The number of foreign children adopted by US parents dropped 18 per cent last year to the lowest level since 1992, due in part to Russia's ban on adoptions by Americans. Adoptions from South Korea and Ethiopia also dropped sharply.
State Department figures showed 7,094 adoptions from abroad, down from 8,668 in 2012 and 69 per cent below the high of 22,884 in 2004.
As usual, China accounted for the most children adopted in the US. But its total of 2,306 was far below the peak of 7,903 in 2005.
Ethiopia was second at 993, a marked decline from 1,568 adoptions in 2012. Ethiopian authorities have been trying to place more abandoned children with relatives or foster families, and have intensified scrutiny to ensure children up for adoption are not part of any improper scheme.
Russia was No 3 in 2012, with 748 of its children adopted by Americans. But that number dropped to 250 last year, representing adoptions completed before Russia's ban took effect.
The ban was in retaliation for a US law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators. It also reflected resentment over the 60,000 Russian children adopted by Americans in the past two decades, about 20 of whom died from abuse, neglect or other causes while in the care of their adoptive parents.
Moving into No 3 spot for last year was Ukraine, now caught up in political conflict with Russia. Ukraine accounted for 438 adoptions, followed by Haiti with 388, Congo 313 and Uganda 276.
Along with Russia and Ethiopia, the biggest contributor to the one-year drop was South Korea, which accounted for 627 US adoptions in 2012 but only 138 last year. Susan Jacobs, the State Department's special adviser on children's issues, said this decline was due primarily to new adoption procedures implemented by South Korea.
The last time there were fewer foreign adoptions to the US was in 1992, when there were 6,472, and the downward trend has dismayed many advocates of international adoption.
Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council of Adoption, said the decline stemmed in part from how the US State Department had applied the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption. The US entered into the agreement in 2008 with strong support from adoption advocates who hoped it would curtail fraud and corruption, and then lead to a boom in legitimate adoptions. Instead, the decrease has continued.
"The US has encouraged and in some cases strong-armed impoverished countries to sign the convention and then cites their inability to comply with strict Hague standards as a reason for not doing intercountry adoption with them," Johnson said.