On 29 September 2022, the United Nations (UN) published a press release titled: Illegal intercountry adoptions must be prevented and eliminated: UN experts which provides a Joint Statement from the UN Committees. While the majority around the world could not have pre-empted this statement, it was not news to me because our coalition Voices Against Illegal Adoption (VAIA) had been talking with the UN to ensure our input was included. I know other experts in illegal intercountry adoption around the world gave input too.
The UN Joint Statement created for me a day of mixed feelings. For many of us, myself included, who are the victims of the past and current practices that constitute illegal and illicit practices in intercountry adoption, we have been speaking up, shouting from the rooftops, demanding attention, help, and support. But usually to no avail. Most Governments around the world have continued to turn a blind eye to the reality that some of our adoptions have been questionable and some, outright illegal with prosecutions of perpetrators. As one adoptive mother and fierce advocate, Desiree Smolin essentially said on her Facebook post, why has it taken the UN so long given the decades of trafficking and illicit practices? Why have so many families and adoptees been left to suffer the same impacts when it has been known to happen for so many decades?
So on 29 September, I felt our voices have been finally heard and validated – that someone in power was listening to us. Thank you to those at the UN who worked tirelessly to make this happen. It felt a little vindicating but at the same time, the reality of this world crushes hope because I know the statement from the UN is not going to put any true pressure on governments around the world to act in our best interest, let alone help us in any practical sense.
I felt personally so empowered by the UN Joint Statement that I wrote another letter to our leader here in Australia, the Prime Minister. In my letter, I ask the Australian government once again, to please do something to help those who are impacted instead of the deathly silence we’ve experienced in the 25 years I’ve spent advocating for our rights and needs.
Have a read of my lengthy letter which highlights the many times I’ve attempted to raise this issue to our Australian government, asking for supports for the victims. I’m as yet to have any response from the Australian Prime Minister. I imagine that the post-COVID economic recovery of the country, the current floods that have hit Australia all year long, and the other more higher priority issues like domestic family violence will receive his attention first compared to my long letter about a topic that impacts only some of the 20,000 of us intercountry adoptees. We just don’t rank up there in importance and unless it was their son or daughter being impacted, there’s just no reason why our Australian government would care enough to act.
I’ve been asked by a few about what I thought the impact would be of this UN Joint Statement. I truly think the best outcome might be that States (governments) will realise the risks they bear in continuing to conduct and facilitate intercountry adoption with all its pitfalls in safeguarding the human rights of intercountry adoptees. When we consider the legal cases being fought around the world by various intercountry adoptees and the revolution in awakening that we can fight for our rights, I would caution any government against participating in intercountry adoption. Legal pathways are slowly but surely being found by adoptees around the world. Governments must realise that if they continue on as they have in the past, there will be a time of reckoning where the abuses to our human rights will finally be recognised and the injustices need to be compensated.
In the Netherlands, the fight for adoptee rights is led by Brazilian adoptee Patrick Noordoven who won his right to compensation due to his illegal adoption to the Netherlands. Dilani Butink also won her court hearing for her case of an unlawful adoption from Sri Lanka. Bibi Hasenaar is also mentioned as having liability claims in this joint report. Sadly, both Noordoven and Butink’s cases are still being appealed by the Dutch State who have unlimited funds and time which highlights the power imbalance and ongoing victimisation that adoptees face. Sam van den Haak has also sent a letter to the Dutch State about her own and 20 other Sri Lankan adoptees whose adoption files have errors that caused emotional damage.
In Sweden, Carlos Andrés Queupán Huenchumil filed an appeal to change his name back to his original, having been illegally adopted from Chile. In France, a group of Malian adoptees are taking legal action against the adoption agency for its role in their illegal adoptions. In New Zealand, Maori adoptee Bev Reweti has mounted a class action against the State for being displaced and adopted out of their Maori whānau. In South Korea, Korean-Denmark intercountry adoptee and lawyer Peter Regal Möller and his organisation Danish Korean Rights Group have submitted just under 300 cases to the Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission seeking to know the truth about their identities that were falsified in order to be intercountry adopted. Peter openly talks about the legal cases against agencies Holt and KSS that are coming in the future. I also know of other intercountry adoptees who haven’t had published media articles yet but who are progressing in the early stages of their legal cases against States and agencies for their illegal adoptions.
The momentum is growing around the world as adoptees become more aware of the human rights abuses they’ve lived that have been facilitated via intercountry adoption.
It’s not just adoptees who are taking legal action. Some incredibly courageous parents are, and have, also taken action. Recently in France, adoptive parents Véronique and Jean-Noël Piaser who adopted a baby from Sri Lanka have filed a complaint in 2021 for the fraud that involved the stealing of their baby from her mother in Sri Lanka. In the USA, adoptive parents Adam and Jessica Davis have been successful in assisting the US government to press charges against the adoption agency European Adoption Consultants (EAC) for its role in fraud and corruption of theirs and many other adoptions.
In a landmark first, both adoptive parents and biological parents of Guatemalan-Belgium adoptee Mariela SR Coline Fanon are taking civil action in Belgium as victims of human trafficking. The case is currently under judicial investigation. This is not the first time biological parents fight for their rights in intercountry adoption. In 2020, biological father from Guatemala, Gustavo Tobar Farjardo won at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for his sons to be returned to him who had been adopted to separate families in America.
So ultimately, I believe the UN Joint Statement acts two-fold: firstly, it goes some way towards validating the traumas some live in our adoptions and encourages intercountry adoptees and families around the world to stand up and demand action and legal vindication of our truths; and secondly, it makes it clear to States the risks they undertake if they continue on in their current practices of intercountry adoption.
I would personally be glad and celebrate if adopting countries assess the risk of participating in intercountry adoption as too high to continue it into the future. We are long past the time of being blind to the colonial practices and harms of intercountry adoption. We must do more to help all countries become more aware of the responsibility they hold to their own born-to-children. Remember that some of our biggest sending countries in intercountry adoption are our richest – China, South Korea and the USA. It is time we moved past the easy solution intercountry adoption provides to countries who don’t wish to take care of their own and challenge countries to understand there is an inherent cost if they ignore their children by casting them aside, when it suits. Intercountry adoptees do grow up, we become well educated, we are empowered by Western mentality to demand our rights be respected and injustices no longer be ignored.
The UN Statement is long overdue given the decades of generations of us who are impacted by illegal and illicit adoptions. I celebrate that we have been heard at the highest level internationally, but I’m fairly certain that States will not step up to deal with this issue in any practical way. I know they will remain silent for as long as possible, hoping it blows over and meanwhile, as in the Netherlands, they will continue on in their trade of children but in a slightly different way, despite conducting a full investigation; because that’s what countries do. I’m a pragmatist and I will continue to raise awareness and push for much needed change, because I know despite the UN Joint Statement, we are still at the beginning. It will take a huge en-masse movement from impacted people to get governments to act in support of us because for too long, they’ve been able to get away with doing little to nothing. At some point, the cost for governments and participating entities of doing little, will outweigh the cost to stopping the practice.
I believe in its current form and as practiced under the 1993 Hague Convention, governments are unable to prevent and stop the illegal and illicit practices aka trafficking that include human rights abuses in intercountry adoption. Therefore it needs to be stopped. The UN Joint Statement is simply a reflection of where we are at today. Victims no longer need to plead to be heard, we HAVE been heard at the highest level internationally. What we are waiting on now, is for appropriate responses from governments and facilitating organisations — which might be a long time coming.