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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: September 2018

Chapter VII - Crime in the Intercountry Adoption Industry: Towards a Broader Definition of Child Trafficking




In Western countries, the demand for adoptable children, especially healthy infants, has been considerably high for several years. Rising infertility rates, liberal abortion politics, the widespread use of contraception, and the increasing acceptance of unmarried motherhood are factors that have decreased the number of infants available for domestic adoption in the United States, Canada and Europe. As a consequence, numerous involuntarily childless couples and individuals turn to intercountry adoption as viable alternative to have a child of their own. However, the continuing demand for children far outpaces the supply of orphans with the desired characteristics.

The imbalance between the number of prospective adopters and the children available for international adoption results in long waiting lists and high prices. The inordinate sums of money involved in the intercountry adoption system have created a commercial ‘underbelly’ where unethical and illicit practices are employed to provide the intercountry adoption market with adoptable children. Thus, children that are not in need of a home or that could have been properly cared for in their native countries are being placed internationally to meet the growing demand for intercountry adoptions.

Despite numerous well-documented adoption scandals, many promoters of intercountry adoption deny the widespread existence of the system's underbelly. They perceive that illicit adoption practices occur only rarely and consider decisions by sending countries to restrict or ban intercountry adoptions as ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. Even those who acknowledge the considerable evidence of illegal adoption practices downplay the profound harm inflicted upon the children, their birth parents as well as the local welfare systems. They argue that the positive aspects of intercountry adoption clearly outweigh any illegal adoption activities.

This article claims that purchasing, abducting and selling children for the purpose of adoption is a serious crime and seeks to explain why the issue and its harmful consequences is being denied by the international legal community, by scholars and the wider public. For this purpose, Henry and Lanier's ‘prism of crime’ is applied to illustrate the dimensions of the intercountry adoption system's underbelly.