The assumption of “free disposal,” as applied to children

This rather horrifying link has been making the rounds on Twitter, here is the bottom line:

When a Liberian girl proves too much for her parents, they advertise her online and give her to a couple they’ve never met. Days later, she goes missing.

The practice is called “private re-homing,” and it seems plenty of it goes on, and without government scrutiny (in many cases a simple notarized statement may accompany the handover).

Maybe I’ve read too much Walter Block ($2.99 on Kindle) in my day, but well, um, well…you know.  Is the solution to make the initial adopting parents keep the girl?  That seems doubtful.  Are the children better off being sent back to an orphanage rather than being re-gifted?  Possibly so, but this is not obvious.  From a legal point of view, for sure.  But as for the utilitarian and Benthamite angle?  A lot of evil parents might keep their newly adopted children (and to the detriment of those children) because return to the orphanage could be bureaucratic, costly, and also humiliating, at least compared to giving them away rather rapidly over the internet.

Should we screen adopting parents more rigorously, so as to prevent lemon parents from adopting in the first place?  Well, maybe, and if you read the article you will see some cases where better upfront screening would have been highly desirable.  But tougher screening as a general rule?  I don’t know.  Adoption is already costly and bureaucratic, it is on average welfare-enhancing, and maybe we can’t easily screen out most of the lemon parents anyway.  Etc.

On the other side of the issue, limiting free disposal likely would improve the average quality of adopting parent through positive selection.  Quite possibly that effect will predominate but I would ask for the same standards of evidence here that we apply to other policy decisions.

I say we don’t yet know the proper policy response to this issue, but it’s worth thinking this through with more rigor than a simple “mood affiliation” response might suggest.


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