exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Discrepancies in intercountry adoption statistics


Almost two years ago we started compiling intercountry adoption statistics to present on our country pages. At the time we had hoped it would be as simple as going to the websites of the various central authorities and download a spread sheet with data, but it ended up to be much more difficult than that.

The website of the Hague Convention was our initial starting point, since they list all the Central Authorities and even have their own section with statistics. Unfortunately these statistics have not been updated since 2005. Statistics are being obtained by the Special Commission on the Practical Operation of the 1993 Intercountry Adoption Convention, which only comes together every four years. On such occasions many countries are not able to present statistics from the most recent two years, so the statistics of the Hague convention usually lag between two and six years.

Fortunately most receiving countries have a website listing more recent statistics than the website of the Hague Convention, so we were able to create a reasonably recent overview of adoption statistic, albeit with certain hiatuses. We tried to fill in those gaps by using statistics of the sending countries when we realized there is no correspondence between the figures of the sending countries and the receiving countries.

Some examples:

  • In 2001 Belgium claims to have received 4 children from Ecuador, while Ecuador claims to have sent 10 children to Belgium.
  • In 2001 Italy claims to have received 145 children from India, while India claims the have sent 81 children to Italy.
  • In 2003 Switzerland claims to have received 5 children from Ecuador, while Ecuador claims have sent no children to Switzerland that year.
  • In 2004 France claims to have received 72 children from Guatemala, while Guatemala claims to have sent 50 children to France.
  • In 2001 the USA claims to have received 543 children from India, while India claims to have sent 341 children to the USA.

A more complete overview of discrepancies can be found here.

Some of those differences arise because different countries have different definitions for a year. Many countries count a year from January 1 to December 31, while for example the USA uses fiscal years which run from October 1 to September 30. Still that doesn't explain a difference of more than 200 between the figures of the USA and those of India.

Last night we started updating the adoption statistics of the USA. We had not added the available statistics for the last two years, so it was about time to do so. We had hoped it would be as simple as adding two columns, one for 2007 and one for 2008, but to our amazement, all figures had been changed.

All of a sudden the USA had not adopted 7044 children from China in 2004, but 7038. All of sudden 777 were adopted from Romania in 2001 as opposed to the earlier stated 782. All of a sudden 265 children were adopted from Colombia in 2001 instead of 407.

Most of the differences were in the range of 1 to 5, but in almost all cases the figures presented now are different from the figures presented in the past.

To our amazement there were even more discrepancies on the State Departments website. In a document called Fiscal Year Adoption Statistics, presenting adoption statistics for the year 2008, different figures are given than on the various country pages the State Departments website maintains. For example the page about China says the USA adopted 3911 children, while the Fiscal Year report mentions 3909 children adopted from China. The page about Russia says the USA adopted 1857 children, while the Fiscal Year report mentions 1861 children adopted from Russia.

Again almost all figures are different between the two sources.

The Unites States is not alone in reporting different figures from one source to the other. In the Netherlands a report was published Statistische gegevens betreffende de opneming in gezinnen in Nederland van buitenlandse adoptiekinderen in de jaren 2001-2005, which presents adoption statistics for the years 2001 to 2005, with data supplied by the Ministry of Justice, while the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) also compiles these statistics.

Again we see discrepancies, according to the Dutch report 72 children were adopted from Ethiopia in 2005, while the figures of CBS speak of 52 children. The report mentions 666 children adopted from China in 2005, while the CBS figure is 805.

Overall there are large differences between these two sources and again matching figures are a rare exception.

Given the fact that these two countries cannot even decide upon the number of children entering their county for adoption, it's not surprising we see vast discrepancies when we start to compare the figures between sending and receiving countries.

With all the discrepancies between figures how can we ever have a proper system of intercountry adoption? Every company that cannot properly keep their books will be put out of business. Yet for intercountry adoption we accept lower standards. If the intercountry adoption system is not capable of counting, how can we ever trust them with the much more complicated task of taking care of children?

by Kerry and Niels on Saturday, 11 April 2009