Thoughts on being a part of The Hague Illicit Practices Working Group

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I wrote this a couple of weeks after I returned from The Hague. I’d had some time to recover from jetlag and collect my thoughts and impressions after being involved at the HCCH Working Group for Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Intercountry Adoption.

Click here to read the official communique.

I feel privileged to have been invited to represent adoptees and I acknowledge I am but one adoptee, and it’s impossible to capture everyone’s varying views on such an emotional topic. I do not represent all adoptees but I did my best to ensure that the views I shared were not just my own individually, but represented the years of conversations and discussions I have had with many intercountry adoptees and adoptee leaders who have connected into the ICAV network since it’s beginnings in 1998.

One of the biggest insights I had in participating, was of the mammoth task it is to try and bring together various countries and get them to “agree and co-operate” on such a complex topic, including all the nuances within. Before attending, I had a utopian idea of what happens at The Hague level. Sitting in the reality and hearing the various views of country representatives, sometimes vastly different, I realised the important role the Permanent Bureau team plays in being the “facilitator”! Their role is to remind countries of the underpinning frameworks (the UNCRC and the Hague Convention for Intercountry Adoption), make proposals aligned with these frameworks, and ensure government representatives can speak and be heard, equally and fairly.

There can be no denying that the UNCRC and the Hague Convention for ICA are far from perfect tools, but at least they create a forum like this – where the cooperating countries get together to discuss major issues. It also became clear there are differences, country to country, on interpretation about how to implement the framework, the resources available to do so, and the limitations of existing legislation. The thought that really hit home for me was: how do we adoptees address illicit adoptions from countries that haven’t signed up to the Hague Convention? Where is the forum for that? Who do we go to in order to be heard? The answer is, there is none. We have to approach each non Hague country separately through their government. They might not have a government department that has authority in this area or there could be multiple departments.

I now understand the Hague Convention for ICA evolved with the UNCRC. They were both negotiated around the same time by almost the same countries. Together they historically reflect the journey of understanding in intercountry adoption at government levels. Back then, in it’s infancy, The Hague Convention for ICA was the minimum that could be agreed upon. Since then and through forums like the Working Group, the States are encouraged to increase their safeguards where they can. We are left with the reality that this Working Group on Illicit Practices is bound by the limitations included in The Hague Convention for ICA.

I believe it’s positive to understand the differences between the UNCRC and The Hague Convention for ICA but not to waste our energies fighting over which is better or worse. I’m pragmatic and the way I view it is, they are not going away any day soon. We have to live with what we have. There is no other international government agreed upon forum that allows these specific issues in intercountry adoption to be discussed. Wouldn’t we rather be involved discussing these things then not be there at all? In attending this meeting, it does not say I condone the pitfalls of either frameworks but says I commit to gaining a better understanding, build relationships where I can, and try to influence in whatever way I can, to improve things for my fellow adoptees.

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June 2019 Working Group for Preventing & Addressing Illicit Practices in Intercountry Adoption

Governments vary in their experience of implementing intercountry adoption policy and practice. Some countries signed up very early to the Hague Convention, others have just joined, and others still are still in the process. I wonder what it would take for the Hague Convention in ICA to be able to “mature” i.e., change or be superceded to ensure better monitoring and implementation? Is it possible? Does it happen in other Conventions? From what I understand, it has never happened before. All countries would have to agree and it would take a special process called a Diplomatic Session created to negotiate a new convention to supersede the existing one. Expecting most of the 101 convention countries in today’s political climate to agree to further refine the existing Convention is utopia! Historically, conventions and treaties of this nature only change when the world goes through a major war. State parties to the Convention meet every 5 years (it is called a Special Commission) to discuss the practical operation of the Convention. However, although States are encouraged to apply the decisions made during these meetings, they are not binding because only the text of the Convention is binding. So I’m not saying it’s impossible but pointing out how much more work we have to do if this is what we want to achieve.

The reality of how difficult it really is to expect governments to tackle the topic of illicit practices in adoption became crystal clear during this trip. Firstly, at this level, to get every signatory country to acknowledge that illicit practices exists is a huge task and with this working group, we are already part way there. Then to get them to agree on how to respond, even if it’s only in theory and for Hague adoptions only, is a massive undertaking. The politics involved, the legislations that bind, the limitations .. I can see why it will take some time for change to happen and it is never “fast enough” for adoptees and families who live it! But at the same time, I was encouraged to see that there were 20+ countries committed to attend the meeting and give the topic well considered time, money, thought and effort. In adopteeland, it’s easy for us to portray governments in a stereotypical way — “uninterested”, “not wanting to help”, or jump to conclusions because it’s not the answer we want/need to hear!

I believe we need to do more relationship building with our governments where it matches i.e., if legal action is not being made against them and where they show a willingness to truly understand our perspective. We can try to understand the barriers they face, be open to understanding that they may want to do something about the past historic illicit practices in adoption, but understand it’s not a simple task – legislation and politics can often be their barriers. They are but one arm in the massive government machine of each country. I hope adoptee leaders around the world will, if you haven’t already, give your Central Authorities a call – try and build a relationship with them and help them learn from your lived experience about the challenges and issues you face.

I came away from the meeting with a harsh stack of reality for how big the task is to have illicit practices in adoption addressed and acknowledged, especially historical adoptions prior to the UNCRC and The Hague Convention on ICA. But I remain positive. Many of the attendees spoke to me about how much they gained from hearing an adoptee perspective. I communicated that some of us are willing to be involved to help them understand the nuances from our perspective and talking with the participants reminded me of how important it is, to not only build commonalities amongst adoptees, but amongst all the players who have a key role in effecting change.

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