Is adoption buying Children?

by Natalie Montanõ, adopted from Colombia to Norway

I’ll start with answering that question as I see it and I believe the answer is a yes. For many, their gut will probably twist and turn as they read this. Anger may arise because you can’t believe I could make such a statement, how rude!

To be clear, with this post I am not saying whether it’s right or wrong, I’m not having a moral or ethical debate. This is about calling a spade a spade and not a tool with a spoon-like end that can remove a variety of substances, often in larger portions at a time. I am aware that not everyone shares this view and that is also okay.

Although I am sure that intercountry adoption cost something in most countries, I am just making it clear that any adoption process-specific-things in this post, are in a Norwegian context, but the argument may apply elsewhere.

Oxford learners dictionary defines selling (to sell) as:

– to give something to somebody in exchange for money

– to offer something for people to buy

On the other hand, buying (to buy) is defined by:

– obtain in exchange for payment

– be a means of obtaining (something) through exchange or payment

Money is a key word here. After all, one can buy and sell (make transactions) without money being the source of payment. I would argue that we can say that to sell is an action where at least two parties are involved and the intention is to obtain a service, good or any specific object. Sometimes it is also to make a profit.

You might say, “Aha, you said it, a service. Adopters are not buying the child(ren) specifically, but a service. They are paying for the administrative things at the adoption agency and in the birth country.” Well let’s look at that statement.

First, we will look at some other situations. It’s the action of selling/buying I am making a point of in the following examples (so that people don’t think I compare humans to xyz).

– You post a photo on social media with the caption saying: “Yay, I just bought my first house/apartment”. I have never seen it written as, “Yay, I just bought the services for my house to be built”. Surely someone had to build the house you just bought, but in essence you are buying the house.

If you as the seller, use a realtor to help you with the matters at hand, you are paying for a realtor to help you sell the house. The selling of the house is the main goal here.

Now let’s say the building has yet to exist and you buy and empty property where you want to build a house. You need contractors. The main goal is still the actual house. One might say that from this starting point, the buying of the house is more indirect because the house is not there.

When I go to the grocery store and come home and someone asks me, “Oh what did you buy?” I might say, “I bought milk, bread and band aids”. I would not say, “I bought cows, I bought the machines at the bakery and the fabric used to make band aids”.

I suppose one could separate the act of direct and indirect sales. So in the context of a store, that would be an indirect sale as you are not buying the goods (eg. milk), directly from the farm(er) that owns the cows who produce the milk.

Now where do I want to go with this. Well, let me tell you:

Without money there is no intercountry adoption. You cannot adopt through one of Norway’s three agencies without paying. For there to be agencies to facilitate adoptions, there has to be someone to be adopted. Those someone are the children. Without children to adopt, there is no adoption. And of course, one would need adopters because those would be the ones paying the money and without adopters who pay, there would also be no adoptions.

The adoption equation: adopters + money + children = adoption

And then, add on the occasional illegal and illicit adoption, coercion and exploitation of vulnerable people in the birth countries, plus kidnapping and falsified documents.

I can see that it makes sense in a way to say that you are not buying the child but services to get the child. Yet, the child is the main goal of this. If there was no child there would be no payment. I would argue that intercountry adoption is a form of indirect sale of children.

If those who argue that intercountry adoption is not buying children, could you please picture this scenario:

Let’s say you go through the exact same process as one normally would when one is to internationally adopt. The agencies do the work they usually do. The only difference is that you pay at the end of the process. One day the agency calls you and tell you, “We have a child for you, come to the office (or wherever you need to go) please.” The child is there and the agency says, “Here is the child, now pay me 250 000 NOK before you and the child can leave this office”. I assume that this feels a bit more not okay for most people. I would say that in essence it is still the same, it is just more uncomfortable because it would be experienced as a more direct sale.

It appears that, generally speaking, some people’s unwillingness to at least consider adoption as a way of buying children, is due to adoption being considered an act of good intentions. Unwillingness to consider it buying of children is because the assumed outcome is that the child will come in to a new family with stability, love and a future with opportunities.

And let’s be honest, when people hear or see buying + children we find it horrible. Therefore, describing intercountry adoption as buying children doesn’t fit the narrative with adoption, nor does it fit with associations people make when it comes to buying children. To suggest that adoption is a way of buying children, one could argue that also implies that adoptive parents are fundamentally bad. This is because we usually think that people who buy children are not good people, right? I don’t think it has to mean that adopters fundamentally are bad people because they adopt. They might be adopting or not, but they don’t have to be.

I still argue that adoption is a way of buying children, to fulfil adoptive parents needs, who want to get a child(ren), more so than it being about the child’s best interests.

Many drugs/intoxicants are illegal due to the damage it causes, directly and indirectly to an individual and society at large. Alcohol is in many countries a legal and a very acceptable substance people consume. In fact, it is so common that some people who chose not to drink are being questioned (why don’t you drink) or are being pressured (have a drink). I was yelled at once for deciding that I didn’t want to drink alcohol at a planned event.

It is so common to drink, such a huge part of everyday life, that it appears many feel entitled to an explanation or that they assume there must be something deep and dark behind such a choice. I have personally never ever encountered a situation where someone is being asked, “Oh why do you drink?” Not even by those who don’t drink. If anything, a better question to ask is why someone chooses to drink. After all, alcohol as a substance does not do you much good.

According to a Norwegian organization Av og til, the use of alcohol in Norway costs society about 100 billion NOK a year. An estimated 77 billion NOK is directly related to loss of good health and quality of life and 24 billion NOK goes to sick leave from work and reduced capacity to work. I could go on and on. But what does this have to do with adoption?

Not much, not directly. The point I’m trying to make is that just because something is legal and/or considered normal, does not mean that it doesn’t come with its own implications. Just because it’s legal doesn’t necessarily make it all good or without questions to be asked. I would argue that intercountry adoption is a legalised way of (indirectly) buying children.

Even if intentions are as pure as fresh snow and the outcome for the adoptee after adoption is a bright life of love, stability and a variety of possibilities, the act of adoption can still be considered buying children. This means that even if people find it difficult to do so, several things can exist as true at the same time.

I also read in a Norwegian newspaper from a few years back that intercountry adoption gets more expensive because less people adopt. Hey, look at that, there is a market. A market of demand and supply and the prices adjust.

If we look at the fact my adoption is illegal on the Colombian side and irregular in parts of the Norwegian process, I conclude that if it weren’t for money, I would not be in Norway.

For adoptees, I am not saying you should feel bought and sold. I am also not saying your adoptive parents are bad. Perhaps you would be tempted to send me a message saying, “I am not bought and my parents are good people”.


A Privilege, Not a Right

What would my utopia of intercountry adoption Be?

South Korean adoptions: an economic analysis

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