NEW YORK — The number of foreign children adopted by Americans fell 12 percent in the past year, reaching the lowest level since 1999 as some countries clamped down on adoptions and others battled with allegations of fraud.
China, which for a decade was the leading source for international adoptions, accounted for the biggest decline and dropped out of the top spot. It was replaced by Guatemala, which almost certainly will lose that status in 2009 because of a corruption-related moratorium on adoptions imposed by U.S. officials.
Figures for the 2008 fiscal year, released by the State Department on Monday, showed 17,438 adoptions from abroad, down from 19,613 in 2007. The all-time peak was 22,884 in 2004.
Reasons for the decline vary from country to country. China and Russia — the two largest sources of adoptees over the past 15 years — have sought to care for more of their abandoned and orphaned children at home, and China has imposed tighter restrictions on foreign applicants that exclude single people, older couples, the obese and those with financial or health problems.
The numbers were sobering to international adoption advocates.
"There are still tens of millions of orphans around the world — and we know there are millions of Americans willing to adopt these kids," said Chuck Johnson, chief operating officer of the National Council for Adoption. "Countries are very reluctant to let go of what they consider their future, even though they'll readily acknowledge the future for these kids is not promising."
By far the biggest drop was for adoptions from China, which fell to 3,909 from 5,453 in 2007 and a peak of 7,906 in 2005.
Adoptions from Guatemala also declined in the past year, from 4,728 to 4,123, and the number is projected to be sharply lower for 2009. Guatemalan officials are trying to replace an old system, which allowed abuses ranging from fraud to child snatching, with stringent practices conforming with the Hague Convention, an international adoption treaty.
The biggest increase was in adoptions from Ethiopia — they rose from 1,255 to 1,725, moving the Horn of Africa nation into fourth place on the State Department's list, just behind Russia.