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Foreign adoption

September 22, 2010

Nowadays in Germany, people who are hoping to adopt a child are more likely than before to search abroad. Sometimes their reasons are altruistic, but other times it just comes down to one thing: supply and demand.

Couples push Chinese children in strollers
Couples are increasingly going abroad to find childrenImage: picture-alliance / OKAPIA KG, Germany

Ralf Bockstedte, a successful lawyer from Essen who represents soccer clubs and players, said he and his wife Tanja decided 15 years ago to have children, but were "shattered" when they discovered they could not do it biologically. They first decided to adopt a child four years ago, but never did they consider an adoption within Germany.

"To adopt within Germany in our age is quite difficult," he said. "The child would probably have been something from 10 years on. And we rather wanted a baby."

German law allows a maximum age gap of 40 years between adoptive parents and the child. While both Ralf and Tanja are 39, being at the upper end of the age bracket would likely make things more difficult - a longer waiting time, or no baby at all.

They also could have tried for an open adoption in Germany, where the biological parent or parents maintain some contact with the child throughout its life, but Ralf said that did not have the same appeal as adopting an infant.

"Obviously it's great if there is a family doing that, but it wasn't our way," he said.

Ralf, Tanja and Maria Bockstedte
Ralf and Tanja Bockstedte adopted Maria from Colombia, one of the most popular countries for German adoptive parentsImage: Bockstedte

Developing world

So the Bockstedtes went for an adoption from Colombia, and four years later came home with their new daughter Maria - the eighth child of a housekeeper and the fourth to be put up for adoption.

Colombia is one of the most common countries for German couples to adopt from. The country has developed a relatively strong system of protection for orphaned and abandoned children, and it is one of the strictest adherents to the 1993 Hague Convention, which regulates international adoption.

Adoptions from Colombia take longer than those from closer countries like Russia, which is also popular among Germans. But they also tend to be more transparent and structured, according to Susana Katz, founder and director of AdA, the adoption agency that the Bockstedtes worked with.

"Inter-country adoptions are working now because the countries of origin of the children are poor," Katz said. "In Germany, there are no children for adoption, almost. The children aren't hungry; they are financed by the state. In other countries, for example Colombia, the state needs inter-country adoptions to give the children basic rights, like eating."

African child searches in empty metal bowl
Poor countries need adoption to give parentless children basic rights, Katz saysImage: dpa

Supply and demand

While Colombia has more parentless children than it can take care of, increasing its supply, Germany has not only a low birth rate, but also a stronger social welfare system. Children of parents who cannot take care of them are placed in foster homes, supported by state money, or with other relatives, Katz said.

This has contributed to the steadily declining rate of adoptions in Germany over the past decade. In 2009, just under 4,000 adoptions took place - about half of them from step-parents.

But for those couples who choose to bypass Germany's adoption system and turn abroad, cost can also be a prohibitive factor. Translation, consultation, legal review, travel, etc. amount to between 15,000 and 20,000 euros for a foreign adoption from Germany.

Despite its limited supply of children for adoption, the German domestic adoption system is almost entirely financed by the state - parents only pay a few small fees for background checks and medical examinations.

Application process

Child with infant wristband ID
Germany's declining birthrate makes domestic adoption difficultImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In order to qualify for an adoption, domestic or international, couples or individuals must undergo a series of inspections and consultations with state representatives to confirm their fitness to be parents.

David Fermer, a 36-year-old author living in Cologne, and his wife Phillis, a 42-year-old filmmaker, are relatively early on in the application process. They said they were also told that adoption from within Germany can take much longer and be much more difficult than going abroad. And after Phillis visited an orphanage in Mali for work, they decided to adopt a child from Africa.

"The nice thing about the adoption process which I find is that it makes you reflect about who you are, where you are, where you come from," said David. "And it also starts a dialogue as a couple."

He said at a meeting with the state social worker, he and his wife had to write a report on their family of origin, detailing how their history has influenced them. He said coming from a troubled childhood himself, he found inspiration from his wife's story.

"I was so moved because I could see what a happy family she came from," he said. "That's what you want to do for your children, make sure they're as happy as possible."

Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Andreas Illmer