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Like Madonna, More and More Americans Turn to Foreign Adoptions

The State Department approved almost 23,000 immigrant visas for foreign adopted children last year, up from 8,000 in 1989. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.


And I’m Steve Ember. This week -- a report on the growing number of Americans who adopt children from other countries.



Madonna, as you might have heard, is in the process of adopting a baby from Malawi. The one-year-old boy named David was flown last month to London. The American pop music star and her husband have a home there. Madonna is married to film director Guy Ritchie and is the biological mother of two children.

David’s mother died soon after giving birth. His father, Yohane Banda, a farmer, said he could not care for the baby. So Mister Banda placed David in an orphanage.

Madonna recently gave millions of dollars to support efforts to help orphans in Malawi. The southern African country is one of the poorest nations in the world.


Madonna says she wants to give David a better life. But some people criticized her for adopting a child whose father is still alive, even if the father did agree to it. And some child psychologists and social workers said children do best if they are well cared for in their own homeland.

The adoption is not yet final. The Lilongwe High Court gave Madonna and her husband temporary custody of David on October twelfth. The court order is for eighteen months. During that period a social worker will report on how the boy is being cared for.

A committee of sixty-seven human rights groups in Malawi argued that adoption laws there normally bar international adoptions. The committee has brought a legal action to make sure Madonna did not receive special treatment.

Madonna says she did not. And she has supporters. They include Jane Aronson, an influential expert on adoptions and head of the World Orphans Foundation. She says Madonna is offering David a new life.


Most people who adopt children from other countries are not famous. They are people like Miriam and John Baxter of Bethesda, Maryland. The Baxters have a biological daughter named Olivia. Olivia was almost eight when her new brother, Matthew, arrived. The Baxters adopted Matthew from an orphanage in South Korea.

They had thought about adopting a baby from China. But their plans changed five years ago after the World Trade Center attack in New York. A nearby office where they needed to get a document to satisfy Chinese adoption requirements was closed temporarily.

Waiting for the office to re-open would have delayed the process another month. And the Baxters already faced a year of waiting.

Then they learned that it might be faster to try to adopt a child from South Korea. Miriam Baxter has a brother and sister who were adopted from there. And, in her words, "we wanted the child so much, we just could not wait any longer."

Matthew is five now. He was seven months old when his new parents brought him home.



There are many older children in the United States who could be adopted. Finding permanent homes for them is difficult, especially if they have physical or emotional problems. People who want to adopt usually want a child who is healthy and very young.

But the number of children given up for adoption in America has decreased sharply. In nineteen seventy-three, the Supreme Court ruled that women have a right to end unwanted pregnancies. Also, more unmarried mothers are keeping their babies than in the past.

So, for more and more Americans looking to adopt, the answer is to look in another country. The State Department approved immigrant visas for eight thousand foreign adopted children in nineteen eighty-nine. By last year the number was almost twenty-three thousand.

The Census Bureau says two and a half percent of all children in the United States are adopted. Of those, about thirteen percent are foreign-born.


Immigration reports show that last year, the largest numbers of adopted foreign children came from China and Russia. Americans adopted almost eight thousand children from China last year. Many children also came from Guatemala and South Korea.

In the past, Americans could adopt Romanian children. But now Romania bars most foreign adoptions.


Years ago, few unmarried Americans or couples older than about forty adopted babies. Today, it is much more common for single people to adopt. The same is true of older married couples and older singles. Some couples of the same sex also adopt children.

Adoption laws differ from state to state. People who want to adopt must show they can provide a safe and loving home. But sometimes they have to wait years until an adoption agency can find a child for them.

So they might seek a private adoption -- for example, by paying a woman to have a baby for them.

By some estimates, the average cost of an adoption is less than twenty thousand dollars. But some parents pay a lot more. Foreign adoptions can also be costly. For example, to adopt a Russian child can cost more than thirty thousand dollars.



Many adoption agencies in the United States handle foreign adoptions. For parents, the easiest adoptions often involve what is called direct relinquishment. This means the biological parents might be dead. Or they might have already surrendered their child to an orphanage.

But, like many other adoptions, international adoptions take time -- in some cases, many months. Adoption agencies and the State Department have a number of requirements for people who want to adopt a foreign child.

The prospective parents must prove they are in good health and able to financially support a child. Officials also look for criminal records. And a social worker visits the home, to make sure the home and family will be good for the child.


In addition, prospective parents must meet any requirements of foreign adoption agencies and governments.

For example, many foreign adoption centers require prospective parents to make two trips. On the first, the people meet and spend time with a child. On the second, they complete the adoption process. Parents are advised to repeat the legal process in the United States when they return.


Some doctors in the United States, like Jane Aronson, provide special services for parents who want to adopt a foreign child.

Parents have to know there is a risk that the children they adopt might not be as healthy as they seem.

For example, the State Department last month put out a notice to any Americans who recently adopted a child from southern Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government reported that as many as sixty-one children in the Shymkent area were infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

The State Department said parents may wish to talk to their child's doctor about testing for H.I.V. It said testing is now required for all children from Kazakhstan adopted by American parents as of the middle of September.


The United States has been preparing to put into effect an international treaty called the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. That may happen next year. The treaty aims to fight child trafficking and other problems. Some people are concerned that foreign adoptions could take longer and cost more as a result of rule changes required by the treaty. But the Wall Street Journal noted last week that the rules will mean adoption agencies have to try harder to get health information on children.

Any adoption can be complex, both for the parents and the child. This is true especially in families with adopted children from other races and cultures. There are issues of identity and acceptance.

To what extent do the parents wish to learn about and honor their children's ancestry? To what extent do the children feel different from all the new people around them? As they get older, how might these adopted children come to see themselves?

Matthew Baxter was in an orphanage not so long ago. Now the five-year-old from South Korea is living an American life with a big sister and a father and mother to care for him. Miriam Baxter says people in the park sometimes ask her, "Is the little boy yours, or is he adopted?" She answers, "Both."



Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. You can read transcripts of our programs and download MP3 files at I’m Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Steve Ember, hoping you can join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.