Who wants to buy a baby? Certainly not most people who try to adopt internationally. And yet too often that's how their dollars and euros are being used.
The idea that the developing world has millions of healthy infants and toddlers in need of new homes is a myth. In poor countries as in rich ones, healthy babies are rarely abandoned or relinquished -- except in China, with its one-child policy. The vast majority of children who need adoption are older, sick, disabled or traumatized. But most Westerners waiting in line are looking for healthy infants or toddlers to take home.
The result is a gap between supply and demand -- a gap that can be closed by Western money. In some countries, Western cash has induced locals to buy or kidnap children or defraud or coerce their families into giving them up, strip the children of their identities and transform them into orphans for Western adoption. In 2008, Vietnam stopped adoptions to the United States because of these concerns. A cable from the U.S. embassy in Vietnam, recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, said that "while there are legitimate orphans in Vietnam, the corruption in the adoption process has become so widespread that (the embassy) believes that there is fraud in the overwhelming majority of cases of infants offered for international adoption."
Last year, the United States finally implemented the Hague Adoption Convention, a 1993 treaty designed to address these problems. But the regulations apply only to adoptions from countries that have also signed the treaty.
E.J. Graff is associate director and senior researcher at Brandeis University's Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. This column was written for The Washington Post.