List of international adoption scandals

The following is a partial list, by year, of notable incidents or reports of international adoption scandals,[1][2][3][4][5] adoption corruption, child harvesting, baby-stealing, legal violations in international adoption, or adoption agency corruption (see child laundering; child trafficking):[6][7] "In the United States international adoptions are a big business, where many private international adoption agencies are paid on average $30,000 a time to find a child for hopeful parents."[8]


The United States Department of Justice in August 2020 charged three women in Ohio for their alleged roles in "schemes to corruptly and fraudulently procure adoptions of Ugandan and Polish children through bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding U.S. adoptive parents, U.S. authorities, and a Polish regulatory authority."[9]


The then-serving assessor of Maricopa County, Arizona, Paul D. Petersen, was accused of running an illegal adoption scheme where he recruited, transported, and offered payment to dozens of pregnant women from Marshall Islands to give their babies up for adoption in the United States over the course of three years. Adoptions between the US and Marshall Islands are banned by an agreement between the two countries.[10][11]


Ethiopia indefinitely suspended, and later banned, all adoptions to the United States.[12][13]


  • United States and Russia - Russia temporally suspended all child adoptions by U.S. families after a 7-year-old Artyom Savelyev (Justin Hansen) adopted by a Tennessee nurse Torry Hansen was sent alone on a one-way flight back to Moscow with a note saying he was "mentally unstable".[14] After this incident Russian Children's Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said: "We must, as much as possible, keep our children in our country".[15] The Chairwoman of the Russian parliamentary committee on family and children Yelena Mizulina meanwhile pointed out that 30,000 children were sent back to institutions by their Russian adoptive, foster or guardianship families in the last three years.[16]
  • United States and Russia - Russian officials called for a suspension of adoptions to U.S. parents after a Pennsylvania couple were charged for beating to death their adoptive child from Russia.[17]
  • New Life Children’s Refuge case. In the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, ten Baptist missionaries are arrested and charged with kidnapping. The group had gathered 33 children in devastated areas and intended to move them to a temporary orphanage in the Dominican Republic. The missionaries did not have proper authorization to take the children out of Haiti. It later became clear that most of the children were not orphaned. >“33 Haitian children, most of whom were not orphans and had families.” is most accurate way to convey that this was clearly an opportunistic act by Silsby through her cover, a questionable group, known as the New Life Children's Refuge. 33 abducted children but NLCR did not have proper authorization for transporting the children and were arrested on kidnapping charges.


  • China - "Six government officials in southwest China have been punished over an orphanage scandal when three children were taken away from their families who could not afford fines for violating family planning regulations. The orphanage sent the children overseas for adoption from 2004 to 2006, a Guizhou-based newspaper reported today."[18]
  • Samoa - Four Sentenced in Scheme, prosecutors say adoption agency tricked Samoan parents into giving their own children up for adoption[19]
  • Ethiopia - Canadian Broadcasting Company reports Canadian families "claim that CAFAC has informed them their child is an orphan when the parents in fact exist... (and) that sometimes the children's ages are wildly off and the health of these kids varies greatly from what they have been told before travelling to Addis Ababa to pick them up."[20] Andrew Goeghegan reports that "At least 70 adoption agencies have set up business in Ethiopia. Almost half are unregistered, but there’s scant regulation anyway and fraud and deception are rife. Some agencies actively recruit children in a process known as harvesting.[8] This has prompted on Dutch agency to stop adoptions from Ethiopia "as a result recent reports about abuse of the system by the government in Ethiopia and local adoption agencies. Research done by the adoption agency, shows that the information about the children on file does not match with their actual back ground. In several cases the mothers of the children were still alive, while being listed as deceased."[21]
  • Vietnam - "A court in northern Vietnam has put 16 people on trial for allegedly selling more than 250 babies for foreign adoption. The head of two social welfare centres in Nam Dinh province as well as several doctors and nurses at village clinics went on trial yesterday, said Dang Viet Hung, the chief judge at the court hearing the case. The defendants are charged with "abuse of power and authority" and could face prison terms of five to 10 years."[22]



  • China - In November 2005, Xinhua News reported that orphanages in China's Hunan Province, as well as other unnamed orphanages in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces, were caught buying babies from traffickers for "800 yuan (US$98.89) to 1,200 yuan and resold them to other orphanages or families at a much higher price."[27] Follow-up investigations showed that over 1,000 babies were sold to the Hunan orphanages by the Duan family, and that these children were almost all adopted internationally.[28]
  • Samoa - Samoa rushes through legislation "to tighten up on foreign adoptions following the death of a child who had been in the care of an American agency..." one year after "a One News investigation revealed Samoan parents had put their children up for adoption with the organisation Focus On Children, not realising they would never see them again. Parents thought the children would stay in America only for their education and that the adoption was not permanent."[29]


  • Samoa - One News reveals Samoan parents put their children up for adoption with the organisation Focus On Children thinking the children would stay in America only for their education and that the adoption was not permanent and reveals that they would likely never see their children again.[29]


  • UNICEF releases report on child trafficking/child laundering in Africa.[30]
  • England - Judge attacks social worker over international adoption scandal. "The lid was lifted on the "evil and exploitative" business of international adoption yesterday when a High Court judge attacked a British freelance social worker for allowing a blacklisted family to buy a baby from a couple in the United States...But before her first birthday she was placed at the mercy of the courts after her "new" parents, who were barred from adoption in Britain by conventional means, split and her adoptive mother committed suicide."[31]


  • In December 2001, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service halts adoptions from Cambodia. Richard Cross, the lead investigator for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “accused officials at the highest level of government of complicity of scams involving hundreds of babies and millions of dollars.”[32] He was also "the lead federal investigator for the prosecution of Lauryn Galindo for visa fraud and money laundering involved in Cambodian adoptions, estimated that most of the 800 adoptions Galindo facilitated were fraudulent--either based on fraudulent paperwork, coerced/induced/recruited relinquishments, babies bought, identities of the children switched, etc."[33]

This followed investigations by a local human rights group and the Phnom Penh Post exposing baby-buying and abduction through Lauryn Galindo's adoption operations, as well as others. In 2004, Galindo pleaded guilty to federal charges and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and also ordered to forfeit more than $1.4 million in property in Hawaii.[34]



  • India - Andhra Pradesh - "[T]he scandal broke in March and April of 1999, and once again involved Sanjeeva Rao and his orphanage, ASD. This time, another individual, Peter Subbaiah, who ran the Good Samaritan Evangelical and Social Welfare Association, was also implicated. The primary accusation concerned buying babies from a tribal group called the Lambada. The Lambada were a traditionally nomadic people, now settled into hamlets (called tandas) and surviving primarily through subsistence farming and farm labor, often under conditions of severe poverty. The Lambada had previously practiced the custom of a bride price, but had adopted the culturally predominant Indian dowry system, which requires the family of the bride to pay a substantial sum to the groom’s family in order to arrange her marriage. In addition, the Lambada were said to believe that the third, sixth, and ninth child was, if a girl, “inauspicious.” They were allegedly prone both to female infanticide, and also to selling, for very modest sums, some of their female infants. Press accounts in India referred to their “fair complexion” as making them more attractive to foreign parents, although it is not clear whether this reflected Indian, rather than American, prejudices. The 1999 scandals began with the arrest of two women who were alleged to be acting as scouts or intermediaries in the purchase of children. Although some reports styled these women as “social workers,” they were charged with buying Lambada infants for relatively small sums ($15 to $45), and then receiving significantly larger sums ($220 to $440) from the orphanages for the children. Press reports indicated that the orphanages received $2000 to $3000 for each child placed in intercountry adoption. As a result of the 1999 scandals, Sanjeeva Rao and Peter Subbaiah were arrested and placed in prison."[36][37]


  • India - "The Andhra Pradesh adoption scandals focused on suspicions of irregularities in an orphanage called Action for Social Development. Children whose adoptions had been held up by the American embassy were granted visas and allowed to travel to the United States.[36]



  1. ^ David M. Smolin, Child Laundering: How the Intercountry Adoption System Legitimizes and Incentivizes the Practices of Buying, Trafficking, Kidnapping, and Stealing Children, also published by the Wayne Law Review.
  2. ^ David M. Smoin, Unpublished: Child Laundering As Exploitation: Applying Anti-Trafficking Norms to Intercountry Adoption Under the Coming Hague Regime.
  3. ^ David M. Smolin, The Two Faces of Intercountry Adoption: The Significance of the Indian Adoption Scandals, Seton Hall Law Review.
  4. ^ [1] Archived 2007-02-06 at the Wayback Machine Adopting Internationally Website.
  5. ^ David M. Smolin, Intercountry Adoption as Child Trafficking, Valparaiso Law Review [2].
  6. ^ "What To Do". Adopting Internationally. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  7. ^ [3] Archived July 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ a b "U.S. adoption agencies exploit Ethiopian children – documentary". Archived from the original on 2009-09-27. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  9. ^ "Three Individuals Charged with Arranging Adoptions from Uganda and Poland Through Bribery and Fraud". 17 August 2020. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  10. ^ "Utah AG's Office: Maricopa County Assessor Paul D. Petersen arrested, accused of human smuggling". KSAZ-TV. October 9, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  11. ^ Allyn, Bobby (October 9, 2019). "Arizona Official Arrested In Alleged 'Baby Mill' Adoption Fraud Scheme". NPR. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  12. ^ Arsenault, Cassy (May 8, 2017). "Ethiopian suspension on international adoptions has West Michigan family worried for soon-to-be-son with heart condition". Fox17.
  13. ^ Lemma, Tarikuwa. "International adoption: I was stolen from my family". CNN.
  14. ^ Levy, Clifford J. (April 15, 2010). "Russia Seeks Ways to Keep Its Children". The New York Times. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  15. ^ "Quotes of the Day". Time. April 16, 2010. Archived from the original on April 20, 2010. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  16. ^ Levy, Clifford J. (May 3, 2010). "Russian Orphanage Offers Love, but Not Families". The New York Times. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  17. ^ Russian officials call for suspension of adoptions to U.S. parents after death of Dillsburg-area boy, By LARA BRENCKLE, The Patriot-News, March 05, 2010, 12:00AM
  18. ^ "上海日报 - English Window to China News". Shanghai Daily. 2013-04-18. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  19. ^ [" Four Sentenced in Scheme to 'Adopt' Samoan Kids--Prosecutors: Adoption Agency Tricked Samoan Parents Into Giving Children Up for Adoption," Beth Tribolet, Teri Whitcraft and Scott Michels, ABC News Law & Justice Unit, February 26, 2009.]
  20. ^ "Canadian parents raise concerns". CBC News. March 19, 2009. Archived from the original on April 23, 2009.
  21. ^ "Dutch agency stops adoption from Ethiopia pending investigation". Archived from the original on 2009-09-26. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  22. ^ "16 On Trial For Selling Babies For Adoption". The Independent. London. September 23, 2009.
  23. ^ "Cleaning Up International Adoptions". Time. August 29, 2007. Archived from the original on September 3, 2007.
  24. ^ "Home - International Organization for Migration". 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  25. ^ Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Thomson Reuters Foundation | News, Information and Connections for Action". Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  26. ^ "Home - International Organization for Migration". 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  27. ^ "Xinhua - English". 2005-11-24. Archived from the original on November 30, 2005. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  28. ^ Research-China.Org (2006-10-09). "Research-China.Org: Hunan - One Year After - Part One". Retrieved 2013-09-27.; Brian H. Stuy (with foreword by David Smolin), Open Secret: Cash and Coercion in China's International Adoption Program" Cumberland Law Review 44.3 (2014): 355-422.
  29. ^ a b "Death prompts Samoan adoption change". One News. June 27, 2005. Retrieved October 15, 2011.
  30. ^[bare URL PDF]
  31. ^ "Judge attacks social worker over international adoption scandal". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 2010-10-23. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  32. ^ [4] Archived June 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ Desiree Smolin and David Kruchkow, Why Bad Stories Must Be Told, The Adoption Agency Checklist, [5]
  34. ^ Archived from the original on August 4, 2009. Retrieved November 1, 2009. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  35. ^ (PDF) Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2006. Retrieved November 1, 2009. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  36. ^ a b "The Two Faces of Intercountry Adoption: The Significance of the Indian Adoption Scandals" Seton Hall Law Review Thirty-Five.Number Two (2005): 403-493. Available at:
  37. ^ Morning Edition. "An Adoption Gone Wrong". NPR. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  38. ^ Jorge L. Carro, Regulation of Intercountry Adoption: Can the Abuses Come to an End?, 18 HASTINGS INT’L & COMP. L. REV. 121, 144 (1994)(documenting “baby trafficking” problems in Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, Honduras, Sri Lanka, and Romania).
  39. ^ a b see footnote 29
  40. ^ Jorge L. Carro, Regulation of Intercountry Adoption: Can the Abuses Come to an End?, 18 HASTINGS INT’L & COMP. L. REV. 121, 144 (1994) (documenting “baby trafficking” problems in Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, Honduras, Sri Lanka, and Romania).