Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Non-State Efforts to Monitor Corruption in Intercountry Adoption

Becca McBride and Brooke Bonnema


By Becca McBride and Brooke Bonnema

November 22, 2013

This article is the final installment in a three-part series.

The first two articles in this series identified government efforts to monitor corruption in intercountry adoption. I discussed the challenges of the international legal framework for intercountry adoption and identified the ways that states try to overcome these challenges. However, since governmental regulation should never substitute for community or individual responsibility, how can Christian organizations and Christian individuals claim responsibility for ethical adoptions and partner with the governmental layers of accountability?  

As the gatekeepers facilitating the adoption process, adoption agencies and advocates are at the heart of monitoring and preventing corruption in intercountry adoption. These groups educate adoptive parents on the proper channels for adopting from other countries and help adoptive parents identify countries from which to adopt. They also educate the governments of sending countries on how to process adoptions most effectively. This educating role presents an incredible responsibility and an amazing opportunity to act as agents of renewal in the adoption process. While there are many examples of adoption organizations manipulating foreign adoption systems for their own gain, adoption advocates more often use their role to facilitate ethical adoptions in a way that governmental regulation can only prescribe. 

Adoption advocates are the actors on the ground that are able to think most creatively about how to structure adoption programs to facilitate ethical adoption. Adoption advocates often have their own rigorous requirements that exceed the governmentally prescribed requirements. In fact, many parents choose adoption facilitators with high levels of requirements precisely because these requirements make ethical adoption more likely. Three organizations in particular stand out both for their educational roles and their commitment to fostering more ethical intercountry adoption programs. 

Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR) works to ensure that adoption agencies operate under strict ethical and legal regulations. PEAR provides adopting families with a “choice of agencies that operate legally, ethically, responsibly, and in the interests of the adults and children they serve.” This organization is effective because it pairs adoptive families with agencies that are ethically run, and it provides country reports on each country from which US citizens can adopt children to enable parents to make informed choices on adoption programs in other states. 

Show Hope provides adopting families with a blueprint for adoption and the necessary funds for adoption. Show Hope also provides special-needs orphans with surgeries and high-quality care while they are waiting to be adopted. It serves as a focal point for adoptive families that points them toward special-needs children who are less likely to get placed in adoptive homes. This focus reduces the “consumer mentality” of adoptive parents by focusing them on the needs of vulnerable children instead of primarily on the needs of adoptive families. Show Hope has four care centers in China housing over 1,000 orphans, and it diligently advocates for these orphans.

Like Show Hope, Starfish Foster Home provides special-needs orphans with medical care and housing. Starfish rescues medically vulnerable children from local Chinese orphanages, arranges international teams of medical volunteers to provide corrective surgeries, and matches those children with adoptive families. Starfish also raises adoption funds for adopting families. Starfish is another example of the ways that adoption advocates focus adoptive parents on the needs of vulnerable children and provide high standards for ethical adoption. 

Despite multiple layers of responsibility and regulation, corruption is still a serious problem as children are adopted across borders. As Christians, we are called to be leaders in struggling with the tension between good intentions and unintended consequences. This calling means that we cannot be satisfied with relying on official measures that provide a minimum standard for ethical adoption. Christian organizations and individuals must hold to higher standards that ensure that the most vulnerable children are protected. 

- Becca McBride is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Brooke Bonnema is a first-year student in International Relations and Psychology at Calvin College.

“To respond to the author of this Commentary please email:
Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”