Adoption in Hong Kong is governed by Adoption Ordinance. The process begins with the consent of the birth parent(s) to put the child up for adoption. Consent is only waived in select circumstances, such as where the child is abandoned or the birth parents cannot be located. Consent can be in “general form”, which means the Director of Social Welfare can place the child for adoption with any approved adoptive parents, or it can be in “specific form”, which means the birth parents specify whom the adoptive parents are to be.
To be eligible, persons applying to be adoptive parents have to meet a set of criteria, which includes being 25 years of age, having good mental and physical health, stable employment and a clean criminal record. They will then tender a formal application to the Social Welfare Department or one of the three accredited bodies (Mother's Choice, International Social Services, Po Leung Kuk).
Adoptions in Hong Kong can only be arranged through such institutions unless the proposed adopter is a relative of the child – such as a grandparent, uncle/aunt or stepparent – in which case privately arranged adoptions are possible. An assessment is then conducted to evaluate the applicant against the criteria mentioned above, and includes interviews and home visits.
Only applicants who are relatives of the child are exempt from the assessment requirement. Once applicants are deemed suitable, the SWD will match the applicant(s) with a child in consultation with the accredited bodies. Matching will be based on compatibility, and applicants of the same cultural, religious and ethnic background as the child will be prioritized.
Once matched, the child will be placed in the applicant's home for 6 months to evaluate how well the child is adjusting to his or her new family, before a Court Order authorizing the adoption is granted. During such placement period if it is the view of the SWD or the relevant accredited body that it is not in the best interests of the child for the placement to continue, they may terminate the placement and remove the child. In the event of either of such placement termination or a determination of unsuitability at the initial assessment stage, an applicant may apply to the DSW or Administrative Appeals Board (as applicable) to review the decision.
Every adoption in Hong Kong must be approved by Court Order, including privately arranged adoptions between relatives. Once an adoption order is made, the adoptive parents will assume all the rights and obligations of the birth parents and in all respects it will be as if that child had been born to them. That means the adoptive parents will be subject to the same parental obligations as any other biological parent, and the children will enjoy the same rights as any biological child under the laws of Hong Kong, for instance, in the event of intestacy of the adoptive parents. Indeed, any reference to “child” in a gift or Will of the adoptive parent will automatically by law be taken to include the adopted person.
What are the implications for foreign nationals?
Cross-border adoptions are governed by the Hague Convention, which is incorporated into Hong Kong law also via the Adoption Ordinance. Foreign nationals who wish to adopt Hong Kong children have to first apply to the “Central Authority” of their country – that is, that country's equivalent of the Hong Kong DSW. An assessment by the Central Authority on the applicants' suitability to become adoptive parents, which includes a home visit, will be transmitted to the DSW in Hong Kong.
Foreign applicants therefore need to ensure that they meet the requirements under their domestic regime and also those of Hong Kong – such as being 25 years of age and having a clean record. Equally, an assessment of the child's suitability for adoption by the foreign applicants will be made by the DSW and transmitted to the foreign Central Authority. If both the DSW and the foreign Central Authority agree that adoption is suitable, the child will be placed for six months in the foreign applicants' home for evaluation.
Nevertheless, foreign applicants must always bear in mind that intercountry adoptions face a special hurdle: as it is often in the interest of the child to remain within the same cultural milieu to reduce adjustment problems, intercountry adoptions are only arranged if there are no suitable local homes.
This article was first published in the Hong Kong Economic Times