One Adoptee’s Thoughts on the UN Joint Statement on Illegal Intercountry Adoptions

Resilience by CLAIR

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.

Resources

Governments finally recognising illicit and illegal adoption practices

Lived experience suggestions for responses to illicit adoptions

Lived experience of illegal and illicit adoption (webinar)

Stop intercountry adoption completely because abuses can never be ruled out

Unbearable how the minister deals with adoption victims

The case for moratoria on intercountry adoption

Child Laundering: How the intercountry adoption system legitimises and incentivises the practice of buying, kidnapping, and stealing children

False Narratives: illicit practices in Colombian transnational adoption

Irregularities in transnational adoptions and child appropriations: challenges for reparation practices

From Orphan Trains to Babylifts: colonial trafficking, empire building and social engineering

Double Subsidiarity Principle and the Right to Identity

Intercountry adoption and the Right to Identity

Exploitation of in intercountry adoption: Toward common understanding and action

Agent Orange Awareness Month

I am a product of the Vietnam war in which America treated my birth country as a chemical laboratory with pesticide warfare. Many of my people suffer to this day from the lifelong impacts of the decision to spray thousands of hectares with the deadly chemical cocktail. 

I have witnessed a high proportion of my fellow Vietnamese adoptees suffering from cancers at relatively young ages, a proportion of our children born with disabilities, mine included. Whether we can categorically say it is caused by agent orange being sprayed, is unclear but we know it was an airborne contaminant that would have impacted our mothers with us while in utero and in environments we may have been exposed to as young children.

For the newer, younger generations of Vietnamese adoptees, they are born in a country that still suffers the effects of the contaminated land and waters from agent orange. How many of them suffer from generational impacts of agent orange?

One of the most confronting realities I experienced whilst visiting Vietnam’s orphanages was meeting with the children who live with serious deformities and disabilities, those who are not able to be looked after in family homes because their complex needs are too overwhelming.

Agent Orange awareness month reminds me of the power differentials that precede intercountry adoption. I see the American war veterans and their families can get free testing for exposure to agent orange and recognition of the impacts and support for what agent orange has had on them, yet too little is done for the people of Vietnam and others like us, the collateral damage .. Vietnamese adoptees sent abroad.

Maybe the American and other adopting governments think it was enough to “save” us from their own acts to wipe out our country and have us airlifted to their lands, where we can grow up to whitewash the acts of war and the perpetrators because after all, we should be grateful to be adopted shouldn’t we?! 

Resources

Operation Babylift: An Adoptee’s Perspective

Operation Babylift: Mass Kidnaping?

Misguided Intentions: Operation Babylift and the Consequences of Humanitarian Action

The Controversy of Operation Babylift During the Vietnam War

Operation Babylift (1975)

UN Statement on Illegal Intercountry Adoption

Adoptee Artists

At ICAV, we strive to elevate adoptee artists as their works can often portray what words struggle to convey. Consistent with this, at the recent 9 September K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night, Ra Chapman and myself wanted the evening to be a celebration of Australian intercountry adoptee artists. We were able to present some of their work in a printout as a ZINE which you can view here:

Other Adoptee Artists

We’ve had some other incredible intercountry adoptee artists present their works at ICAV over the years. Here is a compilation of what has been shared. Click on the image and it will take you to their blog with artworks.

Meg at K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night

Meg is a Korean intercountry adoptee, raised in Australia and a comic artist. She makes largely autobiographical and non-fiction work that has appeared in The Nib, The Lily, Liminal Magazine, The Comics Journal and anthologies including Comic Sans, Steady Diet, Threads That Connect Us and the Eisner award-winning Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment and Survival. She has exhibited comic, animation and film work internationally, taught comic making to university students, developed and delivered comics programs to high school-aged students from migrant and refugee backgrounds with STARTTS, and art programs to elementary-aged students in Korea. Meg is currently working on a long-form work based on her experiences as the Asian child of white parents in Australia, a recent period of living in Korea, and a failed search for her Korean mother.

She created the artwork for our K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night promotional material and ZINE:

Meg also presented as one of our adoptee artists and you can watch the video of her presentation here:

You can also view it in the web version format for those who prefer to read and see.

Resources

Find out more about Meg
website: http://www.megoshea.com
IG: @even.little.meg

Check out our Photo Album, Ryan’s and Ebony’s presentations from the evening

Coming Next is our adoptee artist ZINE and other adoptee artists

Ebony at K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night

Ebony is an Haitian born intercountry adoptee raised into Australia. She is a talented artist whose body of work speaks to the complex issues we live as intercountry adoptees and exploring our identity. 

As an Australian contemporary artist with an interest in interrogating concepts of individuality, adoption, sexuality, queerness and black identity. Ebony draws on her life experience to inform the creation of her drawings and expressive sculptural forms, employing a diverse assortment of materials to compose her work. Performance is also an important element of her creative practice. In 2000, Ebony created the drag personality Koko Mass. Koko loves to perform songs with soul and is a bit of a badass who always speaks up and is honest about issues they face in society. Koko challenges perceptions head on whilst also having fun with their audience. Ebony’s practice is bold and politically engaged, responding to issues that affect her communities with a strong visual language she continues to explore. Ebony completed her Masters of Contemporary Art at Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne in 2020. 

Ebony contributed this piece of artwork for our ZINE which was a printed out magazine celebrating Australia’s intercountry and transracial adoptee artists, for people to take home.

If you live in Melbourne you can see more of her artwork at Chin Chin & Go Go at 125 Flinders Lane. The bar is decorated with her artwork and her video shown below, is projected onto the laneway. 

She is also participating with a group of Australian First Nations adoptees on the 7 Oct at Melbourne University in an exhibition titled – Adopted.

Ebony’s artist statement about this video:

Divine Make-up, 2019

Divine make-up is an example of my drawings coming to life, putting myself within the frame, showing how I draw and then pairing that with my spoken word performance. Drawing is an important part of my practice; I respect the simple form of paper and textas.

I like the immediacy of drawing; I feel my drawings can be spontaneous and I like to free draw. When I draw, I don’t plan the outcome, I start and see where it takes me, I let the marks guide my direction. My work, as Ebony, is personal and honest. My drawings are a mix of feelings, experiences and specific moments in my life. This videos shows the ideas I have explored recently, coming together to fill the space with my black self.

Watch Ebony Hickey’s Divine Make-up:

Resources

Other artwork by Ebony at ICAV:
I am ME
Born both ways

You can find out more about Ebony at:
IG: @ebony.hickey.7

Coming Next is Meg’s presentation from the evening.

Ryan at K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night

On Friday 9 September, I co-hosted with Ra Chapman (Korean intercountry adoptee and playwright) an adoptee artist event in Melbourne, Victoria at the Malthouse Theatre. This event followed the performance of Ra’s incredible comedy play, K-Box which is the story of Lucy (a Korean intercountry adoptee) who is a 30+ year old Korean adoptee who brings some humour and hard truths to the dinner table.

I was honoured to be at the reading of Ra’s play last year when she was awarded the 2020 Patrick White Playwrights Award in Sydney for this piece of work.

Following the play, we had some of our talented intercountry adoptee artists present a small 10 minute segment on their artwork.

The next few blogs will bring to you a couple of these adoptee artists in their presentations, followed by some of the artwork we captured for the ZINE, a small magazine showcasing their artwork as a take home memento from our evening.

For me, the highlight of the evening was a reading by a Korean adoptee who is an academic, a writer, and co-host of podcast Adopted Feels, Ryan Gustafsson. Ryan is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. Their most recent publication is ‘Whole Bodies,’ which appears in Liminal’s anthology Against Disappearance: Essays on Memory (Pantera Press, 2022). Ryan is also co-facilitator of the Korean Adoptee Adoption Research Network (KAARN).

Ryan’s presentation was powerful, eloquent, and poignant and presented with such raw honesty, it resonated within my soul as I could relate to so much of what they shared about how we can feel about our first mother.

Ryan Gustafsson and Lynelle Long

Have a listen to Ryan’s reading from an excerpt of their writing titled – We met each other with different names.

Resources

You can follow Ryan at:
website: http://www.ryangustafsson.com
IG: @crewneckgreen

Check out our Photo Album of the evening.

Coming Next is Ebony’s presentation from the evening.

Being Illegally Adopted and a Forced Reunion

Most people assume that our adoptions are all legal and legitimate. Most people assume that adoptees want to meet their first mothers. Aimee’s story highlights the harsh reality that not all adoptions are legal and that media involvement is not always helpful or kind to the adoptee who may not even want, nor be ready, to reunite.

The worst part of Aimee’s story which isn’t shared in this video, is that even though the Taiwanese government prosecuted the traffickers responsible for her illegal adoption, to date, nothing has been offered by either the Taiwanese nor Australian governments to help Aimee in any specific way in dealing with the ongoing impacts of being illegally adopted. There is a whole cohort of Taiwanese adoptees in Australia with Aimee who were a result of the Julie Chu trafficking ring in Taiwan that was prosecuted. No-one has followed up on these adoptees to check on them, to let them know of how their adoption came about, nor to make any specific supports be made known to them.

How is it ethical that Australia and Taiwan still be allowed to continue to facilitate intercountry adoptions today, without any recognition of the past wrongs nor an attempt to address the impacts on these victims? THIS is intercountry adoption with a complete lack of duty of care to the person impacted most, in the worst case scenario.

Click on Aimee’s picture to listen to her share.

Aimee

Resources

Lived Experience of Illegal and Illicit Adoption webinar which includes another of the Taiwanese trafficked adoptees, Kimbra Butterworth-Smith

Does Justice and Accountability Happen in Illegal Adoptions?

The Lived Experience of Illegal Intercountry Adoption

Voices Against Illegal Adoptions Speak at the United Nations

ICAVs Perspective Paper: Lived Experience Suggestions for Responses to Illegal and Illicit Adoptions in French & English

Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Adoption Practices

The Feeling of Not Belonging Anywhere

Michelle is one of our most eloquent adoptees in the video series. She is so open and honest about the challenges and I love her courage to speak up about the topics most hidden in adoption – eating disorders and suicide attempts and what underlies these; and the struggle to find a place to belong and need to know the truth of our origins.

Click on Michelle’s image to listen to her video.

Michelle

Resources

Read Michelle’s other blogs: Mother and Letter to President Moon.

Adopted Families and Eating Disorder Recovery

Risk of eating disorders in international adoptees: a cohort study using Swedish national population registers

Eating Disorders in Adopted Children

Do I have an Eating Disorder?

Behavioral symptoms of eating disorders among adopted adolescents and young adults in the United States: Findings from the Add Health survey

The Link between Childhood Trauma and Eating Disorders

Adoption and Eating Disorders: A High-Risk Group?

Issues in Attachment that may contribute to Eating Disorders

Identifying with our Genetic Mirrors

People who aren’t adopted too easily forget that biology does matter – seeing our biology mirrored around us, grounds us in the formation of our identity and our sense of self.

In this short talk from our video series, I love Ben’s comments about looking into his baby’s eyes and seeing himself reflected for the first time and the impact that had on him. I can certainly relate to this too as it wasn’t until I had my own children that I felt a deeper sense of security within myself – a sense of belonging that I’d never had before.

Click on the image of Ben to see his video.

Benjamin

Resources that speak about the importance of Genetic Mirrors:

Thoughts for Adoptive Parents
Free as a Bird

Video: Genetic Mirroring – What it is, How it Affects Adopted People, and What you can Do about it (by Colombian intercountry adoptee Jeanette Yoffe)

You can follow Ben @ Insta on the_quiet_adoptee

A Life has been Lived Before Adoption

I really love the message Meseret shares as another older aged intercountry adoptee in our video series. It provides a message for prospective parents to be respectful of the experiences and life prior to a child coming home to their new adoptive family and country. It reminds us of how difficult it is to expect an adoptee to “trust” their new family, especially when language is a barrier. It helps us be realistic about what supports a family needs when undertaking older age adoptions.

Click on the image of Meseret to listen to her share.

Meseret

Resources

Trauma of Transition for Older Aged Adoptees

The Walk: A true story of Meseret Cohen

English
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