The Underground Market of Internationally Adopted Children: Re-homing and Questioning the Practice of International Adoption

By Abigail Niehaus*

“’Re-homing is not regulated; there’s no legal framework to address it. It’s mostly an underground affair.’”[1] “Re-homing” is when adoptive parents post an advertisement on the internet (usually on a message board or group site) to give away their adopted child to a stranger. Re-homing is just one of the major problems resulting from international adoptions that have recently come to the American public’s attention. In December of 2014, the American Bar Association Journal published, Far From Home: States Start to Crack Down on Parents ‘Re-Homing’ Their Adopted Kids. The article discusses how only a handful of states have recently put law in place to address the daunting problem of re-homing, but the article also touches on an even bigger issue many have been asking about for years: “why so many parents are relying on international adoptions given that many of America’s children are available for adoption[.]”[2] The processes and procedures of domestic adoptions act as safeguards for birth-mothers’ rights, future adoptive parents’ options, and most importantly adopted children’s welfare. As we all know from the media’s stories of child-trafficking, kidnappings, illegal adoptions, and abuse, these safeguards are often absent when parents adopt children from overseas. This is because children born in U.S. hospitals or to U.S. citizens benefit from reliable documentation that is often absent in international adoptions, which creates a greater risk of unethical conduct than in domestic adoptions.


Unfortunately, internationally adopted children are the majority of child victims in the re-homing plague that has been taking place across the United States. In 2013, Reuters investigated and published a chilling series on cases of private re-homings, Americans Use the Internet to Abandon Children Adopted from Overseas. Reuters read and analyzed five years’ worth of posts on one message board called “Adopting-from-Disruption” for re-homing children and found that 73% of the children advertised were adopted from overseas, 7% were advertised as “not overseas adopted[,]” and the remaining 20% were not identified as internationally or domestically adopted.[3] Re-homing is a threat to even domestically adopted children because an estimated 10-20% of those adoptions fail, which are referred to as “disrupted adoptions.”[4] If you use the low end of the statistic on failed domestic adoptions and apply it to international adoptions, the number of children at risk is frightening. Around 243,000 children have been adopted in the United States from overseas in the last 15 years, which means more than 24,000 children most likely had “disrupted adoptions” and may no longer be in the care of the parents that brought them to America.[5]

During research on the topic of re-homing, it was appalling to learn that many in the adoption community attempt to portray parents that re-home as victims of bad situations with limited options. It is difficult to feel sorry for anyone who would advertise a child online to try to give the child away as if he or she was a pet or piece of property. This is especially the case when parents that re-home know nothing about the strangers they give their children away to. In one case, a mother gave up her 9-year-old adopted son to a pedophile in a motel parking lot a few hours after she posted a re-homing advertisement for him on a Yahoo group.[6] Unfortunately, this is not a rare scenario; Adoptive parents in Illinois put a 10-year-old boy in the same situation when they gave him to a child pornographer hours after they advertised him online for re-homing.[7] In another case, a 14-year-old Haitian girl, Nita, was offered multiple times over the internet for re-homing: her fourth family, the Kruses, already had other adopted and biological children when they took custody of Nita.[8] Nita reported Mr. Kruse after the younger children said he was sexually abusing them.[9] Mr. Kruse was charged with 17 counts of sexual abuse, including the rape of two of his daughters and sexual abuse of another daughter.[10]

It is also disturbing that these parents do not blame themselves for these tragedies, but instead blame the children or the distant countries they took them from. In an interview by NBC, Dr. Mary Staat, Founder of Internal Adoption Center, empathizes with adoptive parents who feel misunderstood when they feel they can no longer care for adopted children because of the children’s behavior, special needs, etc.[11] This raises the question of why these parents allowed to adopt a child in the first place if they were not going to treat the child as they would their own biological child. It is doubtful any of these parents would “re-home” or give away their own biological child to a stranger because of their child’s mental or behavioral problems. Among other reasons, many advocate for domestic adoptions over international adoptions because of mental and behavioral problems that adopted children may have. Barbara Babb (University of Baltimore law professor and Director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts) advocates for domestic adoption because of the support available to families that adopt through state agencies: “’Parents should reconsider working with local departments of social services. There would be much more willingness and, in some cases, legal authority to help adoptive families facing challenges.’”[12]


Again, re-homing is just one of the major issues posed by international adoptions. An article from the Journal of Law & Family Studies that expands on the issue of international adoptions, particularly out of post-crisis nations, provides upsetting stories from the black market of child trafficking in these nations that the great demand for adoptable babies has created.[13] This article discusses Judge Richard Posner’s writings on the economic aspects of international adoptions.[14] Adoption is subject to the same pressures as any other economic market including supply and demand.[15] The great demand for internationally adoptable children has increased child kidnapping, illegal adoption, and child trafficking as a whole in the countries where foreigners adopt children.[16]

Americans trying to adopt from popular source countries like Russia, Guatemala, and parts of Asia may not realize that some adoption agencies send money to poor countries in ways that induce fraud and corruption, leading the unscrupulous local “facilitators” to defraud, coerce, buy, and even abduct children from their birth families for personal profit.[17] As E.J. Graff observes, In the case of inter-country adoptions, far too often, orphans were ‘produced’ by unscrupulous middlemen who would persuade desperately poor, uneducated, often illiterate villagers whose culture had no concept of permanently severing biological ties to send their children away[.]”[18] Graff concludes that new United States law put in place to regulate international adoptions has fixed many of these problems.[19] While this is an improvement, it is by no means a complete solution. Even in countries that agencies portray as low risk because of new laws or an alleged lack of human trafficking, there are still unscrupulous actions being taken to acquire desirable children for international adoptions. Even a law professor who adopted two girls from India a few years ago was deceived by faulty documents and later discovered the girls had been stolen from their mother.[20] Less than a year ago, 382 babies were rescued from a Chinese doctor who was abducting children and selling them illegally through international adoption.[21] Twenty-six cases of internationally adopted children are linked to this doctor.[22]


Many parents still look overseas to adopt because they believe the popular idea that they are “saving” children. Meanwhile, there are over 100,000 children in the United States that need to be adopted with no question as to whether they are legitimately orphaned or in need of a home.[23] In the United States, these children are adoptable because they were willing given up by their mothers due to unwanted pregnancy, the state has taken the children because parental abuse or neglect, or the children have no living family members to care for them. None of these reasons involve a child that has been kidnapped, trafficked or sold for profit by conmen. None of these reasons involve a mother giving up her child simply because she cannot afford to keep it or has been coerced. None of these children would find out that they were stolen from biological mothers who wanted to keep them. Children eligible for international adoption may also be adoptable for the legitimate reasons listed above but as many stories have revealed, it is easy to fabricate such a reason and get away with it when a child is taken halfway across the world.

Why would an adopting parent take the greater risks associated with international adoptions when they can adopt within the US without further complicating the already delicate adoption process? Some would answer they cannot adopt in the US because they do not qualify to adopt by standards set forth by the Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau. Why does it make sense to allow them to adopt children from another country? Some would say it is less expensive to get a child from overseas. Do we want someone to adopt a child that is looking for the best deal on a child? Some say they are unable to adopt in the US because of their sexual orientation or marital status. Hopefully, this policy will change in coming years because many non-traditional couples would provide loving homes to orphaned children in the US that would otherwise be pushed through foster or group homes. Some international adoptees have written on the subject themselves, stating that adopting a child from a foreign country whose culture does not recognize same-sex marriage and placing them in a home with a same-sex couple only further complicates the identification problems many international adoptees face as adults. [24]Even when placed with a traditional American family, many international adoptees struggle with the separation from their birth countries, family, and their identity as a whole. (See Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea for a good discussion of international adoptees’ struggles with identity.)[25]

Unfortunately, many believe they are doing a good deed by saving an orphaned child from the poverty of a third-world country. This is one the biggest misconceptions surrounding international adoption. Jan Hatmaker discusses this issue in her three-part series Examining Adoption Ethics:

Let’s stipulate that rich Americans flooding impoverished countries with millions of dollars to adopt its children will absolutely garner attention. Money has always been a magnet for corruption. While there are obviously lots of true orphans, without question, that much cash flow will generate some “created orphans” to satisfy demand, especially for babies.[26]

Hatmaker has connected to people living in different impoverished countries and notes that “[t]here is the Christian adoption narrative we use over here, including inflated statistics, words like rescue and saving…then there is the in-country story, which is something altogether different.”[27] In fact, “[t]he missionaries and locals are saying something very disturbing: so often vulnerable birth moms are coerced and misled, families are manipulated and deceived, children are flat out bought. International adoption is Big Business.”[28] She also says, “[t]here is this silent belief that kids are better off with us, period…Our children were meant for their birth families, the way every child ever born is. God did not intend these children for my wealthy home and accidentally put them in Ethiopian wombs.”[29] Finally, she states, “[e]very family deserves basic human rights, and I should not get to raise your child simply because I can feed him and you can’t.”[30] Third-world countries are not the only victims of corruption in the “Big Business” of international adoption. As described below, Asian nations such as South Korea tell a similar story.


As someone who spent two years in South Korea and befriended Korean adoptees who were adopted by American families as babies out of South Korea, it was eye opening to learn of the complex issues involved in international adoptions and the realities of the adoptees themselves. One of the biggest holes in the widespread notion of “saving orphans in the third-world countries” is that racial preference plays a major role in international adoptions. Racial preference is a key issue for supply and demand as well as price. While the endorsed view, “love is blind to color” may sound nice, if it were true Russian and Asian babies would not be more expensive than African and Haitian babies. Michele Goodwin, a Professor in Law at the University of Minnesota commented in her work about the economics of international adoptions, The Free-Market Approach to Adoption: The Value of a Baby, “[C]ouples may spend upwards of $50,000 to adopt a healthy, white infant. Black infants, however, are adopted for as little as $4,000…” [31]

As deplorable as it sounds, Korean girls are more desirable to white American parents than almost any other children from overseas for a number of reasons.[32] First, South Korea in particular is not associated with the horror stories of kidnapped mothers and stolen children that unfortunately occur in Latin American and African countries. Second, there is a common stereotype that Asian children, baby girls in particular, are light skinned, smart, docile and have a relatively low risk of health problems. Private adoptions agencies are aware of this desire and work to find more adoptable Korean baby girls[33]. Unfortunately, in order to “find” these children, Korean birthmothers are coerced by agencies and unsupportive family members to give up their children for as a little as a promise that their children will be adopted by wealthy parents that can provide not only love but also opportunities the birthmothers could not give. While this may not sound criminal, consider that when promises like this are made to unwed mothers, who are facing the reluctant to zero support from family, friends, and the welfare system in place, they often cause birthmothers to surrender children they want to keep to adoption agencies.[34]

In an interview with Maggie Jones, author of Why a Generation of Adoptees Is returning to South Korea, the interviewer asked Jones if the Korean adoptees she interviewed all believed international adoptions should end.[35] She replied that, “[adoptees] who do oppose it…are focused more on the underlying causes: supporting single mothers and advocating for adoptees’ rights.”[36] Although they may be unaware of it, Americans enable this system when they pay private adoption agencies to “find” adoptable Korean children.[37] There have been around 200,000 children adopted out of South Korea by families abroad in the last 60 years.[38] Some readers may object that they were internationally adopted or that they know international adoptees who are well adjusted with wonderful parents and great lives. While this is true in many good cases, the fact remains that this has not been the case for thousands. Even with those positive outcomes, it is uncertain whether all of those birth parents freely and willingly gave those children up for adoption.


According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, there are currently 101,666 children in the United States waiting to be adopted.[39] This number reflects only the children who have no parents or whose parents’ rights were terminated, so they are fully adoptable without the risk of illegal adoption and other complications. Parents who adopt children from overseas through an agency cannot know with any certainty if the child is legitimately adoptable or if the child’s documents have been forged. In cases with forged documents, adoptive parents generally find this out years later, if at all. Until new federal laws are in place, those internationally adopted children could also be at risk for re-homing if they prove more than the adoptive parents can handle.

There is a need to change the fact that Americans are paying agencies to travel across the world to take these risks when there are literally a hundred thousand children in the United States that are adoptable and waiting. There is a need to caution Americans who are continuing to use a system that, even unintentionally, fuels human-trafficking, child kidnapping, and convincing mothers to give up their children. There is a need to formulate policies that criminalize and harshly punish the cruel act of re-homing both internationally and domestically adopted children. In addition, there is a need to change public misconceptions about international adoptions and encourage domestic adoptions before families look overseas and across borders to adopt. If for no other reason, then to protect the welfare of hundreds and possibly thousands of internationally adopted children that have ended up on the internet from being given to strangers and child abusers while adoptable American children wait in hope of a family.


* Abigail Niehaus has a Bachelor of Arts in History, a Certificate in Women and Gender Studies, and a Legal Certificate from the University of Tulsa. She is currently is a 3L at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Her anticipated graduation date is May 2016. She would like to practice family or public service law, in particular to facilitate domestic adoptions and be a legal advocate for women and children.

[1] Leslie A. Gordon, Far from Home: States Begin to Crack Down on Parents ‘Re-Homing’ Their Adopted Kids, A.B.A. J., December 2014, at 17, 17.

[2] Id. at 18.

[3] Megan Twohey, Americans Use the Internet to Abandon Children Adopted from Overseas, Reuters (Sept. 9, 2013),

[4] Gordon, supra note 1.

[5] Twohey, supra note 3.

[6] Megan Twohey, In a Shadowy Online Network, a Pedophile Takes Home a ‘Fun Boy’, Reuters (Sept. 9, 2013),

[7] Megan Twohey, Adopted Girl: I was ‘Re-homed’ After Reporting Dad’s Alleged Sex Abuse”, NBC News (March 21, 2014, 5:04 AM),

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] NBC News, Finding a ‘Good Solution’ for Adopted Children, NBC News (March 21, 2014, 5:04 AM), (the video is embedded within the article).

[12] See Gordon, supra note 1, at 17.

[13] Ian Atzet, Note, Post-Crisis Actions to Avoid International Child Trafficking, 12 J.L. & Fam. Stud. at 499, 500 (2010).

[14] Id. At 503.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] E.J. Graff, They Steal Babies, Don’t They?, Pac. Standard Mag. (November 24, 2014),

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Gina Kim, International Adoption’s Trafficking Problem, Harv. Pol. Rev. (June 20, 2012, 12:52 AM),

[21] Human Trafficking Indicators, Illegal Adoption: Is It Human Trafficking?, Hum. Traffic Indicators (March 2, 2014),

[22] Id.

[23] U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, The AFCARS Report 1 (Vol. 20 2013), available at

[24] Martine Gross, translated by Leo Thiers-Vidal, The Desire for Parenthood Among Lesbians and Gay Men, in International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children 87, 87-101 (Diana Marre and Laura Briggs ed., 2009).

[25] Maggie Jones, Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea, N.Y. Times Mag. (Jan. 18, 2015), available at

[26] Jen Hatmaker, Examining Adoption Ethics: Part One (May 14, 2013),

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Jen Hatmaker, Examining Adoption Ethics: Part Three (May 29, 2013),

[31] Michele Goodwin, The Free-Market Approach to Adoption: The Value of A Baby, 26 B.C. Third World L.J. 61, 62 (2006).

[32] Eleana Kim, Our Adoptee, Our Alien: Transnational Adoptees as Specters of Foreignness and Family in South Korea, 80 Anthropological Q. 497, 503-04 (2007).

[33] Jiannbin L. Shaio and Mia H. Tuan, A Sociological Approach to Race, Identity, and Asian Adoption, in International Korean Adoption: A Fifty-Year History of Policy and Practice 155, 155-158 (Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist et al. eds., 2007).

[34] Id.

[35] Adoptive Families, Q&A with Maggie Jones, Adoptive Families, Winter 2015, at 16.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id. at 17.

[39] U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, supra note 23.

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