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March 19, 2019

Foreign NGO Law Causes Drop in U.S. Adoptions, According to State Department

According to the State Department’s Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, the Foreign NGO Law has significantly decreased the number of children U.S. citizens have been able to adopt from China. In a March 14 briefing addressing the Department’s Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption, Special Advisor Suzanne Lawrence stated that overall international adoption numbers are down in large part due to the decline in adoptions from China. Though Lawrence noted that this decline is partly due to improved economic circumstances in China, as well as changing demographics in terms of the children being put up for international adoption, she also explained that the Foreign NGO Law has clearly affected adoption service providers who had previously been working in China:

[W]hile that law was not intended to specifically target adoption service providers who would be considered an NGO for the purposes of the Chinese Government, it did adversely impact many agencies who have found it very difficult to comply with all of the paperwork and regulations surrounding this NGO law . . . from our interaction with adoption service providers who had been active in China, they tell us that that has really had an impact on their ability to help families who are interested in adopting from China. We have worked very closely with the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption. They are the governmental entity in China that covers all . . . intercountry adoptions from China. And we have expressed to them how this NGO law has affected adoption service providers and the ability of American families to provide permanency to children . . . in some of those very difficult groups for placement. And we hope that at some point, there will be some way for adoption service providers who are trying to find the right home for those children to be able to continue their work.

As The China NGO Project reported in October, Ministry of Public Security data show that foreign adoption agencies have largely been unable to work in China since shortly after the Foreign NGO Law went into effect.

This year’s State Department briefing drew a much firmer connection between the Foreign NGO Law and the drop in adoptions from China. At last year’s briefing, Lawrence responded to a question about the effect of the Foreign NGO Law on adoptions from China by noting that it was not yet clear how much the law had changed overall numbers, though it had indeed negatively affected existing international partnerships:

So as I’ve said, the changes in the middle class and the ability to have increases in domestic adoptions is something that I think has been happening over time. So I wouldn’t be able to really say whether or not that had more to do with the decline as opposed to the domestic laws that were related to the governance of nongovernmental organizations . . . [T]he laws themselves, which were, again, related to NGOs in China, were not targeted specifically at adoption, but they have indeed had a detrimental impact on the partnerships that have existed for a long time between U.S. adoption service providers and specific provinces that were designed to improve opportunities for children with special needs.

Though children from China still represent the largest contingent of foreign adoptions in the United States, such adoptions have been on the decline for more than a decade. In 2018, Americans adopted 1,475 children from China, representing a decrease of 22 percent from 2017 and of 81 percent since 2005. The decline in adoptions from China is part of a larger worldwide trend. The total number of adoptions from abroad dropped from 12,753 in 2009 to 4,059 in 2018.

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