Fewer babies, so number of adoptions down

Madam Veronica Low and her husband, Mr Stephen Vass, with their adopted daughter Madeline, and sons Gregory, eight, and Christopher, five.
Madam Veronica Low and her husband, Mr Stephen Vass, with their adopted daughter Madeline, and sons Gregory, eight, and Christopher, five. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Curbs on babies from China, fewer unwanted pregnancies among reasons cited by agents

The number of children adopted here has fallen by half as fewer babies have been placed for adoption.

Last year, 352 children were adopted - fewer than half the 731 in 2004, figures from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) show.

With the demand to adopt staying strong and outstripping the supply of foreign and Singaporean babies, adoption agents are charging more. They say this is because their foreign counterparts are asking for more money. The delivery and other bills for the care of the mother and baby have also risen.

 

Adoption agents are asking for between $25,000 and $35,000, against the $15,000 to $25,000 a decade ago. This includes the agent's fees, delivery and other medical bills, lawyer's fees and a red packet for the birth mother.

Adoption numbers fell sharply, agents say, after the Government barred agents from finding China babies for couples to adopt. China used to be a main source of babies for adoption.

Since 2004, only two charities - Touch Family Services and Fei Yue Community Services - have been allowed to handle China adoptions. The Singapore and Chinese governments agreed on this to prevent illegal cash-for-baby transactions.

It is illegal to pay or reward birth parents for giving their child up for adoption, except with permission from the courts.

However, The Sunday Times understands that agents give birth parents a red packet of up to a five-figure sum. Agents say they declare this sum to the authorities.

With China adoptions out, agents have turned to Malaysia and Indonesia, looking for poor couples or unwed mums to give their babies up.

But with the greater use of contraceptives, there are fewer unwanted pregnancies among these foreigners, said adoption agent Mahaletchimi Muthusamy, who runs the Ministry of Baby Singapore.

Ms Muthusamy, who has about 100 couples waiting to adopt, said: "If there is a baby placed for adoption now, every agent would immediately grab (the baby)."

One agent, who declined to be named, said foreign middlemen have been less keen to work with Singapore agents in recent years as the Singapore authorities demand more documentation.

Although adoption agencies are not regulated, there are checks on the documents needed for adoption, such as the child's identification papers and notarised consent from the birth parents giving the child up for adoption, the MSF said.

The courts also require details of the financial transactions involved, including reimbursement of pre- and post-natal expenses.

About six in 10 children adopted in the past five years were born overseas, mainly in neighbouring countries. Unmarried people can also adopt a child, but less than 5 per cent of the adoptions are by singles, said the MSF spokesman.

In Singapore, fewer women have unwanted pregnancies, and most women in such a plight have an abortion, social workers say. So few local babies are put up for adoption.

In particular, the number of babies born to teens aged 19 and under has almost halved from 781 in 2004 to 406 last year, according to data published by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

Ms Jennifer Heng, director of Dayspring New Life Centre, which helps pregnant women who need support, said some women choose to abort as they fear their child would grow up blaming them for giving them up. "Others are afraid their child would look for them one day and ask them why they were given up for adoption," she added.

Of the 26 women Dayspring helped in the past year, only one teen gave her baby up for adoption, she added. The rest raised their babies themselves.

Touch Family Services senior manager Teo Seok Bee said more unwed mothers are raising their babies on their own as the stigma of being an unwed mum has eased.

But with few babies available, the wait to adopt a Singaporean child can be indefinite, Ms Heng said.

Agents say they can usually find a foreign baby for couples in one to three months. But the wait also depends on couples' preferences and whether there is a suitable baby.

A childless married couple who wanted to be known only as John, 42, and Isabel, 37, had braced themselves for a long wait after applying to adopt last year. But after a few months, Touch Family Services asked if they wanted to adopt a days-old boy born here.

They said yes after visiting the baby in hospital. Isabel, a manager, said she is "beyond happy". And John is now looking after their son, who is nearly one, full-time.

They spent about $11,000 on his and his birth mother's medical bills, legal fees and the fees charged by Touch to facilitate the adoption.

Isabel said: "He has brought so much joy and meaning into our lives. The journey is so worth it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2015, with the headline 'Fewer babies, so number of adoptions down'. Print Edition | Subscribe