Canceling an Adoption: The Case of Netra Sommer
- For ten years, Netra persistently requested the signature of her then adoptive parents to cancel her adoption. In 2020 she succeeded
- Spaces such as InterCountry Adoptee Voices have been denouncing since 1998 that adopted people are going through a deep identity crisis
- Another milestone in international adoption cases is the complaint by Patrick Noordoven, who has uncovered illegal adoptions in Brazil after spending ten years investigating his own origin when he saw that his birth certificate was false
by Susana Ye
Published on Sunday, January 10, 2021
When Netra was two and a half years old, a couple made her their daughter in an orphanage in Mumbai. Raised in Denmark, she always knew she was different. Her dark skin contrasted with the pale faces of the Scandinavian country. Inside the house, the coexistence was conflictive. There were physical assaults. At 14, the then teenager tried to kill herself. When she was 18, she left home and reported her adoptive father. The case was dismissed due to the time elapsed. For ten years, Netra persistently requested the signature of her then adoptive parents to cancel her adoption. In 2020 she succeeded . “I have chosen my family, who are supporting me, ” she says to cuartopoder without hesitation.
Netra Sommer stares at the other side of the screen. Be open about your situation. With her head shaved and tattooed, she defies any convention. Break any prejudices. “I am very Danish on the inside but I am also very Indian because of my appearance.” Her life, beyond having legally separated from her adoptive family, is completely normal. She says it herself, with those words, when we start the interview. At 28 years old, with a month to go before she turned 29, she studies nursing. And she juggles to organize two online meetings. One will only be for adopted people. And another will be open to adoptive parents. “We have organized small groups of ten people where we will discuss matters of all kinds.” Recognize that there are very different situations, and show joy that the taboo is broken. That this year voices like yours are spoken and heard.
Netra tells that she is not related to her younger sister, also adopted. And she honestly warns those who consider the same thing as her to consider the consequences it will have on their emotional ties. In her case, the measure felt inevitable: “I really hadn’t had contact with my now ex-parents for a long time, so I’m fine.” In fact, it was one of the people in her circle of trust who collected her things from her former parents’ house, even though they demanded to see her. Mobile in hand, Sommer prepares to leave and continues the interaction by moving from house to street. “My great goal is to find my mother in India.”
Her story could be taken as an isolated anecdote. An extreme fact. However, spaces such as InterCountry Adoptee Voices have been denouncing since 1998 that adopted people are going through a deep identity crisis. And they suffer racism inside and outside their families. They question the political, social and economic dynamics that allow intercountry adoptions. We spoke with Lynelle Long, its founder , one of the first adopted from Vietnam in the 70s in Australia. Long has participated in a meeting in The Hague on behalf of the voices of adoptees. And it has also been taken into account in the United States, Department of State, one of the only two countries not subscribed to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
With 20 years of experience in vindicating the adopted ones, Long is clear: “We have to recognize worldwide the fundamental right to know our identity, be it in adoptions or in alternative systems of family formation such as surrogacy.” Actually, what Long says already exists: Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child prioritizes the needs of the child and establishes intercountry adoption as the last resort once all avenues in the domestic country have been exhausted. And as Arun Dohle, executive director of the NGO Against Child Trafficking, points out, it would be necessary to review why the adoption of children with special needs is automated. “Just because a child has a cleft lip does not mean that we have the right to export it, but rather that they have to have access to social services,” Dohle said in a debate in 2015. This idea of a certain background of commercialization is supported by Anne O’Donogue, a specialist in immigration law, who admits that there are export and import phenomena.
The twilight of intercountry adoption
Lynelle also finds parallels between adoption and the rise of surrogacy. A motherhood or fatherhood at the expense of the bodies and economic vulnerability of others. Almost à la carte. The truth is that there is a certain connection between these facts. On the one hand, there has been a drastic drop in adoptions between countries worldwide. From 2004 to 2014, the leading adopting country, the United States, has gone from 22,884 cases to 6,441, that is, 72% less, while in Spain the drop has been 85%. One reason is the child trafficking scandals, the adoption agencies with shady efforts that go unpunished, the practices of defrauding parents who sign without really knowing what they are giving up, and all this is joined by the symbolism of childhood as a political message. China, for example, has tightened its requirements and prioritized domestic demand to reassert itself as a power.
In contrast, national adoption does not respond to the demand of potential fathers, as there is better sexual prevention and less stigmatization of single mothers, as well as children older than those preferred by applicants. Hence, less regulated countries have been resorted to for adoption in Africa or the so-called surrogacy, nothing regulated at the international level and that leaves cases that sting like Bridget, a baby abandoned by her biological parents in Ukraine when they rejected her for having special needs .
If Netra Sommer personifies taking legal action on an individual level, Lynelle Long exemplifies taking collective action on a global level. “My hope is that the children of the future will not have to lose their mothers, fathers, relatives, culture, country and language to be safe,” she says. “Emotionally the price is too high and the world needs to prevent it.” The truth is that mental health and adoption are two facts that still lack official data but that, according to Long, are given. From her platform, she makes visible that on January 8 there were six suicides of international adoptees. On the other hand, there is also room for progress, such as the fact that Switzerland has recognized illegal adoptionsin Sri Lanka in the 1990s. Or how Belgium will provide a tracing service for adoptees, an option that Long managed to get the Australian government to finance for two years and which she now aspires to recover for the community.
Another milestone in international adoption cases is the complaint by Patrick Noordoven , who has uncovered illegal adoptions in Brazil after spending ten years investigating his own origins when he saw that his birth certificate was false. The truth is that not only international adoption has been losing institutional and governmental defenders, but also among the adoptive parents themselves there is a notion of what their wishes trigger, whether they are aware or not. Jessica Davis realized that the story the adoption agency told her and the one her adopted daughter shared was not the same. In fact, the little girl was not an orphan nor did she come from a dysfunctional home. Her mother in Uganda was waiting desperately for her.
The historic Operation Babylift
It was a reaction of moral duty: saving thousands of children in Vietnam in 1975. Thousands of them were evacuated and adopted in the United States. It later emerged that they left behind parents who never heard from them again. The truth is that the debate around adoption tends to focus on the same issue that both parties mention: the good of the child. There are those who believe that the fact that the most developed countries with fertility problems, aged, share resources giving better education and future to children is an act of solidarity and generous. And there are those who affect the emotional cost and question whether it is an act free of selfishness. And if not, it would be better to enable the child’s upbringing in their own environment, with references of their own skin and with relatives. If, for example, this good intention has been able to take shape in other ways such as the financial sponsorship of Spanish orphans in the 1930s or the support of Japanese children born to Australian soldiers during the British occupation, why is adoption now naturalized as almost an only option or the most correct and practical? This is influenced by its popularization after World War II and campaigns such as that of Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as an idealization of the concept of family, especially accentuated in adoptive environments.
A multiple and global reality
There is also the situation that when dealing with international adoption and transracial adoptions – adoptive parents of an ethnic group other than that of the adopted person – at the legal and global level the situations are very different. While Netra Sommer has been able to cancel its legal link, not in all countries allow this. This lack of uniformity sometimes has dramatic effects. In countries like the United States, nationality does not come from being adopted, but rather, the child must be nationalized. To Adam Crapser, his adoptive family, who attacked him along with other adopted children, did not fill out the H3 form correctly, which should have made him a US citizen. During his youth he had problems with the law. And at 41 years old, with his life redirected and two girls in charge, he wanted to carry out a procedure and learned of his irregularity. By having a crime register, his deportation from the country was automatic.
Other people, like Kara Bos, fight in their countries of birth. In her case, she demanded that her biological father recognize her with the idea of being able to locate her biological mother through him. In other words, not only does the adopted person deal with the situation in their parenting countries, but also the reunion can be another moment of pain and confusion.
David M. Smolin, an expert in international adoptions, bioethics and biotechnology, is trained in Constitutional Reproductive Law, family and juvenile law, and law and religion. Adoptive father of a child who was the victim of an illegal plot, he openly advocates to stop this practice: “I know that it is controversial to say that we stop international adoption, about whether this will harm the children,” he says. “My answer is that more children will be protected than harmed.” And it exposes a parallel perhaps more familiar to the reader: “A Catholic nun told me in one of the interviews that she had taken a bad mother’s child. It is not the right thing to do even if I think it is.” Pamela McRae,American adoptive mother of a mixed-race son in 1974, of Asian and African-American descent, also breaks a spear in favour of this message. And she confesses that she was naive in thinking that love would suffice. “My son had to decide whether to be black or white,” he says, “now he has joined the Afro community and he is not alone.” Another Australian adoptive mother, Coleen Clare, notes that there is a reluctance in adoptive families to admit that support is needed and that the child has suffered trauma from being ripped from his environment and suffering irreparable loss. In Spain, adoptive mothers like Elena Elosegi are beginning to echo these concerns. Consulted by this means, she insists that it is not her responsibility to speak but to give space to the adopted persons themselves.
It is also interesting to know the work of Patricia Fronek, PhD in Philosophy who has researched on the subject. Fronek points to the systemic issues behind children reaching adoption. “If we allocate the resources to the community, many changes would happen”. And it highlights not only blood ties, but also friendship and belonging relationships. “Many adult adoptees cry when they watch videos of those they left behind.” In Spain, the reunion of Sara and Alejandra, who were in the same orphanage 17 years later, exemplifies what the one also trained in social work says.
Inés and Ana, Spanish with slanted eyes
Netra Sommer, Lynelle Long and many other testimonies have a sustained journey over time of reflecting on an intimate and social level about who they are, what role being adopted has had and exposing it openly to generate debate. In Spain, initiatives to think like yours are starting now. An example is Asian Anti-racism, which addresses the racism suffered by people of Chinese origin from a dialogue tone.
Inés Haixun Herrero Gómez, 22 years old, is one of the promoters of this Instagram account that was born with the goal of being a space to connect with more adoptees and also to raise awareness in Spanish society, explaining how apparently innocent expressions such as “going to Chinese” are racist when feeding prejudice and otrerization. “We carry racial problems that nobody warned us about,” he says. “It is very difficult to point out intra-family racism because they feel attacked or offended, they believe that we ‘exaggerate’ and although they agree that insults and physical attacks are inadmissible, when you point out some attitudes or expressions to them, they do not accept it.” He believes that the way in Spain is to know that nobody is aware of this reality. And he clarifies: “The problem is when it is pointed out and they ignore or invalidate your complaints.”
Many adopted and consulted testimonies indicate that a kind of mourning is lived, that of the loss of an irrecoverable life. This means that many do not detect or call out their experiences for fear of another abandonment, that of their adoptive family. The constant reminder that they are wanted children of countries with fewer resources limits them to a single emotional trait: gratitude. There is also a conflict of loyalty: if an adopted person claims his origins, his adoptive family may feel betrayed. All this silences their own needs, whether the subjects themselves censor themselves or believe that speaking will be poorly received. Even fewer adopt a position not only of resistance, but of political struggle. That is, to question which countries give children and which receive by colonial heritage. To point out if a capitalist consumption system is replicated with childhood and if there is a certain exoticization of children in being able to choose a race. Anne Cathe, raised in France and established here for years, who sees simplistic and even a certain tutelage in appealing to feelings or the moral shield.
Ana Lin Juárez Turégano believes that for her adoptive family, not talking about certain issues means that they do not exist. She feels supported by her anti-racism but that it is not usually an issue that is proactively addressed by those close to her. “They only live it through me.” It summarizes her feeling in a continuous conflict for internalized xenophobia throughout her growth. And she expresses it in this sentence: “It is a battle between wanting to belong to a community and rejecting a part of me.” For her, her message to other people who feel reflected in what she says is this: “The important thing is to feel good about yourself and fitting in will not always give you happiness.”