Is the end coming for intercountry adoption in Europe?

26-01-2024

European Union

Joe-Lize Kruijsse-Brugge, CNE.news

A nurse working in the Center of Deprived Children Tam Binh in Ho Chi Minh City (ex-Saigon) holds an abandoned child. Some of the orphans left in this center have been adopted by Europeans. Photo AFP, Hoang Dinh Ham

They were adopted as biological sisters but discovered that they share 0.0 per cent of their DNA. The discovery of the sisters Doriet and Mirjam Begemann was the start of their search for the truth. Shocking is that they are not alone. Some countries stop with intercountry adoption altogether. Read here why.

Their adoptive parents had no idea that they were being tricked into the adoption, the sisters tell the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad. In 1979, there had been an official adoption procedure in court and by the notary.

In addition, a Dutch lawyer looked at the case as well. "Who would have thought that something was wrong?" the sisters point out. "The Indonesians were so sneaky: our parents did not get the translation of our papers until the day they went back to the Netherlands. Just imagine you're in a hot country with two little children; then you want to go home as soon as possible. And how could they have compared the translation with the original documents?"

Later, they discover irregularities in their official documents. Signatures do not match, and birth dates seem to be falsified. Then, a DNA test confirms their fears: the alleged sisters are not biologically related at all.

Abuses

And Doriet and Mirjam are not the only adoptees that have been defrauded. Over the past few years, more and more adoptees have discovered that their real past is different from what their official adoption documents claim. Some found out, for example, that their biological parents never intended to relinquish them but were tricked by local adoption agencies. The news has led several countries to tighten their regulations to avoid abuses of the system.

No foreign children will be adopted by Danish parents anymore. The last agency for international adoption closed its doors after fraud and abuse came to light. Last week Tuesday, Danish International Adoption (DIA), the only agency in Denmark that mediates international adoptions into the country announced that it will gradually cease its activities. The agency points to the unfavourable circumstances for international adoption in Denmark as the reason for its closure.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, Housing and the Elderly had notified DIA that it had to suspend international adoptions from the last five countries the organisation mediated for, DR writes. Even though this decision was temporary, the closure of DIA will make it practically impossible for Danish parents to adopt children from abroad.

Forbidden

On the same Tuesday DIA closed, a Norwegian policy body recommended a complete stop on international adoptions as well. If the ban is approved by the Ministry of Children and Families, any form of foreign adoption will be forbidden for up to two years.

Last year, Norwegian journalists published a report on severe irregularities that were found in adoptions from South Korea and Ecuador, where children would have been taken away from their biological families under false pretences, New York Times writes. In reaction, the Norwegian government established an investigative commission, which is still busy doing research.

Grip

Sweden is keeping a close watch on the developments in the field of intercountry adoption in Denmark and Norway, Family Law and Parental Support Authority that is responsible for international adoptions in Sweden writes. In Sweden, there is an ongoing investigation into alleged irregularities in international adoptions. Last year, the country paused adoptions from South Korea as news broke that there had been illegal practices in the past. The Authority warns that it is possible that it has to "initiate supervisory proceedings concerning one or more of the relevant countries of origin."

The Netherlands had a temporary ban on foreign adoptions for a while but lifted the restrictions for seven countries. Now, Dutch parents can adopt children from South Africa, Portugal, Thailand, Tawain, the Philippines, Lesotho, Hungary and Bulgaria. The Minister concluded that procedures are legal in these countries.

Belgium has tightened its grip on foreign adoptions as well, the family organisation Kind en Gezin warns on its website. The government decided last December that no new mediation agreements could be established. That means that the procedure for new adoptive parents who had not received an agreement yet, will not be able to adopt for an undefined period of time. Those who already had a mediation agreement may finish their procedure as planned.

Switzerland is currently investigating measures to improve the process of international adoption and make it more secure. In December, a report showed that irregularities occurred to a greater extent than previously known, the Federal Council states on its website. In total, ten countries of origin were examined. In response to the conclusions, the Swiss government apologised to adoptees who were affected by fraud and announced an investigation into the possibility of a revision of the international adoption law, which should be done at the end of 2024.

Illicit practices

Despite the discovery of abuses in the adoption practice, several countries have continued to allow adoption from abroad. One of them is France, which thoroughly reformed its international adoption legislation in 2022. Since then, all adoptions must go through an officially authorised adoption agency, the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs announced at the time. In addition, adoptees and their adoptive parents will receive mandatory support for one year after the child arrives in France. This monitoring is carried out by official instances.

Currently, France is working on an investigation into illicit adoption practices in the past, La Croix reports. News broke that the report contains the recommendation to make information about origin more easily available to adoptees.

At the same time, the reformation of the French adoption law enables more parents to adopt. For example, cohabiting couples who are not married will also be able to adopt children.

Private adoptions

In Germany, it is also still possible to adopt children from abroad. The country implemented new regulations to get a better grip on adoption practices in 2021. Just like in France, this act forbids private adoptions that are carried out without an official organisation being involved. In addition, the law amendment gave adoptive parents and birth families the right to advice and support until after the adoption.

Currently, the German government is working on plans that give unmarried couples the right to adopt a child together and enables singles to adopt as well.

In Spain, intercountry adoption is still allowed as well. According to Comunidad, there are no less than thirty countries from which potential adoptive parents can get a child. In 2023, Spain changed its adoption law so that the interests of the child could be protected better.

Neocolonial mistake

The reforms of the past few years do not come out of the blue. Already in 2012, British adoption expert Peter Selman wrote in an article about the developments in the field of international adoption: "If real reform is not applied, intercountry adoption will end up being abolished – written off like a neocolonial mistake."

As the things stand now, this is not what the countries are aiming for. But the unreserved optimism about intercountry adoption from the past seems to have gone, at least for now.

Chain

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