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Children for sale? The blurred boundary between intercountry adoption and sale of children in the United States

Robin Shura (Department of Sociology, Hiram College,Hiram, Ohio, USA)
Elle Rochford (Department of Sociology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)
Brian K Gran (Department of Law, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 13 June 2016



Intercountry adoptions (hereafter ICAs) in the USA are a form of sale of children. According to international policy, sale of children is an illicit social practice that involves improper financial gains by at least one party. Sale of children is a threat to legitimate ICA. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the policy and practice of ICAs in the USA, including pricing arrangements, demonstrate that US ICAs, which can have humanitarian aims and be legitimate forms of family development, comprise sale of children.


Internet searches and e-mail inquiries were used to obtain ICA cost data for a randomised sample of 10 per cent of the agencies in the USA that facilitate ICAs.


Cost information was obtained from only 25 per cent of the sample, suggesting lack of transparency in and available information about monetary costs of US ICAs. A range of US$12,000 to $40,000 suggests that US ICAs are expensive and costs vary. Large, undisclosed fees in the form of “required donations”, agency fees, and extensive foreign travel requirements imply third party economic gains are made through US ICA transactions.

Practical implications

US ICA agencies should disclose costs and employ transparent practices. US policies regulating ICAs should be clarified and strengthened. The US Government should ratify, implement, and enforce major children’s rights international policy standards.

Social implications

International demand for adopted children may encourage child trafficking, child laundering, and kidnapping for profit (see Smolin, 2005), putting children, adoptive families, and birth communities at risk of breaches of basic human rights.


No study has offered systematic analysis of monetary costs of US ICAs and linked this analysis to policy and legitimacy of social practices.



Shura, R., Rochford, E. and Gran, B.K. (2016), "Children for sale? The blurred boundary between intercountry adoption and sale of children in the United States", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 36 No. 5/6, pp. 319-334.



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