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UNICEF’s statistics on orphans and institutionalized children are widely quoted to justify the need for international adoption. In 2006, it reported an estimated 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
But UNICEF’s definition of “orphan” includes children who have lost just one parent, either to desertion or death. Just 10 percent of the total — 13 million children — have lost both parents, and most of these live with extended family.
In other words, UNICEF’s “millions of orphans” are not doomed to institutional misery unless Westerners adopt and save them. Rather, they are children living with extended families who need financial support.
“It’s not really true,” says Alexandra Yuster, a senior advisor on child protection with UNICEF, “that there are large numbers of infants with no homes who either will be in institutions or who need intercountry adoption.”
That assertion runs counter to the story line that has long been marketed to Westerners, who are trained by images of destitution in developing countries to believe that millions of orphaned babies around the world desperately need homes. UNICEF itself is partly responsible for this erroneous assumption.
- Foreign Policy 2008
“International adoption reflects a particular Western adoption method, which nowadays spreads rapidly across the globe through international conventions, purposefully destroying and replacing non-Western traditions of fostering children among extended kin networks.”
- Tobias Hubinette, Between European Colonial Trafficking, American Empire-Building and Nordic Social Engineering: Rethinking International Adoption From a Postcolonial and Feminist Perspective