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International Adoption

International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children

Diana Marre
Laura Briggs
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    International Adoption
    Book Description:

    In the past two decades, transnational adoption has exploded in scope and significance, growing up along increasingly globalized economic relations and the development and improvement of reproductive technologies. A complex and understudied system, transnational adoption opens a window onto the relations between nations, the inequalities of the rich and the poor, and the history of race and racialization, Transnational adoption has been marked by the geographies of unequal power, as children move from poorer countries and families to wealthier ones, yet little work has been done to synthesize its complex and sometimes contradictory effects.Rather than focusing only on the United States, as much previous work on the topic does, International Adoption considers the perspectives of a number of sending countries as well as other receiving countries, particularly in Europe. The book also reminds us that the U.S. also sends children into international adoptions - particularly children of color. The book thus complicates the standard scholarly treatment of the subject, which tends to focus on the tensions between those who argue that transnational adoption is an outgrowth of American wealth, power, and military might (as well as a rejection of adoption from domestic foster care) and those who maintain that it is about a desire to help children in need.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6447-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: The Circulation of Children
    (pp. 1-28)
    Laura Briggs and Diana Marre

    In the early twenty-first century, many concerned observers suggest, we are entering a brave new world in reproduction, with medical technologies sundering genetics, gestation, and parenting, the globalization of adoption, and unprecedented waves of migration separating parents and children. This is true. Yet, at the same time, we are contending with the legacies of the past, including the best and the worst of the twentieth century. From the “Great War” that convulsed Europe in 1914 through the civil and international confl icts that have engulfed many regions of the world almost continuously since then, wars, refugee crises, ethnic cleansing, and...

  5. PART I Defining Reproduction:: Law, Strangers, Family, Kin

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 29-31)

      The transnational circulation of children in adoption is a legal institution carefully regulated by international conventions that are intended to guarantee the human rights of the most vulnerable members of society. Yet its advent is intimately related to conflicts that arose from colonialism, international warfare, and civil conflicts, and its current patterns are profoundly shaped by global, racial-ethnic, and class inequalities within and between nation-states. The contemporary European-American system seems to have shift ed from the temporary fosterage of children around World War I through the adoption of orphans aft er World War II and the wars in Korea, Viet...

    • Chapter 1 The Movement of Children for International Adoption: Developments and Trends in Receiving States and States of Origin, 1998–2004
      (pp. 32-51)
      Peter Selman

      This chapter explores the implications of developments in intercountry adoption (ICA) worldwide during the early years of the twenty-first century, based on a demographic analysis of trends in numbers and rates in twenty receiving states between 1998 and 2004. Th e incidence of ICA in states of origin has been estimated using data from these twenty receiving countries. The analysis shows a marked increase in the global number of intercountry adoptions over the seven years, with an estimated minimum of 45,000 officially recorded adoptions in the twenty states by 2004, which represents an increase of 42 percent since 1998. Recent...

    • Chapter 2 International Adoption: Lessons from Hawai’i
      (pp. 52-68)
      Judith Schachter

      This chapter starts simply, with a family I know—perhaps even belong to—in Hawai’i.

      Fourteen children grew up in that family. Two were biological children brought into the family by the wife, and four were biological children of the husband and wife. Four children were legally adopted, and three “stayed” in the household and considered themselves children of the family. The last was ahanaichild—adopted according to Hawaiian custom. The patriarch of the family, my friend Sam, showed me fourteen photograph albums, one for each child, all alike. The situation posed questions for me. Did the fourteen...

    • Chapter 3 The Social Temporalities of Adoption and the Limits of Plenary Adoption
      (pp. 69-86)
      Françoise-Romaine Ouellette

      The social dynamics of adoption in Québec have been shaped by important issues regarding both its legal regulation and the development of children’s identity, and the recent development of adoption policy in Québec contributes to a better understanding of adoption politics and practices in other societies. Québec ranks among the Western societies posting the highest ratios of foreign adoptions to births per annum and to overall population size. International adoptions averaged 805 per year between 1990 and 2004. In spite of subsequent decreases (to 496 in 2007), they still account for the large majority of all adoptions in Québec. Th...

    • Chapter 4 The Desire for Parenthood among Lesbians and Gay Men
      (pp. 87-102)
      Martine Gross

      Studying the desire to have children among gay men and lesbians can teach us more about the desire for children among men and women in general. This chapter explores how gay men and lesbians in France articulate conjugality and biological and social parenthood, as well as the possible innovations introduced by gay and lesbian parented families and the social roles of men and women in relation to children.

      The study of gay and lesbian parental projects as a miniature social laboratory allows us to analyze the common and divergent points in the expression of the desire for children among men...

    • Chapter 5 Refiguring Kinship in the Space of Adoption
      (pp. 103-118)
      Barbara Yngvesson

      In May 2006, while visiting Stockholm to present my research on transnational adoption in Sweden,¹ I spent time with several adopted adults whom I had interviewed over the course of the previous eight years regarding trips they had made to visit their birth countries and in some cases their birth families. Since my last visit, a number of these adoptees had given birth to children of their own, an event that carries a powerful emotional charge for a parent who was herself “abandoned” by her mother at birth or shortly thereafter. Two young women, one in her late twenties and...

    • Chapter 6 The Transnational Adoption of a Related Child in Québec, Canada
      (pp. 119-134)
      Chantal Collard

      “In a conventional American adoption, the birth family and the adoptive family are not kin; they do not know one another” (Modell 1994: 3). This view of adoption is widely shared, even though about half of national adoptions in Western countries are intrafamilial — that is, between close relatives. In Québec, “adoptions familles” are thought to be of a different kind altogether than non-family adoptions. Nevertheless, some intercountry adoptions are also family adoptions. In countries with a high immigration rate, such as Canada, recent immigrants oft en want to adopt children from their country of origin, despite geographical distances among kingroup...

  6. PART II Perspectives from Sending Countries

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 135-137)

      A comprehensive understanding of transnational adoption necessarily includes the perspectives of sending countries, especially the kin-groups and communities that children leave behind. The case studies that follow attend to the voices and viewpoints of the many parties involved in transnational adoptions in Brazil, Peru, Russia, and Lithuania, which send significant numbers of “abandoned” children to Europe and the United States. Very few of these children are actually orphans. Most are social orphans: they have living parents who are, for various reasons beyond their control, deemed unable to care for them and lose their legal rights. Any account of transnational adoption...

    • Chapter 7 Baby-Bearing Storks: Brazilian Intermediaries in the Adoption Process
      (pp. 138-153)
      Domingos Abreu

      International adoption is a relatively new phenomenon. Although there are traces of the intercountry transfer of children from previous epochs, the large-scale institutionalization of these practices occurred during the second half of the twentieth century, following tragic incidents such as the wars in Korea, Viet Nam, and Biafra (Modell 1994). Middle-class European and North American couples with infertility saw the adoption of orphaned children overseas as a humanitarian gesture as well as a solution to their personal problems. However, as intercountry adoption spread beyond the war zones, sending countries began to react against what appeared to many as the untoward...

    • Chapter 8 Transnational Connections and Dissenting Views: The Evolution of Child Placement Policies in Brazil
      (pp. 154-173)
      Claudia Fonseca

      This chapter examines the complex interweaving of local and transnational influences in the evolution of child placement policies in Brazil over the past twenty years. Inspired by the work of other scholars (Ginsburg and Rapp 1995, Yngvesson 2000), the analysis in this chapter is founded on the premise that child placement is a profoundly political question involving contrasting discourses and practices regarding kinship, family, and “the best interests of a child.” A decade ago, Judith Schachter Modell, in a path-breaking study of disputes between Native Hawaiian families and the state child welfare system, came to the conclusion that fosterage, particularly...

    • Chapter 9 International Adoption in Russia: “Market,” “Children for Organs,” and “Precious” or “Bad” Genes
      (pp. 174-189)
      Lilia Khabibullina

      From the point of view of international adopters, Russia is a significant sending country. Yet the foreign adoption of Russian children has seldom been studied and the Russian context remains unknown, as is true of many sending countries. Children adopted from Russia to Western Europe and the United States are invisible because of their European looks; indeed, the popularity of Russian children might be explained in part by the “racial” preferences of adoptive parents. Within Russia, however, international adoption is controversial, and the rules and regulations governing the practice have been made stricter as a consequence of several notorious violations...

    • Chapter 10 The Medicalization of Adoption in and from Peru
      (pp. 190-207)
      Jessaca B. Leinaweaver

      In recent years anthropologists studying the gendered patterns of familymaking, childrearing, and intimacy have come together around a focus on reproduction (Ginsburg and Rapp 1995). Kath Weston has distinguished between reproduction as “physical procreation and its sense as the perpetuation of society as a whole” (1991: 25) — in other words, between bodily and social reproduction. I present adoption as a crucial form of reproduction, not in the physical sense, since no new human beings are created through the process, but in the more socially significant sense of perpetuation and continuation. In adoption, as Nick Townsend has argued, “a social person...

    • Chapter 11 Children, Individuality, Family: Discussing Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Adoption in Lithuania
      (pp. 208-222)
      Auksuolė Čepaitienė

      Advocating openness among adoptive parents and adopted children, a social worker at a children’s care center in Lithuania described adoption as a two-sided phenomenon, with a painful as well as a joyful side. A child abandoned by its parents finds a new family, and a couple who had been unable to conceive welcomes a child. This event is a great gift to both. But the process of adoption also involves sadness and losses. The long-lasting pain of a couple facing involuntary infertility does not end with the adoption of the child. The biological parents who relinquished the child endure a...

  7. PART III Experiences in Receiving Countries

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 223-225)

      What do emergent trends among transnationally adopted youth and their families in receiving countries suggest about issues of identity formation and social acceptance that develop as children mature? In Western Europe and North America, most internationally adopted children are visibly different from their adoptive parents, making it impossible not to deal directly with transracial adoption. What happens when adopted children of native-born parents who are culturally European or American resemble immigrants and the children of immigrants and may be mistaken for “foreigners”? What are the implications of the searches for siblings and return journeys to discover national or cultural “roots”...

    • Chapter 12 “We Do Not Have Immigrant Children at This School, We Just Have Children Adopted from Abroad”: Flexible Understandings of Children’s “Origins”
      (pp. 226-243)
      Diana Marre

      An adoptive mother of two teenage girls born in Asia was explaining to her colleagues her objections to the clothing style one of her daughters preferred. To convince the young woman that her appearance was a problem, she told her, “one day you’ll fall off the Ramblas [promenade in Barcelona] and people will take you for an immigrant.” Why would that happen? And why would it be a problem for an adopted girl to be taken for an immigrant? In this chapter, I explore the blurring of “race” with “culture” and “ethnicity” that pervades the narratives of professionals, bureaucrats, and...

    • Chapter 13 Routes to the Roots: Toward an Anthropology of Genealogical Practices
      (pp. 244-255)
      Caroline Legrand

      Does ancestry research belong to anyone? Is the search for roots the property of any social or cultural group? Is this practice more legitimate in some cases than in others? These questions may sound a bit curious. Yet they invite us to consider the search for roots in a comparative way, to examine the discourses, habits, and activities of people who investigate their family and personal histories. Th e question is whether the qualities and issues that arise in the search for roots depend on the identity of the individuals who carry out this exploration.

      This chapter considers two categories...

    • Chapter 14 Return Journeys and the Search for Roots: Contradictory Values Concerning Identity
      (pp. 256-270)
      Signe Howell

      Discussions about adoption invariably give rise to issues that spring out of the Euro-American distinction between biological and social kinship. When adoption takes place between different countries, questions of identity, belonging, ethnicity, race, and culture are immediately placed on the agenda — especially when the children look different from their new parents and kin, as they do when they are moved from countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet bloc to Europe and North America. Today it is impossible for transnationally adopted persons in Western Europe and North America to avoid confronting these issues. Drawing primarily upon my...

    • Chapter 15 Mothers for Others: Between Friendship and the Market
      (pp. 271-282)
      Anne Cadoret

      Filiation, or descent, is established through three elements that the sociologist Florence Weber (2006) calls “le sang, le nom, le quotidien” — blood, a name, and daily life. Th ese three elements refer to the domains of biology, law, and family organization respectively. Although these elements may combine in hetero-parental families, where the genetic mother and the genetic father of children may live and raise their children together, this combination is not usual in families where the parents are gay or lesbian. Same-sex couples must rely on one of these three elements in order to become parents and find the right...

    • Chapter 16 Seeking Sisters: Twinship and Kinship in an Age of Internet Miracles and DNA Technologies
      (pp. 283-302)
      Toby Alice Volkman

      In the summer of 2005, I was sitting in a dentist’s waiting room in New York City and leafi ng throughGood Housekeepingmagazine when a fullpage color photograph of two beautiful Chinese girls caught my eye. Wearing identical red and white checked dresses, the girls looked out at the camera, dark eyes smiling dreamily under luxuriant black bangs. The caption read: “a perfect melding.” “Lost and Found: A Story of Mystery and Miracles” recounted the tale of how two American families, one in Illinois, the other in Alabama, discovered that their adopted Chinese daughters are, most likely, biologically related...

  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 303-308)
  9. Index
    (pp. 309-312)