Decline in adoption seen as a sign of the times
Adoption as a route to founding a family is becoming less and less common in Switzerland with just seven adoptions per 1,000 births reported in 2009.
Recent figures produced by the Federal Statistics Office show a consistent decline in the number of adoptions over the past 30 years, from 1,600 in 1980 to 500 in 2009. The figures include step-parent adoptions.
The pattern of adoption has changed just as the world has changed in the intervening decades.
In 1980, two-thirds of adoptions took place within families, often a new husband adopting his wife’s children from before the marriage. Nowadays the proportions have reversed with adoptions inside a family making up just one third of the total.
Social acceptance of unmarried mothers has also had a impact on children’s destinies. Some 300 Swiss children were offered for adoption in 1980, compared with 25 to 30 per year currently.
Children in need
International adoption used to be plagued by the absence of agreed standards of regulation set against a backdrop of desperate need.
Shocking images of neglected children in Romanian and Chinese orphanages still endure in the collective memory 20 years after they were first broadcast.
“What’s new now is that in practically all countries there is a middle to upper class of people who are in a material position to adopt these children,” Rolf Widmer of the Swiss Adoption Board told swissinfo.ch.
“The Hague Adoption Convention stipulates that children should first be placed with adoptive families in their own country and only be offered for international adoption when this is not possible,” Widmer added.
Eighty countries have now signed up to the 1993 Convention. Switzerland implemented the relevant laws in 2003.
Worldwide demand for legally sourced healthy infants far outstrips supply, according to Marlène Hofstetter of the children’s charity Terre des Hommes.
“Many countries have improved their structures and legislation since the Convention and are finding domestic solutions for children. But as the demand remains strong, target countries are now raising the bar very high – in terms of age, health or income of applicants – to limit demand.”
Hofstetter believes the mindset of prospective parents needs to change.
“The challenge for the future of adoption is to raise parents’ awareness about the children really in need of adoption, who are more likely to be a little older and suffer from health problems or a disability.”
Widmer agrees that older children need families the most. “These are the ones left in the home and often have no one. But it is a very demanding task for the parents. The child comes with its own history.”
Parents need to be well prepared for the challenges of providing a loving environment for such a child, he added.
Christine Piffaretti of Espace Adoption in Geneva urges great caution when considering adopting an older child. She also stresses the importance of preparation and proper assessment of both parents and child.
“You cannot be too careful when it comes to intercountry adoption, especially when an older child is involved,” she said.
“International adoption should always be a last resort and always in the interests of the child,” she added.
Prospective Swiss parents who have been approved for intercountry adoption face further delays and obstacles before they can hope to bring home a child and more than half give up along the way.
Some couples are prepared to pay high fees or “donations” demanded by agencies or children’s homes in the quest for a dream baby.
One Swiss woman who adopted in Central America told swissinfo.ch she agreed, when asked, to pay $20,000 to the orphanage she was dealing with to expedite the procedure.
“When money begins to change hands, the risk of child trafficking increases,” Hofstetter warned.
“There is a tendency for parents not to see further than their noses when they set out to find a child on their own, without the help of a recognised agency. They may look in countries known for dubious practices. It is a question of a child at any price.”
Meanwhile other options have opened up to couples with fertility problems. Today more than 3,000 Swiss babies are born annually thanks to assisted reproductive technology.
Couples must be married.
Married couples must either be married at least five years or both be aged over 35.
Individuals must be aged over 35.
Parents must be 16 years older than the child.
Same sex couples are not legally allowed to adopt.
Surrogacy is illegal in Switzerland.
Parliament is due to vote in the coming months on relaxing the age restrictions.
Source: Federal Statistics Office
The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) is an international agreement to safeguard intercountry adoptions.
Concluded on May 29, 1993, in The Hague, the Netherlands, the Convention establishes international standards of practices for intercountry adoptions.
It aims to prevent the abduction, sale of, or traffic in children, and it works to ensure that intercountry adoptions are in the best interests of children.
It enables intercountry adoption to take place when the child has been deemed eligible for adoption by the child’s country of birth and proper effort has been given to the child’s adoption in its country of origin.
It requires that countries who are party to the Convention establish a Central Authority to be the authoritative source of information and point of contact in that country.
In compliance with the JTI standards