SINGAPORE - The baby business took a big hit in the past decade, after agents were barred from finding babies from China for adoption in 2004 and strict checks on prospective parents began a year later.
There are now fewer than five adoption agencies with a steady stream of business, down from about a dozen a decade ago, adoption agents say.
And given a shrinking number of Indonesian and Malaysian babies available for adoption, fees have spiked.
Agents interviewed said they collect between $20,000 and $28,000 for each child who is adopted - 20 to 50 per cent more than a decade ago.
Many adopted children used to come from China, but after agents were banned from bringing in babies from there, they focused on Indonesian and Malaysian babies as there are large Chinese populations in these countries.
Most potential adoptive parents are Chinese Singaporean couples looking for a baby of the same race. Unlike in the past, there is no preference for boys, agents say.
It is illegal to pay or reward birth parents for giving their children up for adoption, except with permission from the court.
In reality, agents say, birth parents receive a hongbao and some even state the sum they want.
One agent, who declined to be named, said the red packets contain between $10,000 and $16,000. Singaporean mothers may get even more - one teenager asked for and received $18,000 when she gave up her baby girl.
Some agents deal directly with the birth parents, who are usually unwed mums or poor couples who cannot afford another child. Others go through middlemen in Indonesia or Malaysia.
One agent said that after deducting expenses, he earned less than 20 cent of the sum he charged.
Unlike for-profit adoption agents, charities that help pregnant women in distress say no money exchanges hands for the adoptions they facilitate.
The adoptive parents usually pay for the birth mother's medical check-ups and hospital bills and some give her a token sum, often less than $1,000.
Although adoption agencies are not regulated, there are laws and administrative requirements governing the adoption process to safeguard the interest and welfare of the children involved, a Ministry of Social and Family Development spokesman said.
There are checks on the documents needed for adoption, such as the child's identification papers, notarised consent from the birth parents giving the child up for adoption, and a declaration by prospective adopters that the child is not obtained through illegal means.
The courts also require details of the financial transactions involved in the adoption, including reimbursement for the birth mother's pre- and post-natal expenses.
Local agents say the need for such documentation has made their foreign counterparts less keen on sending babies to Singapore, hence the dwindling supply for adoption.
Agents say they work only with people they trust to ensure that all is above board and that the child is given up for adoption willingly.
Kid & Tot Adoption Agency's Mr Ronnie Tan said: "I have had a Malaysian agent who said he could give me more than 20 babies a month. There are more choices for parents if I have more babies they can choose from but I said no. I think this man is from a syndicate. The syndicates will have lots of babies at any one time."
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