One of the most intense emotions in young couples and women, in particular, is that of the desire to have children. A child is, for many, the capstone of a lasting relationship. A childless marriage is therefore often not a happy marriage. In our pious past, it was God’s will, and one had to accept that. In the aristocratic environments, it was a reason for divorce and a second marriage, because the continuation of the family dynasty and the associated power and wealth had to be guaranteed. Nowadays, in the Western world that does not play a significant role anymore.
Adoption has been a partial solution for a long time. Under the Romans, this practice was well documented. On the other hand, abandoned children were often picked up for slavery. During the Middle Ages in Western Europe adoption was often forbidden because of inheritance problems. Among the poor everyday people informal adoptions continued though. When the churches opened orphanages, many abandoned children and those who were a financial burden for their parents were sent over there to become better Christians. In the 19th century the number of abandoned children in the USA, especially in New York, was that high that en masse adoption was considered a solution. Thousands of children (according to estimates 200.000) were transported to rural areas all over the country to be adopted in farming families, who used them for cheap labor. At the beginning of the 20th-century eugenic ideas in the USA made people disapprove of adoption. As eugenicist Henry Goddard described it: “How short-sighted it is then for such a family to take into its midst a child whose pedigree is absolutely unknown; or, where, if it were partially known, the probabilities are strong that it would show a poor and diseased stock, and that if a marriage should take place between that individual and any member of the family the offspring would be degenerates.”
In the baby scoop era after the Second World War a rapid growth and acceptance of adoption were remarkable. With so many illegitimate births, adoption was the solution for unwed people and infertile couples. An attempt to formalize adoption first took place in the USA (1851), which was far from ideal; later followed by the UK (1926) and by other European countries like the Netherlands (1956). In the seventies the number of internal adoptions declined because of the acceptance of children born out of wedlock, birth control and the legalization of abortion. Supply and demand didn’t match anymore. The solution was found in adoption from foreign countries, like China, Vietnam and Korea, and from South America. These adoptions did and do not always result in happy experiences. Soon the process became a free for all. Babies were stolen, documents falsified and adopters paid high prices. Only in 1989 the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child ensured that the adoption of a child is authorized only by competent authorities who determine that the adoption is permissible in view of the child’s status concerning parents, relatives and legal guardians and that, if required, the persons concerned have given their informed consent to the adoption. For many children who were adopted before 1989 these measures came too late.
Apart from this, we must not forget that, especially in Catholic regions, many unwed pregnant young women were placed in nunneries where the babies involuntarily were taken away from the mothers to be placed in foster homes. This practice went on until the eighties of the last century.
Transnational adoptees sometimes have identity and attachment problems and a greater chance to end up in youth detention centers. This has two main causes: their appearance differs from that of their adopters. When they grow up the genetic predisposition of their biological parents begin to come to the surface. That is also one of the reasons they want to meet them.
Apart from a nagging feeling generated by the lack of offspring, additional feelings may play a role in moving towards transnational adoption. The first is thinking you will do better than the biological parents in that far away country and secondly letting the ‘cuteness’ of these babies influence you. Many of those babies have been put away in orphanages for reasons we don’t always know. These babies have become part of a baby-industry, in which different players earn a lot of money. Some countries, like China, Russia and Arabic countries, now find it an offense that their babies are sold on the European and North American market. They have prohibited this practice.