Social Policy and Society

Themed Section on Waiting for a Better World: Critical and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Intercountry Adoption

The Global Decline of Intercountry Adoption: What Lies Ahead?

Peter Selmana1

a1 School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University E-mail:


This article examines the latest trends in intercountry adoption worldwide, based on data from twenty-three receiving countries. Trends in the number of children sent by states of origin are based on their returns to the Hague Special Commission or on estimates derived from country data provided by the receiving states. The analysis concentrates on the period from 2004 to 2010 when estimated annual global numbers declined from 45,000 to 29,000, fewer than those recorded in 1998. The article will also look at changes in the age – and other characteristics – of children sent. Discussion centres on changes in sending countries, exploring the declines in China, Russia and Guatemala, the rise in adoptions from Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 and the emergence of Africa – and in particular Ethiopia – as a significant source of children for adoption. The article concludes with a consideration of the implications of a continuing high demand from childless couples in developed countries on the intercountry adoption ‘market’; and the prediction of David Smolin that, unless truly reformed, intercountry adoption will eventually be abolished and labeled as a ‘neo-colonial mistake’.