A free market in adoptions?


adoptIf you’ve been following Made in Chelsea, you may have had the thought, “Where are their parents?”. The answer is more than likely Saint-Tropez.

The truth is that anyone who is physically able to do so may have children and, for the most part, may raise them with a free hand. The state does not purport to know who will be a good birth parent, and does not attempt to stop anyone from reproducing. Curiously, though, it places severe restrictions on those who would adopt. This raises the question, is the state’s monopoly on adoption legitimate? Is there any real difference between being “unqualified” to adopt and being similarly hopeless but nonetheless giving birth to a child?

Were we to poll, one might expect to see strong support for restrictions on, say, sex offenders adopting at the same time as strong disapproval of the state preventing people with genetic diseases from reproducing. Perhaps the logic is something like a natural rights theory of property: I have produced that child, she of my genetic material, you cannot raise her in a Platonic (Huxleyan?) state institution. This doesn’t really make sense, though; no one considers children to be actual property, not even Locke. The difference between birth and adoption seems more one of intuition than substance. Children who remain with their birth parents are no more immune to mistreatment than are adopted children.

Both demand to adopt and the number of children waiting to be adopted remain high. The stumbling block appears to be government regulation. The adoption process is notoriously slow, with a minimum time frame of six months; some families wait four to eight years to adopt. Part of this may be that direct adoption is banned except in cases where adopter and adoptee are related, and that extensive background checks and court dates are required before an adoption can go through.

Does it seem like someone with a child sex offence conviction should be able to adopt young children? Absolutely not. At the same time, allowing children to languish in foster care for years while there are plenty of reliable, caring people who would love to adopt them seems bizarre and cruel. The current system demands liberalisation. Might pregnant women be allowed to choose adopters? Might adopters be allowed to pay to adopt? A lot to think about, to be sure.