Poor countries cannot run what contemporary Americans would regard as “adequate” orphanages. They don’t have the surplus economic resources to provide robust social welfare institutions. Furthermore, as political scientists say, the state institutions lack capacity to achieve their goals. At best, they’re something out of Dickens. At worst, they’re warehouses in Hell. This is probably going to have some kind of long term psychological impact.
Long wars, especially civil wars, fought under barbarous conditions produce lots of orphans. The process of getting orphaned may involve something like watching your father have his arms chopped off with a machete. This, too, may have a lasting impact.
One report states that in Azerbaijan, “Many children are abandoned due to extreme poverty and harsh living conditions. Family members or neighbors may raise some of these children but the majority live in crowded orphanages until the age of fifteen when they are sent into the community to make a living for themselves.”
Finally, as in America not all that long ago, people use mental institutions and orphanages as receptacles for family members who are permanently disabled in some way. (One problem with tenement living was that you lacked an attic in which to confine Great-Aunt Grace who spent all her time talking about Kate Chopin’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Putting her in the storage locker in the basement just got the neighbors talking.)
Promoting international adoption can be one way of reducing the burden on taxpayers.
Still, there can be problems.
“Child laundering.” No, really, that’s what it’s called. Basically, “gringos” and “farangs” spend so much time with their cell phones that the radiation fries their little swimmers. So, no kids. So, they come to some developing country to buy a kid from an orphanage or some helpful soul who knows a starving child and would like to set him/her up in an American suburban home with a swing set in the backyard and 999 television channels. They’re rich, so there’s money to be made if you have a spare kid to sell. What if you do not have such a kid? Well, that’s what shopping malls are for in the United States. In developing countries you probably have to snatch them in a market-place or on their way home from school. Then, sell to “gringo” or “farang.” It helps if you know a “poor, corrupt policeman” who can help you with fake identity papers. (The US government has been prosecuting an American woman for her part in the fraudulent adoption of 800 Cambodian children.)
UNICEF estimates that there are 700,000 orphans in Russia. The number increases by over 100,000 a year. The striking thing is that these are “social orphans.” They have at least one living parent. The parent feels unable to care for the child, so they abandon the child to the care of someone else. Most go to other relatives or to foster homes. About a third are in the care of the state. Same thing is true in Haiti, where poor parents “hoped to increase their children’s opportunities by sending them to orphanages.” After the Haitian earthquake, the number of orphans sky-rocketed (although so did the number of suddenly-childless adults). American aid agencies descended on Haiti. One impulse was to promote the adoption of children from the orphanages to American homes. The obvious problem was that the Americans completely misunderstood the nature of Haitian orphanages. (On the other hand, they perfectly understood the motives of Haitian government officials who objected to the adoptions: they hadn’t got their cut.)
Little of this kind of “news” makes the headlines.