This week, after 40 years, Haiti is on the brink of making major changes to the way it processes international adoptions. Legislation that will nationalize and codify regulation is expected to pass Parliament in the coming weeks.
The proposal that's currently on the table will require that all adoptions go through a centralized agency run by the Haitian government. Another requirement is that both biological parents must relinquish the child before an adoption can be finalized. Additionally, adoptive parents will have to be at least 30 years old and, if they are married, they will need to have been married for at least five years.
In Haiti, one of this hemisphere's poorest nations, there are an estimated 50,000 children living in orphanages -- many of them in sub-standard conditions.
Finding stable, permanent homes for these children is urgent. That's why the proposal now moving through the Haitian government is something worth watching.
Will the legislation be a way to streamline adoptions and make it easier for children to find safe, loving families or will the effect be, as "reform" has been in so many other countries, a slowdown or shutdown of international adoption?
Certainly, the world can applaud the efforts of the Haitian government in its attempt to weed out dangerous practices that can include human trafficking.
A high-profile case that led to increased awareness about the need for serious reform took place after the 2010 earthquake when an Idaho-based church group rushed into Haiti to remove children thought to be orphans. They moved these children through the Dominican Republic and into the United States without securing legal documents or finalizing adoptions within the country of Haiti. In the end, some of the children that were taken into the U.S. had birth families back in Haiti who had not relinquished them.
The proposed legislation could be welcome change since Haiti adoption regulations have been infamously confusing to prospective parents. On the other hand, new layers of bureaucracy could further clog a system that has left tens of thousands of orphaned children stranded in impoverished conditions (no running water, no electricity, no shoes, no schooling, and minimal medical care).
Adoptions from Haiti to the U.S. are currently at a record low. In 2009, U.S. families adopted 330 children while only 33 were adopted in 2011 (the last available data). The number of children in orphanages has not diminished; only the number of international adoptions has.
Study after study demonstrates that the more time children spend without a permanent family, the worse they fare as adults. Haiti owes it to their kids to get this right, and to do it quickly.