This week in Nashville, the Christian Alliance for Orphans will hold Summit 9, an annual planning conference, including strategizing for Orphan Sunday on Nov. 3. But in reality, the bloom is off the rose of American Christians adopting orphaned and vulnerable children from faraway lands.
The U.S. State Department keeps track of how many children are adopted by Americans each year. After a peak in 2004, there has been a 62 percent decline in such adoptions. Last year, there were 8,668 adoptions, a sharp drop from nine years ago when 22,991 adoptions occurred.
Professionals involved in adoptions services say there are many factors at work in this decline. Many are geopolitical. Russia, in a political snit, has shut the door on all adoptions by Americans. China and Ethiopia, both major sources for adoptable children, have significantly slowed down the adoption process.
The weak economy is another disincentive. Inter-country adoption remains extremely expensive. The average cost is $28,425, but an adoption may cost as much as $64,000.
Another factor is stigma. Adoption horror stories, especially when the children have significant special needs, are gaining enormous currency through social media as well as traditional news media. A new book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, And the New Gospel of Adoption by journalist Kathryn Joyce, adds fuel to anti-adoption hysteria through its extremely one-sided perspective and guilt by association. The author, who describes herself as a secular feminist, fills her book with one adoption tragedy after another.
Her major criticisms are that faith-based adoptions are:
• tainted by "child laundering," a form of trafficking vulnerable children through deception and "dirty money."
• driven by the politics of abortion or patriarchy in which unmarried pregnant women are coerced to give up their newborn children.
• motivated by misplaced understanding of Christian theology, adoption, and care for children.
• deeply harmful to children, birth parents, and adoptive parents.
In recent years, supporters of overseas adoption have been whipsawed by events—praised one moment as sacrificial humanitarians and then accused of child trafficking or incompetence the next.
In January 2010, the devastating earthquake in Haiti killed tens of thousands of people. Estimates say 92,000 to 316,000 people died. In the immediate aftermath, there was a chaotic surge in global relief work. One of the most controversial initiatives was the Obama administration's decision to grant Special Humanitarian Parole, allowing 1,090 vulnerable children to be taken immediately to America, for treatment, possible adoption, or long-term care.
But other agencies, including UNICEF, quickly called for a total ban on post-disaster adoption. Then, the Laura Silsby child trafficking story exploded in headlines across the world. Allegations were lodged against Silsby and other American Christians for allegedly trafficking Haitian children out of the country for care in the Dominican Republic or possible U.S. adoption.