The politics of adoption are inevitable. Particularly across race and nationality. An individual decides they want to adopt across racial lines or the borders of the country where they live, and it says something: that a parent thinks they can offer a better upbringing, a better life to the child in question – better than the family of birth, better than the community that child would have otherwise grown up in, better, even still, than those with whom the child shares national origin, language, or racial and ethnic identity.
We don’t like to think about the politics of adoption because adoption makes families, and for some, it may even create families. But when it comes down to the best interest of the child, international law is very clear: priority goes first to parents, then to relatives, and then to the State and/or the child’s country of origin before any decision can be made regarding a permanent placement – abroad or otherwise.
The best interests of the child are delineated in several universal legal codes, including the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Child as well as the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. However, because there is no legal recourse for keeping States accountable, government actors can honor these principles on paper, without necessarily having to honor them in practice (this is what I would call “a thing” internationally – legal entities like the UN and the Hague are obliged to respect State sovereignty yet bear the burden of upholding peace worldwide).
And while, overall, the intention behind adoption is to give a child a home (and many children need homes), at both the individual level and among States worldwide, the ability to adopt (and the choice of who to adopt) belongs to those whose privilege grants them the power to decide.
There is so much that I could say here about the complexity of this issue. In the end, the politics remain, whether parents want to recognize them or not. And whether they do or not (a choice and by extension, a reflection of parents’ own privilege) is mainly of consequence to those whose lives are most profoundly shaped by (and are a profound testament to) the politics of adoption – those placed, as well as their families and communities of origin. And I think that’s worth remembering.