The Role of Grey Markets in Adoption: Regulating for the Rights of the Child

September 20, 2023

Submitted to the United Nations
457th Meeting, 25th Session
Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
In response to the UN Joint Statement on Illegal Intercountry Adoptions


Since the beginning of the millennium, the world has seen significant advancements in energy storage, artificial intelligence, and medical science.

At no point in history has humanity been more globally connected. As technology evolves, so must our commitment to human rights. The emergence of grey markets in international adoption is a developing concern in need of urgent attention. Legal adoption continues to be at the center of dialogue and debate between leaders around the world.

The global community has widely condemned black-market human trafficking. However, between these two spaces is the adoption grey market, also known as adoption rehoming. Here, adoptive parents, facing challenges in raising an adopted child, seek new caregivers or families for the child without involving legal authorities or adoption agencies.

Typically occurring within online communities or through personal networks, rehoming often lacks transparency and safeguards, leaving the child vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Adoptive parents may post advertisements or solicit potential caregivers, transferring custody without formal adoption procedures. This practice bypasses essential legal safeguards, potentially exposing children to serious and potentially life-threatening risks.

By expanding the scope of the UN Joint Statement on Illegal Intercountry Adoptions to include rehoming practices, we can better safeguard the rights and well-being of adopted children.

The Dark Side of Grey Markets in Adoption

  1. Exploiting Regulatory Inconsistencies:

Grey markets in adoption thrive by taking advantage of regulatory inconsistencies. For example, some jurisdictions may have stringent adoption laws and strict oversight, ensuring that all adoption processes are ethical, transparent, and in the best interests of the child. However, in contrast, some sending jurisdictions may have lax regulations and limited resources for enforcement. Grey market actors exploit this inconsistency by operating within jurisdictions with weaker adoption regulations, intentionally circumventing legal processes, and treating children as commodities in the adoption process. This disparity in regulations and enforcement enables the commodification of children, as they are transferred between families and countries without adequate safeguards for their rights and well-being.

  1. Children’s Vulnerability:

Adoptees within grey markets are exposed to grave risks, such as trafficking and identity laundering. When there is no regulatory oversight, adoptees may have their identities falsely altered to obscure their true origins. This has historically occurred within the legal adoption system. The difference for rehomed adoptees is that unlike their agency counterparts, they have no recourse upon discovery of falsified origins.

  1. Human Rights Violations:

The rights of birth parents and adopted children are systematically violated within grey markets through deception and coercion, perpetuating the intentional commodification of innocent lives. For instance, some grey market facilitators may deceive birth parents into relinquishing custody of a child to a specific family, only for the child to later be placed in improper care with a different family. The biological parents, adoptive parents, and the adoptee are unaware of the children’s true circumstances. In absence of administrative oversight and records, rights as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child can become unenforceable.

  1. Government Complicity:

Government complicity and corruption play a crucial role in enabling and perpetuating adoption grey markets. This corruption can be as simple as failing to enforce regulations and ignoring red flags, or as serious as assisting in fraudulent documentation and accepting bribes to protect the interests of those involved in rehoming. Unlike black-markets, grey markets can be found easily through websites, apps, and social media. As a result, the rights and well-being of adoptees continue to be compromised.

Safeguarding Children’s Rights: A Call for International Action

As an adoptee, my journey has been far from a fairy tale. Though my own adoption was facilitated by an adoption agency and government officials, I still struggle to piece together the puzzle of my origin story. Sadly, this reality is exacerbated by the existence of grey markets in adoption. In the shadows, people like me are intentionally commodified, their rights and well-being often cast aside.

We must act urgently and steadfastly to uphold the principles of human rights as expressed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the UN Joint Statement on Illegal Intercountry Adoptions through the following actions:

  1. Increasing Transparency and Accountability:

Robust tracking mechanisms for international adoptions are critical in preventing commodification and guaranteeing the validity of reported adoptee origins. Transparency and accountability include safeguards such as standardized processes, mandatory reporting, regulatory oversight, and enforcement of laws.

  1. Empowering through Education:

Comprehensive consumer education and public awareness programs can empower informed decision-making, helping to mitigate risks to children from uninformed parents or caregivers.

  1. Prioritizing Post-Adoption Well-being:

Essential post-adoption services must be provided to rectify the suffering endured by existing adoptees. This demonstrates a commitment to human rights and ensures the well-being of vulnerable individuals.

  1. Facilitating Financial Oversight & Integrity:

Rigorous financial regulations must be introduced to monitor international adoption fees in order to address underlying issues of commodification that undermine human rights.

  1. Global Collaboration:

Fostering international cooperation to combat grey market practices in adoption is essential. This collective action should establish laws that prohibit secondary adoption market transactions and networks, effectively safeguarding children’s rights and aligning with the UN CRC’s commitment to justice.

  1. Engaging with UN Committees and Subject Matter Experts:

The ongoing involvement of the UN, its member states, and committees in the scrutiny of grey markets in adoption is vital. The international community must provide essential oversight and accountability to dismantle systems that intentionally dehumanize adopted and displaced people.


We know that compassion and empathy can create lasting change. Rehoming in adoption intentionally and openly exploits children, putting their lives at risk for personal gain. Shedding light on adoption grey markets is an essential step toward a more compassionate world. It’s crucial that we, as members of the global community, rise to the challenge and demand regulatory measures to protect those who are too young to protect themselves. We must take decisive action towards protecting the human rights of adoptees worldwide. It is our collective duty to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to grow in a loving and nurturing environment, free from the shame of commodification.