raise public awareness of what international adoption involves and how it can impact, both negatively and positively, on the protection of children’s rights and particularly on children’s lives. Often the views on ICA seem to fall into two opposing camps, namely those who support ICA and those who oppose it; however, in reality, the situation of children who need a family is more nuanced, and hence complex…Therefore, I hope that the Adoption Month can raise awareness of not only the legal and policy frameworks regulating the practice of ICA, but also of the specific circumstances of children and their families whose lives are fundamentally affected by the decision to allow for a child to be adopted internationally.

Dr Ingi Iusmen is a Lecturer in Governance and Policy at the University of Southampton. She has conducted research on the EU’s human rights policy and regime, Eastern enlargement, children’s rights and child protection in Romania and the EU’s children’s rights policy. She is the author of “The EU and International Adoption from Romania” (available to read for free for a limited time) in the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family.

The subject matter of the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family comprises the following: analyses of the law relating to the family which carry an interest beyond the jurisdiction dealt with, or which are of a comparative nature; theoretical analyses of family law; sociological literature concerning the family and legal policy; social policy literature of special interest to law and the family; and literature in related disciplines (medicine, psychology, demography) of special relevance to family law and research findings in the above areas.

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Image credit: Three little girls holding hands and running. © ktaylorg via iStockphoto.

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