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Adopting a New Attitude Towards Children

Tamsin Walker, DW-WORLD.DESeptember 23, 2005

The trend of falling birth rates and the evolution of a society in which child raising is perceived as more of a challenge than an enchantment is visible beyond Germany’s labor wards. Adoption, too, is trailing.

Are there fewer children to adopt, or fewer adults willing to be parents?Image: Bilderbox

Recent figures published by the Federal Statistics Office show that adoption rates in Germany are in a state of systematic decline. In 1994, some 11,453 children were adopted but the figure has been gradually falling ever since then, and reached an all time low of just 5,064 last year.

Some say this is indeed good news: The fewer children, who need to be separated from their natural parents, for whatever reason that might be, the better. Others say it is a sign of the times, a reflection of the struggling economy and the fact that there are simply fewer babies being born in Germany.

Hilfe für Nordkorea in der Krise Säuglinge
The youth services try to encourage mothers to keep their babiesImage: AP

Indeed, there are more adoption applicants than infants to go round. But given that the birth rate is largely said to be slumping among more educated women -- who do not historically spawn the majority of children put up for adoption -- that can't be the whole picture.

Adoption is last resort

Heidrun Sauer, who works for a group which supports foster parents, "Familien für Kinder" (Families for Children), said that given the finality of adoption, there are now great support systems in place to encourage parents to consider the options and enable them to keep their children.

"If a mother decides to put her child up for adoption, she knows she might never see it, or even hear about its development, again," she said.

Besides that, adoption statistics can only take into consideration those who are registered with the German authorities. As Dorothee von Wahl of the statistics office stressed, there is no legal requirement to do so.

Image: AP

"There are certainly cases of foreign adoption which don't have to be registered in Germany," she said. "As long as the parents have official paperwork from the country of adoption, there is no need to inform the authorities."

Demand outstrips domestic supply

Some 32 percent of children registered as adopted by German parents last year came from abroad, but the total figure is likely to have been significantly higher.

Alfred Meyer is chairman of a state-registered adoption placement agency which matches German parents to children in Haiti, Peru, Brazil, Mongolia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. He said people are opting to adopt outside Germany because there simply aren't enough German children to go round.

"For each German child up for adoption, there are 20 applicants, which makes it a gamble," he said. "In adopting from abroad, the chances are much higher."

China Sozialsystem Waisenkinder
Orphans in ChinaImage: dpa

But it's not as simple as making an application and walking off with a brand new baby. Those who take this route into parenting have to go through a process which makes pregnancy and childbirth seem a doodle.

"Applicants have their homes and bank balances examined," Meyer said. "They are subjected to mental and physical checks, and their reasons for wishing to adopt are scrutinized in detail. The whole process takes between one and two years, but even once the applicants have been given the all clear, they have to wait anything up to another two years before they actually have their child."

And time is not the only price they have to pay. If parents decide to go through an agency such as Meyer's "Eltern für Kinder" (Parents for Children), they also have to part with almost 9,000 euros ($10,900), not including their travel and accommodation costs.

How child-friendly is Germany really?

Although agencies continue to attract would-be parents, Meyer said he believes Germany is rife with a "can't be bothered to have kids" attitude.

"If people can get it together to have just one, they feel like they've done their bit, if they have three, people start looking at them in a strange way. It's just not a very child-friendly country."

While birth and adoption rates continue to dwindle, the number of foster children, however, has remained fairly constant over the past 10 years. On average, 10,000 children are taken into temporary care each year, bringing the total number of foster children to around the 50,000 mark.

Although there is a constant need for more foster families, Heidrun Sauer said she is amazed at the level of willingness to take needy children in, both on a short or long-term basis.

Schulkinder auf Rücksitz
Foster parents often take more than one child at a timeImage: AP

"There are so many different levels of motivation, but I would say that for the majority, there is a sense of social responsibility, they want to help," she said. "They might be people who have lived through their own hard times and who now want to give something back."

There are those who argue that foster parents are sometimes just in it for the money, which in Germany amounts to either 650 or 800 euros monthly, depending on the age of the child. Sauer said that although there are always exceptions, the amount they are paid compared to the extra costs they incur renders the argument null and void.

By the same token, she has seen little evidence of a failing will in light of Germany's current economic climate.

Familie unter einem Baum
Happy familyImage: Bilderbox

"I am amazed at how many people are prepared to give up on the idea of having their own children and take a different path, to give up their jobs to be able to enjoy a life with children," she said.