HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, Sept. 12) – The Republic of the Marshall Islands has put the brakes on the growing business of offshore adoptions of Marshallese babies, requiring agents to register with a newly-created adoption agency.

The Marshalls government yesterday announced the creation of the Central Adoption Authority, which starting Oct. 1 will require the registry and licensing of all parties involved in the adoption of Marshalls infants.

The government also ordered a ban on the recent practice of taking Marshallese women out of the country to give birth for adoptions conducted outside of Marshalls jurisdiction.

An estimated 200 Marshalls babies are reportedly adopted by Americans each year – among the highest adoption rates per capita in the world. Marshalls officials say birth mothers in the Marshalls often don’t understand the permanence of offshore adoptions because of a cultural expectation that the children will some day return.

Concerns have mounted in recent years with the practice of flying pregnant Marshallese women to Hawaii to give birth to their children before they are adopted in the U.S.

The Marshalls Ministry of Internal Affairs yesterday said in a written statement that all adoption activities must stop until intermediaries are registered and licensed by the new agency.

"Effective immediately, all non-customary adoptions of Marshallese children must be regulated and supervised by the Central Adoption Authority and legally processed by the RMI High Court," the statement said.

The Ministry said the new agency will review all applications for non-customary adoptions and provide counseling to families considering putting their children up for adoption. The ministry also said the agency will "supervise the adoption process if adoption is determined to be in the child’s best interest after all other options have been considered."

Under the new regulations, the Ministry said, "taking mothers and children out of the RMI with the intent to pursue adoption once stateside is illegal under the law. These activities are punishable by up to one year in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, or both."

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