The Hague Adoption Convention: In the Best Interests of the Child

Posted by Alison Dilworth
August 2, 2012
Alison Dilworth Visits Children in Tianjin Orphanage

Lian, like many orphan children in China, is in an institution waiting for a loving, permanent home. His story, for me, is the epitome of my work these past two years in the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Office of Children's Issues, the Central Authority for the Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Hague Adoption Convention). Lian is protected and secure because of the laws and regulations that China implemented when they became a member of the Hague Adoption Convention. He will become part of a loving, permanent family, who will know all of the medical issues he faces and all of his history while in the care of the Chinese system before he joins them in the United States. His new family will be prepared to support and love him through the transition to his new home. Most of all, they will know that Lian is truly an orphan, with no family waiting for him, desperate to know if he is alive and well.

I have had the great honor and pleasure to run the Adoption Division these past two years. I came to the assignment as an experienced consular officer. I could issue a birth certificate for a new baby born abroad or evacuate a U.S. citizen in crisis with my eyes shut, but, serving most of my career in the Middle East, I had very little experience with adoptions. So I arrived as a blank slate. I leave two years later fully convinced that the Hague Adoption Convention is the absolute best framework for ethical, transparent, and secure intercountry adoptions.

The Hague Adoption Convention is a multilateral treaty among more than 80 countries, and it entered into force for the United States on April 1, 2008. The Convention seeks to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or trafficking in children. It works along with domestic child welfare systems to promote better lives for children worldwide, through ethical and transparent practices.

The Convention and its implementing legislation create rigorous nationwide standards for transparency and ethical practice for adoption service providers when they work with American families, children, and foreign authorities. The Department of State designates accrediting entities to evaluate adoption service providers, ensuring substantial compliance with Convention standards, protecting both the children and their American prospective adoptive parents.

I have seen all this first-hand over the past two years. I have visited 14 different countries, negotiated with dozens of Central Authorities, and participated in seminars, conferences, and workshops on all aspects of intercountry adoption. Time and time again I have seen success under the Hague Adoption Convention.

My mentor and colleague through all of this has been Ambassador Susan Jacobs, named by Secretary Clinton to be her Special Advisor for Children's Issues. I have never known anyone to be as dedicated and committed to helping orphans in need find loving, permanent homes through truly ethical and transparent means. I have seen Ambassador Jacobs skillfully negotiate protection for children one hour, and the next get on her hands and knees to make eye-contact with a withdrawn child in an orphanage. She cares deeply for all vulnerable children, and I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her.

Lian is now with his permanent family in the United States, slowly but surely adjusting to his new life and winning over everyone around him with that gorgeous smile, now even better after successful corrective surgery. His face, and the memories I have of all the children I have met overseas, make even the most difficult day worthwhile. I will carry them, and the pride for the good work we have done, with me for the rest of my life.

Visit for more information on the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Office of Children's Issues, Adoption Division at the U.S. Department of State, and for updates on Special Advisor Jacobs' travels, follow her on Twitter: @ChildrensIssues.



Charles S.
Missouri, USA
August 2, 2012

Charles S. in Missouri writes:

Adoptions to the United States have dropped 60 percent since 2004, going from 22,991 to only 9,319 in 2011.

Is it really in the best interest of children to keep them in institutions? How much more bureaucracy should we add in to reconfirm over and over again that a child is truly an orphan? Is trading away the formative years of a child's life in an institution really the solution?

The Hague Treaty was begun by the United Nations to bring transparency, clarity and coordination to the inter-country adoption process. Senator Landrieu introduced the bill that brought the United States into the treaty, but has expressed regret after seeing the results.

The goal of the Hauge Treaty is to make certain that every child adopted cross nationally is a legitimate orphan in need of a family. The treaty places such strict requirements on its signers, however, that many children who need a home are left to grow old in orphanages. Nations that have signed on, or attempted to sign on, to the Hauge Treaty, have seen a dramatic decline in inter-country adoptions. Some nations have even stopped inter-country adoptions altogether after being encouraged by UNICEF to sign onto the treaty.

It is estimated that there are more than 132 million children worldwide who have been orphaned by disaster, disease or poverty, or abandoned on the streets by their parents.

Good intentions . . . perhaps so. But Susan and Alison while visiting many countries with these good intentions have slowed and even stopped a process that is now not only broken but handcuffed.

Unlike Alison I take little pride in the work done. This solution has done little to stop illegal activity and has literally removed a good option off the table.

Angela S.
Michigan, USA
August 3, 2012

Angela S. in Michigan writes:

I do not feel Hague is in the best interest of orphaned children. I do believe when Hague was implemented it was believed to be helpful to orphaned children. Unfortunatly it has kept, and will continue to keep, many orphaned children from ever joining a loving family. Many of the smaller countries are unable to ever implement all of Hagues requirements after signing on keeping thousands of child's in orphanages. The USA, iis encouraging countries who participate on intercountry adoption to sign the Hague well knowing the countries do not have the ability to implement it. Does the Hague truly prevent child trafficking as it was intended to do? I don't think so. Now thanks to Hague thousands mand maybe even millions of children will unecesarily spend their child hoods in orphanages. I know many families who would love to parent a orphaned child. I am one of those families. Please fix this broken system. Stop the Hague! At the very least give small third world countries the tool and resources to implement the Hague.

Drew P.
New York, USA
August 9, 2012

Drew P. in New York writes:

I write as a warning to others that consider international adoption. Avoid international adoption. The system is broken and Hague does nothing to benefit the children involved.

We and 64 other families have been trying to adopt children from Kyrgyzstan for more than 4.5 years and are continuing to try to complete the adoption. In the course of these delays, two children have died of neglect of treatable medical conditions.

Ours is not a unique story, it happens in international adoption each day. Avoid the sales lines of the agencies and avoid the bureaucrats "looking out for the best interest of the children".

David K.
Florida, USA
August 23, 2012

David K. in Florida writes:

The Hague convention and its implementation in the US is a colossal failure. It has done nothing to help children in true need nor has it helped stop corruption and child trafficking for adoption. The accrediting body for the US, the COA, has a board that has deep ties to the adoption industry. The fox is watching the hen house.

The Hague itself is a first world solution imposed on third world countries who have neither the will nor the means to fully comply. In that sense it is a neo-imperialistic solution.

As long as profiting in the placement of children is allowed, international adoption will include legalized baby selling. If adoption is to truly be a humanitarian solution, the profits must be removed and the money that remains involved must be monitored in a truly transparent system.

August 28, 2012

Stenson writes:

There is great frustration in the adoption community, some of it directed at the Hague Convention.

However, international adoption became increasingly corrupt after the year 2000. Adoptive parents in the U.S. paid ever larger sums to agencies who contracted with corrupt middlemen in the developing world to buy them babies. The Hague can't fix the problem - corruption is a way of life in many developing countries.

Who's at fault?

1) The adoption community for turning a humanitarian endeavor into a business.

2) Developing countries for their unending corruption

3) Adoptive parents for allowing their dreams of raising a kid to override concerns about child trafficking

Chuck S.
Kansas, USA
October 26, 2012

Chuck S. in Missouri writes:

Very grateful that Stenson has taken the time to further oversimplfy and broad brush the adoption community together with human trafficking.

As an adoptive parent I feel the frustration that Hague and its implementation affords. My anger however is saved for Stenson and the assumptions and exaggerations that extend a small sample of real corruption into the majority of legitamate cases and helpless children's lives. Your words and the many ignorant ones like them continue to serve as illegitimate testimony for condemning children to lives without a family.

What is at fault?

1. Ignorance equating humantarian not-for-profit work with corrupt capitalism.

2. Ignorance that equates poverty and desperation with corruption.

3. Ignorance that would equate compassion and mercy with slavery. Ignorance that assumes love turns a blind eye to corruption. Ignorance that exaggerates a problem to the point that then advocates that children be STUCK in institutions.


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