As an Indian American, the adoption of my daughter from India has been a defining experience in our family’s life. It has brought deep joys and hopes—and a simultaneous sense of sorrow, not only on her behalf, but for our underlying complicity in a world that makes adoptions necessary.
Long before we adopted, I sensed that adopting a child was one of the most ennobling acts humans undertake in their personal and public lives. Nothing seems more important than giving life a chance. However, in my exposure to international adoptions in the U.S., I realized that this presumably sacred and primal tie between adult and child was subject to the same corruptions to which other social relations are vulnerable.
The international availability of children lays bare the axes of power in the forms of choice, entitlement, class, and racial privileges located in the global North and West—and those of the powerlessness stemming from massive economic disadvantage, inhospitable cultural and political environments for women, and the effects of human rights abuses from foreign and civil wars in the global South and East.
It is against this backdrop that international adoption takes place. The number of international adoptions in the U.S. rose from 7,093 in 1990 to 22,728 in 2005. More children are adopted into the United States than into any other nation. This dynamic reinforces patterns of dependence and obscures more complex global relations. The “Third World” stands as a ready reference to mean poverty, squalor, human abuse, and hopelessness. The child is seen as the one in need and the parents are the rescuers. “Saving” a child out of this milieu becomes automatically understood as a sacrificial act. The First World becomes a one-way destination point for children from the global South. There is little effort to understand or affect the local conditions that move people to relinquish their children.