Instead of making it easier for Australians to adopt overseas, more should be done to prevent international adoption, a federal government adviser says.
While many parents who adopt internationally think they're saving an orphan from hardship, a Griffith University academic, Patricia Fronek, argues they may be contributing to unscrupulous practices in other countries.
"The push to promote intercountry adoption as a welfare solution [for children] creates a marketplace," said Dr Fronek, who is a member of the government's National Intercountry Adoption Advisory Group.
Dr Fronek said there should be more focus on improving a child's circumstances before they end up in an institution.
She denounced the international adoption lobby for "dirty tactics" and promoting "highly emotive and simplistic" messages which ignore the fact that not all children have been abandoned by their birth mothers.
More than half of the 394 adoptions finalised in Australia in the last financial year were international adoptions, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Dr Fronek's criticisms have stung some children adopted by Australian families, including Leah Apfelbaum, who now mentors other adoptees.
"In all the cases that I know of in Sydney, intercountry adoption is not people stealing babies from families; rather, these children are either genuinely relinquished or abandoned," said Ms Apfelbaum, who was abandoned by her birth mother at a Bolivian orphanage.
Now 24, Ms Apfelbaum said her life changed for the better when she was adopted as a five-month-old by a Sydney couple.
"I have had all the opportunities which I would not have received if I had stayed in Bolivia ... There are always those who say 'you are taking children away from their culture', [but] my response is 'what culture?' Being institutionalised is no culture. The life that I could have had was one filled with poverty and limited opportunities."