Story: Adoption

Page 6. Inter-country adoption

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In New Zealand, as in other western countries where few local children are available for adoption, there has been much interest in adopting children from other countries. This occurs against a background of international concern about children being ‘bought’ for adoption, and about the safety of children in their new countries. In 1992 a law change meant a child aged 14 or older adopted by a New Zealand citizen did not automatically become a citizen.

Concern about inter-country adoption

In 1996 a New Zealand church minister was convicted of sexually abusing three children he had adopted from overseas. The man had adopted a total of 19 children from other countries over a five-year period, of whom 16 children complained of physical and sexual abuse. This case prompted widespread concerns about inter-country adoptions.

Hague Convention

The 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is an international agreement which protects children and their families from illegal and poorly organised intercountry adoptions. New Zealand signed the Hague Convention in 1997. The Adoption (Intercountry) Act 1997 made international adoptions of foreign children by New Zealanders legal if they took place in a country which complied with the Hague Convention.

Before a child could be adopted from one Hague country to live in another, the governments in both countries had to agree to the adoption. New Zealand residents needed the permission of Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children as well as the overseas country, and could adopt only in countries approved by Oranga Tamariki. However, some adoptions by New Zealanders still took place in countries that did not meet Hague Convention standards.

Not-so-happy families

Some of the New Zealanders who adopted infants from Romanian orphanages struggled to cope with them. The children had often suffered neglect in infancy and in some cases developed behavioural problems. Parents resorted to locking their bedroom doors to stop their children stealing from them; one couple took out a protection order against their adopted children. ‘We went in so naïve,’ remembers one mother. ‘I thought we would be bringing back these two kids and we would play happy families. We thought they were just going to slot in. It just hasn’t happened.’1

Countries of origin

In New Zealand few people adopted children from other countries until the 1980s. Publicity about the plight of Romanian children living in institutions led to many adoptions from that country. Between 1989 and 1991 New Zealanders adopted more than 150 Romanian children.

Since 1992 New Zealanders have adopted more than 670 children from Russia. Adoptions of Russian children by overseas parents had to happen through adoption agencies in their own countries that were accredited by the Russian Ministry of Education. Other countries that had adoption relationships with New Zealand included Lithuania, Thailand, the Philippines and India.

In the 2010s 300-400 adoptions from other countries were granted or recognised in New Zealand each year, compared with approximately 200 adoptions of New Zealand children.

  1. Quoted in Ruth Laugesen, ‘The children who couldn’t love.’ New Zealand Listener 217 no. 3593 (21–27 March 2009), p. 24. Back
How to cite this page:

Anne Else, 'Adoption - Inter-country adoption', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 March 2023)

Story by Anne Else, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 18 Apr 2018