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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Q&A: Inter-country adoption

Madonna's attempt to adopt 13-month-old David Banda from Malawi has caused a media storm in Britain. But what are the rules governing adoption of a child from elsewhere into the UK?

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) says there were only 313 international adoptions in the UK last year.

A child has not been adopted from Malawi in the past 10 years, it says.

And it encourages inter-country adoption only when:

  • The child cannot be cared for in any suitable manner in their own country
  • The adoption would be in the best interests of the child and with respect to the child's fundamental rights as recognised in international law
  • The adopter has been assessed as eligible and suitable to adopt from overseas by an adoption agency
  • What is the first step in the UK's adoption process?

    If a person wishes to adopt a child from overseas they are advised to speak to their local council or a voluntary adoption agency registered to work on inter-country adoptions.

    What are the inter-country adoption and immigration rules?

    The Home Office has issued a leaflet on bringing foreign children into the UK, which it states is "only a guide and is not an authoritative statement of law".

    Residents in England and Wales wishing to adopt outside the British Isles must first comply with conditions specified in the "Adoptions with a Foreign Element Regulations 2005".

    These include being assessed and approved as suitable to adopt by a local authority or voluntary adoption and having a certificate of eligibility and suitability issued by the secretary of state.

    Failure to comply with the conditions may be punishable by up to 12-months imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine upon conviction.

    In England and Wales only registered voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) and councils are permitted to make arrangements for adoption - including assessing suitability.

    Similar regulations apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    What must a prospective parent do to comply with regulations?

    The regulations require the prospective parent to have:

  • Applied to the local authority
  • Complied with the assessment process, which includes police vetting and medical checks
  • Received confirmation in writing, of agencies' decisions
  • Received written notification from the secretary of state for the DfES that he has issued a certificate of eligibility and suitability, this will be sent to the authorities in the relevant country. Those authorities will consider the application and suggest a match

  • Once the prospective parent has accepted the match, the child should be adopted in accordance with the relevant country's adoption procedures
  • A visit to the child in their state of origin is required and the prospective parent should accompany the child on entering the UK

  • The council must then be notified

  • The adoptive parent must also apply for entry clearance - usually a visa or entry certificate - for the child to come to the UK

  • Why does Madonna want to adopt a child from Malawi?

    Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world.

    It is densely populated - 12.3 million, has limited natural resources and is being ravaged by HIV/Aids.

    Life expectancy in the former the British colony of Nyasaland, which became independent in 1964 is just 39, research shows.

    What rules must a UK adoptive parent adhere to?

  • Adoptive parents must foster a prospective adoptive child for 24 months in Malawi before an adoption may be finalised

  • Prospective adoptive parents must be at least 25-years-old and at least 21 years older than the child

  • Both married and single people may adopt. However, single men may not adopt female children unless the court is satisfied that there are special circumstances, justifying an exception

  • Adoptive parents must be resident in Malawi to adopt

  • Malawian law requires a lengthy pre-adoption foster care period - at least two years

  • There are no adoption agencies in Malawi - they are dealt with by the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Community Services




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