How the Hague Convention Protects International Adoptions


Adopting a child is an adventure for any prospective parent and that adventure might seem a little scary. You’re navigating through agencies, opening your home to inspection and your very suitability as parents to judgment by a complete stranger. The entire process can seem even more daunting when international adoption is being considered. The Hague Convention exists to make the entire process safer for both the children involved and the prospective parents.

The Hague Convention is an international treaty that establishes norms for adoption. Those norms include a process to ensure children are truly orphaned, that their medical history is documented as much as possible, and that the adoptions will be recognized by all member countries.

Backdrop & Purpose of the Hague Convention

International adoption was–and can still be–an arena subject to fraud and criminal activity. The terrible crime of child trafficking could be conducted under the auspices of adoption. Honest parents could be defrauded of their money by false photos of children who really weren’t up for adoption. The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption aimed to rectify this.

The Hague–a city in the Netherlands–was the location for a 1993 convention where many nations entered the treaty that would set norms for international adoption. The first and foremost aim of the convention was the protection of children. Signatory nations hoped that setting clear international norms would make it more difficult for child trafficking rings to kidnap children and then move them abroad through legitimate adoption agencies.

The 99 nations that have currently signed onto the Hague Convention agree that they will establish a central organizing authority to govern the adoption process in their country. That authority here in the United States is the State Department. Signatory nations agree that their central adoption authority will review and accredit all adoption agencies.

This means that parents seeking to adopt across national boundaries have assurances that any agency they deal with abroad has met the agreed-upon international standards. A Hague-accredited adoption agency must disclose their fees up front and itemize what that fee covers. The Convention contains further norms about the maintenance of medical records for each child they put up for adoption.

The United States has implemented Hague norms with legislation passed in Congress and signed by the President. The most recent update to the implementing laws is the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012. The most notable part of this update is that any international adoption agency that sends a child to the U.S. must follow Hague standards, even if the agency is located in a nation that is not a signatory to the treaty.

The International Adoption Process

International adoption is lengthy, but the process itself is straightforward. A United States couple that wants to adopt first signs Form-1800A. This is a document filed with Citizenship & Immigration Services and is used to confirm a prospective parent’s eligibility to adopt.

Signatory nations can still maintain their own criteria for eligibility, even beyond the norms outlined in Hague. It’s not uncommon for a nation to want parents to be no more than 40 years older than the child they hope to adopt. Within the United States, unmarried people who want to adopt must be at least 24 years old.

Once your adoption attorney has identified the Hague-compliant agency you will be working with abroad, a home study will be conducted. After your application has been approved, you then wait to have a specific child placed with you. Between placement and finalizing the adoption, you can expect to take multiple trips to see the child in their native country.

It’s possible you may be expected to appear in court and bring character witnesses who will vouch for your suitability as a parent. Your lawyer will be familiar with the specific requirements of the nation you adopt a child from.

When the adoption is complete, the Hague Convention ensures that it will be recognized in all signatory nations. The Universal Accreditation Act here in the U.S. ensures that your child will receive an immigrant visa to come home with you.

Why the Hague Convention Works for Parents

The purpose of the Hague Convention might have been to protect children. The Convention presumes a bias towards keeping children in their native country. That can make it seem like the Convention works against parents who want simply to give an underprivileged child a good home. But the norms really work for everyone.

Let’s start with the obvious point, which is that parents don’t want to be unwittingly caught up in child trafficking, wherein children are kidnapped, sold to adoption agencies, and then shipped abroad. Nor do parents want an unaccredited agency to cut corners and put up a child for adoption without sufficient proof that the child is an orphan.

Furthermore, parents do not benefit from adopting a child who might be legitimately orphaned but had reasonably close relatives still in their home country. Any of these scenarios are crushing to the child and devastating to the parents if an unexpected visitor should come knocking on their door. Hague’s norms want to prevent that.

The Hague principles of accredited adoption agencies also makes it much more likely that adoptive parents will get good medical records on the child they are making their own. No parent wants to be in a situation, five years down the line, where their child is sick and there is a pre-existing condition they were unaware of.

Finally, following Hague principles protects the parents from being defrauded, both of their money and of their hopes.

If you’re ready to take the leap into the world of international adoption, you can get security from both the Hague Convention and the advice and knowledge of a qualified adoption lawyer. Trabolsi | Levy | Gabbard LLP has an experienced team of attorneys at your disposal. Call us today at (310) 455-8364 or contact us online to see how we can help you.

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