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

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

Money never makes up for what I’ve lost as a First Nations Canadian

by Jen Etherington, born as a First Nations Canadian and adopted into an Australian family.

It looks like the final payments for the sixties scoop has started going out. I get mixed feelings about it and the process.

I feel a sense of loss of culture, family and country. I’m not saying I’m not grateful for my adoptive parents and all that life has given me here in Australia but it also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the sense of loss for everything else.

My bio parents died when I was 9 years old and that hope of meeting them was gone forever. My partner and I are currently listening to Harry Potter and I cry because I can relate to the loss of his parents and how he feels, as well as the pining to know about them. People from home in Canada tell me stories about them and I get so happy and so sad at the same time.

I see posts from bio cousins about different cultural events and traditions and I feel sad that I don’t know my culture. People here in Australia get excited when I tell them I’m First Nations Canadian and ask about my culture and I don’t have anything for them.

My bio parents didn’t have any more children because they didn’t want them to be taken away (or so I believe). I always hoped I’d have a long lost sibling out there.

I feel a big sense of loss about my last miscarriage because that was my last chance at experiencing a biological connection.

Anyway, the payment was $25,000 and I know there are people out there where this amount of money will help and make a difference but I also feel like it’s kind of hush money. I don’t feel like it is much for what happened to so many of us.

Further Reading

$25,000 settlement for Sixties Scoop Survivors, a “Slap in the Face”

Voices Against Illegal Adoptions Speak at the United Nations

On 10 March 2022, I was honoured to present in English a short 10 minute presentation representing our coalition Voices Against Illegal Adoption (VAIA) to the United Nations.

The meeting was attended by:
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
the Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-recurrence
the Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material
the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children,
and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

Due to the work of Racines Perdues Raíces Perdidas and Back to the Roots, our coalition VAIA has been privy to the joint work being done by these UN Committee members who are working on a Joint Statement about illegal intercountry adoptions.

This is what I shared in my statement:

Good day, good evening to you all!

My name is Lynelle Long and I am an intercountry adoptee residing in Australia, proxy adopted via a private lawyer, out of the Vietnam War in the early 70s.

I would like to thank you all for the honour of being here and for including our voices for this most important occasion. I was delighted to read the draft text that you have all contributed to. It reflects many of the points we covered in our lived experience perspective paper that I presented to The Hague 2019 Working Group on Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Intercountry Adoption. It warms my heart to know that so many of you are our allies, to help and encourage States to respond in the right and ethical ways to our illegal and illicit adoptions. Thank you!

The message that the draft text conveys is absolutely aligned with what we also seek. Your action from this meeting and if this text gets published, gives us a ray of hope in what has often felt like a never ending sea of dismay and loss as we’ve spent years fighting and advocating for ourselves. It is wonderful to no longer feel alone but to know we have strong allies who also advocate for us. We are the children for whom intercountry adoption is all about. We don’t remain “children” forever. We grow up to have our own voice and we want to speak out and ensure the lessons of the past are learned and that practices and legislation are changed to prevent the same wrongs from happening to others, and to address and rectify the wrongs done to us.

Today I introduce myself to you as a Representative for the Voices Against Illegal Adoptions coalition (VAIA)

Our coalition was created by associations that campaign for the recognition of illegal adoptions, our right to origins, for much need legal changes to support us as victims, and requesting institutional, state, diplomatic and consular assistance to rectify the wrongs done to us.

We officially present ourselves today to the United Nations as a coalition of organizations forming a civil society campaign, it’s an initiative led by adoptees with lived experience expertise.

We are non-governmental and non funded organizations, associations, foundations and collectives made up of adopted persons, biological families and adoptive families.

Together we have launched a civil society campaign to defend our rights and it is in this way, that we are presenting ourselves to you, the United Nations.

Our goals are:

– to demand the recognition of illegal adoptions and their recognition as a crime against humanity when they follow the abduction, sale or trafficking of children and there is sufficient evidence to show that they took place as part of a generalised or systematic attack against the civilian population.

– to present the political and legal actions taken by each organisation around the world.

– to call on States to engage in a dialogue with us on the recognition of responsibility for what has happened and to obtain redress.

Today, we would like to inform the different working groups, the High Commissions, the special reporters, the diplomatic missions and the experts of the different committees, in particular the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances as well as the Human Rights Committee, of the international situation regarding illegal adoptions in connection with human trafficking.

We feel it is essential that there is uniformity in responses following the occurrence of illegal adoptions.

We believe it is also abnormal that depending on the country in which the adopted person resides, that we are not recognised as victims.

We also want to draw attention to the fact that legal proceedings for illegal adoptions are confronted most of the time with problems that prevent us from seeking justice and reparation. For example the statute of limitations, also the difficulty to establish the facts of what happened in our cases when records are kept from us or have been destroyed.

We would like our input and experiences to be considered by the United Nations.

We look forward to seeing your final statement and will do our best to make ourselves available to work with all stakeholders to see its implementation.

Thank you very much for your time, for listening to us and for allowing us to participate.

Together with Racines Perdues Raíces Perdidas we will keep you informed of the progress of our work at the UN.

Here is the list of organisations who make up Voices Against Illegal Adoption (VAIA):

Foundation Racines Perdues
Chilean Adoptees Worldwide (CAW)
Collectif Adoptie Schakel
InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV)
Association Reconnaissance Adoptions Illégales à l’International en France (RAÏF)
Empreintes Vivantes
Plan Angel
Collectif des adoptés français du Mali
Collectif des parents adoptifs du Sri Lanka
Rwanda en Zoveel meer
Association DNA Inde
Back to the Roots
Collectif des adoptés du Sri-Lanka
Child Identity Protection

Resource:

ICAV Perspective Paper: Lived Experience Suggestions for Responses to Illicit Adoptions (in French or English)

So Much Loss in Adoption

by Maars, taken from the Philippines to Canada. You can follow Maars @BlackSheepMaars

I have been researching my roots for the last 3.5 years. When I first started this journey, I had nothing but scribbled memories of moments that provided places and names. Mostly by things I’ve overheard growing up when my family would speak about me and my joining of their family. There were a lot of pieces of unconfirmed information, and most are assumptions and even made up.

I sat on the couch and wrote every bit of memory in my brain of what’s been said, what’s been mentioned, what’s been gossiped, what’s been screamed at me.

I had no real information to begin this journey, and even when I pleaded for information and called around asking questions. No-one was particularly keen on saying anything. It felt like a secret I wasn’t meant to discover. But I went ahead anyway, and the first year took a lot out of me, even mistaking a woman in America for my birth mother.

I had no real tangible expectation, direction, or any idea where this journey would end up. However, after finding my birth mother, I had but one goal. To piece together our little family, to heal my birth mother’s broken heart of having had to relinquish her first two children.

I wanted to find my biological full-brother, so that at the very least she can heal her guilt and her shame before leaving this lifetime. But I couldn’t do it. I was too late, I didn’t find him until 5 months after she passed.

Growing up as an only child, growing up feeling alone in the world, an alien to my own kind, my roots, my heritage, my ancestral tradition – everything I am made of, I would have but one person left on this planet, that shares the same wounds as me because of adoption. And yet, the trauma of adoption in our lives would eventually lead us to separate again, for the second time.

THERE’S SO MUCH LOSS IN ADOPTION!

I still try to work through my paternal side, hoping for anything, clues, but the inevitable is searching for someone/something you never even knew existed, is a feat to explore.

#adoptee #adopted #adoption #reunion #searching #familyresearch #biologyresearch #ancestry #mystory #myjourney #mysearch #biologymatters #findingmyroots #brokenbranch

Does Justice or Accountability Happen in Illicit Adoptions?

by Jessica Davis, American adoptive mum who returned her Ugandan child to her biological mother in Uganda. Jessica has written this post in response to the recent “guilty” plea of staff working at the adoption agency European Adoption Consultants (Ohio) who facilitated the illicit adoption of Ugandan adoptee to the Davis family. Media article here.

It has been many years since uncovering the horrible truth that the little girl we adopted from Uganda had been unlawfully separated from her family. Since reuniting Namata back with her mother, I have been waiting for some semblance of justice and accountability, especially when it came to this particular individual.

Today, Debra Parris, one of the criminals involved in trafficking Namata changed her plea to guilty on every federal indictment she was charged with. Debra was a willing participant in trafficking children from Uganda through intercountry adoption. She caused irreparable harm to Namata, her Ugandan mother and made our lives miserable for years as we sought to expose her and her co-conspirators. She has inflicted massive amounts of harm on MANY vulnerable Ugandan children and their families (and in many other countries I am sure).

Just hearing her voice today was overwhelming let alone hearing her finally admit guilt. Since coming to realize what happened within our adoption was not unique, I made the commitment to never waste an opportunity to work at changing the narrative when it comes to intercountry adoption. This moment will be no different.

To those who choose to believe that what happened to Namata and her mother is the result of just one “bad apple”, I beg of you to stop. I have been working with Ugandan families for over 5 years now and I can tell you that what happened to Namata and her family is not the exception, rather it is the rule in intercountry adoption. Every Ugandan family I have met, even the families that used other adoption agencies, have had similar experiences to share. None of the families of origin truly understood adoption, all of them were going through a difficult time and only needed support. Almost every one of them thought they were gaining access to an education or medical care for their loved one. I’m not saying that there aren’t exceptions, but I have yet to meet a Ugandan family who truly understood adoption.

As an adoptive parent, choosing to look the other way or to remain silent when it comes to these injustices makes YOU part of the problem. When I realized what was happening with our adoption agency, I immediately started speaking to other adoptive parents that had used them as well. I was told over and over that I was overreacting, that this couldn’t be true, or that at least it couldn’t be as “bad” as I was claiming. I have a feeling that even with this admission of guilt, many adoptive families will still say it’s just not true in their situation (which might very well be true) and go on with their lives, as if nothing happened.

This adoption agency facilitated the adoptions of over 30 Ugandan children. Today Debra Parris admitted to bribing probation officers, court registrars and judges in Uganda. She admitted to knowingly submitting fraudulent information to the US State Department in an effort to facilitate illicit adoptions. To assume this was not happening in other adoptions is not only naive but a grave miscarriage of justice.

How many birth families and adult adoptees have shared similar experiences? When will we start listening? When will enough families have been unnecessarily torn apart until we are willing to do something? When will the lives and welfare of these “orphans” matter to us beyond them being adopted?

While, I rejoiced today in this small step toward accountability for the wrongs perpetuated against many of the most vulnerable children and families in our world, I couldn’t help but think about all the Ugandan families (and families across the world) that this has happened to. Families that will likely never see justice or reparations, let alone the loved one they were separated from. I couldn’t help but think about all the adoptees that were handed off between families like trading cards. Adoptees that are silenced and ignored when they speak out about their experiences with adoption. I can’t help but think about all of the harm that has been unnecessarily inflicted on adoptees and birth families because this system seems far too easy to exploit and corrupt.

When is enough, enough?

For more from Jessica & her husband Adam, watch their interview with 1MillionHome Audacious Love

For more from Jessica, read her blogs:
Adoption: Neat & Tidy? Not so much!
The Lie We Love
Not A Tourist Attraction
There Isn’t an Orphan Crisis, It’s a Family Separation Crisis

Adoption and the Impact on our Partners

by Brian who is married to an intercountry adoptee, who has lived an illegal intercountry adoption. We have changed the names and places in this story to protect identities.

My name is Brian and I’m married to an intercountry adoptee. I am sharing my story to help people understand how sensitive and hurtful adoption is, to everyone involved, particularly the adoptee.

Merely telling the adoptee story does not tell the whole story. Adoption is like the detonation of an atomic bomb. The fallout from adoption adversely affects others who surround the adoptee.

How We Met

I met Melissa in the latter half of 1998, in the capital of her birth country. When we met, I was a First Officer (Co-pilot) flying Boeing 747-200 jumbo jets. I did my lay-overs in the same hotel where Melissa was. At that time, she was in the hotel being interviewed by a media scrum in the hotel lobby. I was merely curious on what all the fuss was about. Two weeks earlier, I had seen her being interviewed on television. I thought to myself, “What a sweet, well-spoken, pretty girl. Why can’t I meet someone like her.” Little did I know then.

So I knew that she was there, in the capital of her birth country, to meet her biological parents. But I didn’t really know all the background to Melissa’s adoption or the complications and her turmoil.

I have spent a lot of years flying throughout Asia and staying for varying lengths of time.  Asia has so many unique cultures and each one mysterious. I have always liked visiting smoky Buddhist, Confucian, or Taoist Temples. My first visit to Asia was in 1985 to Hong Kong, twelve years before it came under the hammer and sickle and the five star trademark of Communist China. I taught Melissa how to use chopsticks.

That said, I was aware of the dirty deals, the corruption at the highest levels, payoffs and other forms of guanxi (关系), smiles, relationships, respect for and some knowledge of their languages and cultures by foreigners and knowing that money gets things done. For example, a Tourist Visa converted to a Work Visa by an employer’s handler/translator.

Melissa and I saw each other over the next six months during my lay-overs in the capital of her birth country. Sometimes we could only see each other for 5 minutes but it was rejuvenating and it sustained me whilst I flew off to some other part of the world.  Melissa was always in my thoughts. I remember I would buy her some unique gift from some country and mail it to her. On our last meeting, we walked to the park where I proposed marriage to a shocked Melissa.

After that, I began my Captain upgrade and transition training at Boeing to fly new Boeing 747-400 aircraft. I could not see Melissa and I did not fly to the capital of her birth country again until after I became a Captain. She was not there anyway. She had returned to Australia with her adoptive Australian parents, John and Jane. 

I eventually got to be with Melissa again to continue our relationship. I attempted to get to Australia but our plans we made were frustrated. When I did arrive, I was shocked to learn Melissa had moved out of her parents home. She was living on her own for some time. She was renting was some cold, damp, back room with no real privacy, and all sorts of unsavoury characters visiting, smoking and looked like druggies to me. Melissa’s landlord was renting the place, so I am not sure if sub-renting to Melissa was even legal. But that is the position Melissa was in. When I was in Melbourne, I had a nice suite downtown. I stayed there every month, thereafter. Eventually however, I rented an apartment – and truthfully, it was only a little better than where she had been staying, but it was our nest and it was convenient to downtown. I had also been renting a car so we could go for drives, visit her parents and do whatever.

It was a bit puzzling and concerning why Melissa left home but I never got the full story.  

Immigrating to her Adoptive Country

Sometime after I arrived in Australia, I learned the letters and packages I had mailed to Melissa were simply discarded or hidden by Jane, Melissa’s adoptive mother. Her younger sister recovered some. Perhaps Melissa thought I lost interest, while I was away in other parts of the world or when I was in training at Boeing. I can absolutely assure you, she was always on my mind and I was eager to see her as soon as my training was completed. Jane’s actions were unfair for both of us because it left Melissa more vulnerable.  

An Immigration Officer commented that I was visiting Australia so often that I should consider applying for Permanent Residency, so I did. In July 2001, filling out the paperwork myself and paying the fee I merely trusted the process because I was a Boeing 747-400 captain, a professional with a decent income, self-funded, a former Army officer and a Native English speaker. I assumed that immigrating to Australia would be a walk in the park. Make no mistake about it, the Department of Immigration are true bastards. They made our life hell unnecessarily. I was issued an 820N Spouse Visa with No-Right-To-Work.

Melissa and I married on 5 March 1997 in Los Angeles. I started a contract with another airline, flying the older versions of the Boeing 747 as a Captain. Sadly I lost my job as a Captain because of the dirty games the Department of Immigration play. I will NEVER forgive them for that. They played every dirty trick in their playbook to win. They claimed they lost my entire case file (including electronic copies?) just before going to the Migration Review Tribunal. Fortunately my Migration Agent and I had all the documents and submissions, either in original or Certified True Copy. I finally earned Permanent Residency in 2003 and I became an Australian citizen in 2005.

This was an extremely stressful period of time for both Melissa and I. It was deliberately made that way, by Department of Immigration. I lost my career. Lost my dignity. Lost my income. And, I believe like other Spouse Visa couples we had come to know and who could not stand up to Immigration’s bullshit, they expected us to fail. When we saw those couples separate, it made us worry about our future, but it seemed to make us more resilient and determined. We lived in a small, one bedroom room apartment and drove an old Volvo 244DL. We lived very frugally. I had to appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal because my application was rejected, even though we were legally married, because I lacked 11 days out of 12 months in the country and there was just no way I could make them understand that travel is a big part of an international airline captain’s life. They were just bloody-minded obstructionist.

Dealing with Adoptive Family Dynamics

Add to all that, Melissa and I were under duress from her adoptive mother, Jane. I remember phone calls that started out calmly and would become argumentative.  Melissa would be in tears when she got off the phone. I would discourage her from calling in the future, but Melissa seemed compelled. It was usually the same scene when she would go to visit. It was hard for me to just sit there without defending her but I had to. At one point, I threatened to file a law suit if Jane did not desist with her bullying and abuse. There was a point in time when I was unwelcome in the house. I would sit outside, waiting for Melissa in the Volvo. Jane always had some form of psychological control of Melissa and Melissa always seemed to go back for more abuse. Almost like self-flagellation. It feels so good when it stops.

I got my Aviation career partially back on track 2006 when I was offered a contract as a Captain flying Boeing 737-800 aircraft in Hong Kong then in China. We were away five years, but Jane would call. She even came to visit! Even China was not far enough away. When I decided to buy a house, I decided to buy a house in Western Australia.  Yes, it is scenic and I love my photography but it was a necessary move to remove Melissa from the grasp of her adoptive mother. But Jane has visited a few times already.  The years from when Melissa was a tender young girl to present day have flown by.  She is now in her 40s, is stronger and stands up to her adoptive mother, but it has been a hard, rough, uphill road.  

Being supportive and sympathetic is not enough. Finding ways to make Melissa a stronger person and have the courage to stand up for what she believes in has given her a sharp edge that sometimes cuts me. I feel Melissa is unable to move on, towards normality. There’s something missing. It is some internal conflict. It’s almost like an illness, not the same as schizophrenia, but a bit of detachment from reality, sometimes she can lie in bed most of the day, not wanting to face the day or wake up to her life. 

Racism and It’s Impacts

Also, I think the innate racism in Australia has had a hand in Melissa knowing she is different, even though she speaks with a natural Aussie-girl accent and has spoken English at home since she came to Australia as an infant. Most white folks cannot tell a Korean from a Thai. And her Asian face has inspired some racists to come forward with “Go home Chink bitch!” Melbourne is home. Western Australia is home. That is all she has known. Even when Australians hear her speak, they cannot get beyond the Asian face. The best the ignoramuses can come up with is, “You speak good English” instead of correctly stating, “You speak English well” or saying nothing at all. When she tells them she is Australian or from Melbourne or Western Australia, the idiots retort with, “Where are you really from?”  They just cannot simply accept.

But it gets worse. During the five years we lived in China, twice she was physically assaulted by Chinese men because she only spoke English. Even there in China, they did not recognize her birth country origins and would ask her if she is Japanese or Korean. Worse, they just could not get their heads around her being adopted. In China, they would often remark that Chinese do not have freckles. But, they do in fact. The Chinese are about as racist as Australians.

I feel Melissa is in a no win situation. She is not accepted as an Australian and she is not accepted by her birth country. This contributes to her internal conflict. I have a foreign accent and I receive discriminatory remarks as well, but I deal with it differently.

Melissa is conflicted because she has two sets of parents and two versions of herself, neither reconciling with the other. In fact, she has had a DNA test that only adds to the confusion. 

I have spent a lot of time flying throughout Asia, staying for varying lengths of time in all the major capital cities. I know the reality of Asia i.e., that underhanded business occurs, like her forged documents. I remember one day examining her various identity documents and birth certificate. To me, the information looked suspect. I would doubt her name, birthdate, where she was born, etc. But suspecting this information to be false and being able to help Melissa do anything about it in reality is very hard, because who will tell the truth? Will her biological parents for whom saving face is so important? Or her adoptive parents who probably knew that what they were doing was questionable? Child-trafficking is a way of life and it is common knowledge that daughters are not valued as highly as a son in Asian cultures, even Western cultures.  I feel Melissa is lucky that she was not simply discarded, left in the rubbish, drowned, or trafficked for use and abuse by perverts. Often the child-trafficker will assure or falsely promise a birth-mother the child will go to a good home, a childless couple in another town or village. We all read the stories or watch the evening news.

Truthfully, had I known all of these complications and the loss of my career that I worked so hard to build, prior to meeting, I probably would not have pursued a relationship with Melissa regardless of how sweet and cute. But I did not have a crystal ball, did I? I just soldiered on.

Australia’s Lack of Response to an Illegal Adoption

I believe that the Australian government, the adoption agency, and Melissa’s adoptive parents were all complicit in her illegal adoption. There were no thorough investigations to check everything was genuine. Compare this to the rigorous investigations which occurred in order for me to become an Australian Permanent resident and then a Citizen, yet I have all manner of first class evidence to prove who I am. It seems as if the Australian government deliberately had one eye closed with Melissa’s adoption.

Regarding Melissa’s adoptive mother, Jane, I believe she is manipulative, conniving, and has her own mental issues, some of it wrapped around not being able to have her own biological children. I also felt all along that Melissa may have been sexually abused. Her adoptive father is somewhat spineless. He never seems to defend Melissa against Jane’s attacks and nasty words. Though I cannot prove it and have nothing to base it on, I have my suspicions and observations of Melissa’s behaviours and reactions. Melissa told me a story once, that she used to wrap her breasts to disguise them when she was young. I believe Jane precipitated this.

It has been 20 years of battle, protecting Melissa from her adoptive mother. This is why we live in Western Australia and not in Melbourne where Melissa grew up and where her adopted parents remain, although they’ve separated.

After I became aware of Melissa’s illegal adoption and before I really understood the clash between her and her adoptive mother, I decided that I would not bring Melissa to my homeland. I did not want to separate her from the only family she has known and also because I did not want her to change. Maybe that was a mistake. I also feel it is wrong for Caucasian adoptive parents to adopt non-Caucasian children. In my opinion this plays a large part in impacting an adoptee’s mental self-image.

Melissa remains the sweetest girl I have ever known and I love her but I wish she was not so complicated and conflicted.

Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Intercountry Adoption Practices

This is one common scenario, it doesn’t cover children overtly stolen from hospitals and many other ways

I’m an adoptee remaining hopeful

I’m very excited and feeling hopeful after hearing Belgium’s recent news, that their Minister has announced his intention to ask Parliament to suspend all adoptions for the next 2 years as a result of their investigation into intercountry adoptions.

Surrounded by incredible adoptee leaders around the world, I know how much effort has gone into getting intercountry adoptee rights to where we are today. News like this does not in any way solve or fix the issues we face but it is at least the beginning of having recognition of the wrongs done — with governments and authorities stepping up to confront the truth that we’ve been talking about for decades. Acknowledgement is the first step of many!

Belgium isn’t the first adoptive country to do so. The Netherlands announced their moratorium on all intercountry adoptions earlier this year in February and published their report. Switzerland announced their report from investigating past practices relating to Sri Lankan adoptions and they are being urged to provide reparation to the victims. Sweden also announced their intention to investigate their illegal intercountry adoptions. And yesterday, the Belgium Minister announced his recommendations to be considered by Parliament. You can read here the full Expert Panel report.

But for some countries we still have work to do

It seems that finally some governments are listening to our lived experience and have decided to no longer turn a blind eye. But even though these 4 have listened, I want to also remind you that there has been much work and years of effort gone into other countries who still haven’t come to the “acknowledgement table”. In France, the adoptees there have had huge support in their petition to have the French Parliament conduct an investigation into their historic intercountry adoptions. In Denmark, the adoptees from Chile have been working with the government to have their adoptions investigated.

In my adoptive country Australia, I have been speaking out and advocating for supports for impacted adoptees and families and for recognition of the abuses in Australia for many years. In fact, it’s been over a decade already and I remember in my early years representing adoptees at NICAAG where Julia Rollings (adoptive mum) and I tabled this issue at the beginning in 2008 and asked that the issue be addressed. More recently, I have also presented a small group of 8 impacted adoptees to meet with our Central Authority, DSS in 2017 asking for very specific supports. However, to this day, those adoptees have still been ignored and dismissed. Despite having very clear cases of illegal activity where perpetrators have been criminally convicted and jailed (e.g., the Julie Chu cohort in image below from Taiwan), nothing has been offered for the adoptees or their families to help them deal with the extra complexities of their illegal adoptions. It’s as if these impacted adoptees don’t exist and Australia hopes the problem will fade away while they face far more important issues, like COVID-19 or an upcoming election.

It is time authorities around the world step up and take responsibility for the processes and structures that ruptured our lives via adoption – for good and for bad. 

Intercountry adoption has followed the path of domestic adoption

In intercountry adoption, we are seeing the same pattern where country after country the governments are acknowledging the wrongs in their domestic adoptions. Canada leads the way by providing financial compensation to their victims of the Sixties Scoop. Australia has already provided a formal apology for the women and babies who were impacted under the Forced Adoption era — but are still as yet to be offered any form of compensation. Australia also just announced their compensation for the Indigenous Aboriginals who were forcibly removed and placed into white families under the Stolen Generation. It is interesting that the Australian government can acknowledge these past practices but doesn’t recognise the very close similarities with our historic intercountry adoptions. Ireland as a government has only this year recognised the wrongs and provided a formal apology to the mothers and children who suffered in Babies Homes from forced adoptions. Ireland is also baulking at offering compensation.

What about our birth countries?

Very few of our birth countries involved in our illicit and illegal adoptions have taken any action either. Guatemala, Ethiopia and Russia are the main ones that come to my memory where they stopped all intercountry adoptions because of irregularities — but they too have failed to provide impacted adoptees with services or compensation to recognise the wrongs done to them. Some of them have sentenced perpetrators but their sentence rarely ever matches the depths of their crime.

Let’s have a quick overview at how perpetrators have been sentenced to date:

The more recent is the first sentence for the American local politician involved with the Marshall Island women who received only 6 years imprisonment. Cambodian adoption ring leader Lauryn Galindo got 18 months in prison, her crime was only visa fraud and laundering money. The Samoan adoption scam perpetrators were sentenced a mere 5 years on probation, for aiding and abetting improper entry of an alien. We are still awaiting sentencing of the perpetrators involved with the Ugandan and Polish schemes for arranging adoptions through bribery and fraud.

In Vietnam, the ring leader received a 4.5 yr sentence for falsifying documents. Taiwan sentenced Julie Chu and her cohorts to a life time imprisonment for masterminding a baby exporting syndicate but she got off lightly after appealing and only served a mere 6 years. In China, child traffickers who abduct and sell children are executed. This response remains the harshest I’ve seen but life imprisonment seems reasonable given their actions impact us for our lifetime.

That the majority of perpetrators in intercountry adoption get away with mild convictions demonstrates the lack of legal framework to protect us. And despite the fact that very few perpetrators in intercountry adoption are ever caught, let alone sentenced, one still has to ask, where is the support for the victims?

The American Samoan Adoptees Restitution Trust is the ONLY restorative justice program I’ve come across, establishing a fund provided by the perpetrators to facilitate connection to birth family and country. But the funds provided have been extremely limiting considering how many people are impacted and out of those impacted adoptees, only 1 was enabled to return to their natural family. Have governments even considered whether intercountry adoptees wish to be repatriated back to their birth country?

What level of responsibility should governments bear?

Many articles have been written about the problems in intercountry adoption via the irregularities in processing us for intercountry adoption, but the most critical issue that governments need to respond to, is our right to identity.

A recent report (see Section 4) by Child Identity Protection (CHIP), highlights the level of responsibility States should play in helping us find our original identities and seek redress.

“Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) notes that a child has a right to identity including a name, a nationality and family relations. Whenever a child is deprived of one of these elements, States have an obligation to restore the child’s identity speedily. At the heart of any intercountry adoption (ICA) is the modification of a child’s identity given at birth.” — CHIP

I’d like to ask every government who is a signatory of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, just what are they doing to “speedily restore our original identity”? All these investigations in European countries are a necessary part of the process to review and look in-depth at what has gone on. But .. the steps taken to halt adoptions does not provide any sweetness for us victims. There are hundreds and thousands of us around the world. What do we want? All you have to do is have a read of our collation of responses which I distributed at The Hague Working Group on Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Adoption, a little over 1 year ago.

In summary our report explains what the majority of us want. We each independently submitted our thoughts without knowing what the other was submitting. Here are the top 3 suggestions we raised :

  • A change to intercountry adoption laws to ensure a legal framework exists for which illicit practices can be prosecuted against. Currently there is none.
  • An independent investigative body so we aren’t expecting the governments and adoption authorities to “investigate” themselves. Currently that’s what happens.
  • Fully funded support services for victims. Currently there are huge gaps in general post adoption supports let alone supports specific to being trafficked. Not one country in the world currently provides any sort of trafficking support for adoptees or their families — both adoptive and natural, but especially for natural families who rarely have a voice on the global arena.

I observe the Netherlands who are still working on their National Centre of Expertise might be including support services specific to trafficking victims, so too it appears from the Belgium report they are trying. But supports for trafficking victims needs to be comprehensive not just a DNA or a general counselling service. In our report, we list in full what this support needs to include: legal aid; counselling; financial aid; funded lived experience support groups; family tracing; DNA testing and professional genealogy services; travel support; language classes; translation services; mediation services; culture and heritage supports.

Why can’t adoption be a “happily ever after” story?

People mistakenly think that intercountry adoptees have to be unhappy in their adoption to want to fight for justice. It is not true.

We can be happy in our adoptive life and country but also be unhappy with how our adoptions were conducted and rightfully expect that everything be done to restore our original identities and help us to reconnect with our natural families who have lost us via intercountry adoption.

Our voices have been fighting for decades for our right to origins, to make amends for our lost identity, to have the illicit and illegal intercountry adoptions recognised for what they are – the commodification of children. We need this crazy system to stop, it’s been going on for too long. We are not a small number, estimates vary but we definitely are in the hundreds of thousands globally and possibly a few million.

It’s time for the truth and hopefully long term, we might see some reparative and restorative justice for us and our families. In the meantime, myself and fellow adoptee leaders continue to work hard for our communities globally! Onward and upward! I hope one day to be able to write about our “happily ever after” story, once we get justice and recognition for the wrongs done.

Other Resources

Impact Awareness Campaign (video) led by Critical Adoptees From Europe (CAFE), Belgium

Finding Humanity podcast Separated: The Ethics of Adoption

Patrick Noordoven: Intercountry Adoption and the Right to Identity

David Smolin: The Case for Moratoria on Intercountry Adoption

To auto translate any of the following resources, open in Google Chrome browser.

Netherlands

No New Adoptions from Abroad for the Time Being
Netherlands Halts all Adoptions Abroad with Immediate Affect
Minister Dekker Suspends Intercountry Adoption with Immediate Effect
Dutch Freeze International Adoptions after Abuses Uncovered
Dutch Report (English)

Switzerland

International Adoptions Report (French, German, Italian)
Adoptions from Sri Lanka: the Federal Council Regrets the Negligence of the Authorities
Press Conference by the Minister (German)
Press release by Sri Lankan adoptee org Back to the Roots (English) in French
Abducted Sri Lankan Children Adopted in Switzerland

Belgium

Wouter Beke Argues for a General Adoption Break, but immediately receives Criticism
Minister Beke wants Adoption Break to Thoroughly Review the Sector
Minister Beke wants a General Adoption Break due to “Mistakes” and “Malpractice”: What is Going on?
Flanders Plans “at least 2 Years Break” from International Adoptions
Expert Panel Report is Ready
Expert Panel Final Report

Finland’s adoptions are similar to the Dutch.

by Sabina Söderlund-Myllyharju, adopted from Taiwan to Finland.
Translation by Fiona Chow. Original post here in Swedish.

Recently my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with important news items from places such as The Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden. The Netherlands has suspended all adoptions from abroad after an investigation revealed systematic abuses as well as illegal adoptions. A similar investigation has begun in Switzerland. In Sweden, adult adoptees from Chile along with those from other nations, are fighting for a nation-wide investigation to be implemented as soon as possible. 

This build-up of steam in the adoption world started to stir up feelings inside of me. For a long time now, I have been observing strong opposition against adoption from adopted adults in the international circles I am involved in on social media. But to completely halt all adoptions? That sounded foreign to me. Many years ago, I thought likewise, but since then I have come to the realisation that such thinking is a little too radical. At least, not while there are children out there without parents.

The other night, I listened to a discussion in which a Swedish adoptive parent openly stood in the gap for the illegally adopted children who are now demanding Sweden to take responsibility. She supported them whole-heartedly, even though her engagement is likely to bring negative consequences into her own life. It warmed my heart that she as an adoptive parent is willing to do everything in her power so that her own children in the future would not need to question the adoption system in the same way as the stolen children of today.

My own adoption didn’t go as it should have, and this has been the source of a myriad of different emotions inside of me. These have ranged from the sadness of not having grown up with my biological family, to real anger over a system full of inadequacies. How is it even possible that I was transported from one continent to another with the help of falsified papers? That the offenders have now been tried and punished is of course just and right, but why was there never any attempt to re-unite me and dozens of other children with their original families?

At the same time, I have experienced huge feelings of guilt for even thinking this way, as I have had a good life here in Finland. Who am I really to complain? In fact, this isn’t a question of not being grateful. I am truly thankful for many things, not the least of which include my three children who are growing up in a fantastic country such as Finland. However, am I thankful that I was separated from my biological mother? Is it even possible for me to ever stop wondering why my identification documents were falsified at the time of adoption? Was I sold? Is this what my biological mother really wanted?

It has been many years since my own adoption and at that time, the arrangements were made privately, without the help of an adoption agency, nor the protection such an agency would have provided. I am happy that today’s Finland adoptions are regulated in a totally different way, so that we can be certain that things are done legally and correctly when we place children through international adoption. This is the way it is, isn’t it? Surely our focus is on what is best for the child, just as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) demands? Surely we choose to act without delay when suspicious activity arises on the adoption field?

My hope is that adoptees, adoptive parents and adopters can be assured that all those who work with adoption in Finland are, with good conscious, able to say that everything is working as it should. I sincerely hope that adoption agencies such as Interpedia, Save the Children and the City of Helsinki have been quiet for so long because they absolutely have nothing to hide. 

At the same time, I can hardly be the only person who thinks that an independent state investigation is long overdue, even in a country such as Finland.  

The Stolen Children of Cambodia

by Elizabeth Jacobs, born in Cambodia and adopted to the USA.

Elizabeth as an infant

I would like to share with you about my project in which I will be creating a documentary that will follow my first trip back to Cambodia since my adoption which occurred in year 2000. I am now twenty one years old and I am finding out who I really am as a person and what I want to make of myself. Before I continue to grow further into the adult I wish to be, I feel the need to come to terms with my past. After revisiting some documents and photos from my adoption, I discovered some inconsistencies that raise questions about my past. I’m hoping that by returning to Cambodia I might search for my original identity to better understand my life before it was Americanised.

At first, my plan for the documentary was to show the process of finding my Cambodian family roughly twenty one years later. My intent was to focus on a possible reunion with any biological family members I may have and to retrace the steps of my adoption, such as revisiting the orphanage from which I was relinquished and possibly visiting my foster mother and nanny. However, while investigating my adoption, I uncovered much more than what was previously known.

I feel emotionally ready and curious to learn about my adoption but in doing so, I’ve sifted through all of the documents and found some new information that leaves me questioning whether I have been stolen or not from my biological parents, perhaps not legally relinquished as I previously thought.

Not having any information about my biological family, I wonder whether or not I am a victim of Lauren Galindo, the infamous baby trafficker in Cambodia, and her network of recruiters. The Galindo scheme went as follows: a recruiter would befriend and garner the trust of impoverished parents by giving them small amounts of money and promising them that they would take their children to an orphanage where they would be well cared for while the family got back on their feet. Further they would assure the parents that their children, when grown up, would support them from America. That is how the process was played out in regard to many babies and small children whose parents were too impoverished to care for them. Instead of giving these children back to their parents, the liaison offered these children up for adoption mostly to American parents in return for “bogus adoption fees” in the amount of thousands of dollars. The fees were entirely made up by Galindo as the government did not require adoption fees.

My adoption was conducted just months after the adoption ban was put in place due to the Lauren Galindo child trafficking scandal. Galindo was charged with money laundering for which she was later incarcerated for 8 months and accused of setting up a baby/child trafficking ring where children were stolen from their loving families and sold for a profit.

Twenty one years later, I am now an adult ready to make my own choices and I want to visit my past and confront any unresolved issues that have remained hidden for so many years.

I feel this topic is important because it is about my past and how my life could have been drastically different if I had never been adopted. Now that I wonder if my adoption was part of a baby trafficking scandal in Cambodia, this documentary grew to being more than just a reunion with my home country. It has become a visual diary and real time investigation on the truth about my adoption. I am displaying my journey to the public so I can share this very important story of lost identity. There are hundreds of adoptees like me and I think it is important to spread awareness about this scandal because there might be others out there who believe they are legally adopted, when in actuality, they may have family in Cambodia who have wondered all these years where their child ended up.

My arrival

I feel this topic is important and highly relevant because Cambodia still has a ban on international adoptions due to the sheer amount of corruption within the adoption industry. Today, the Cambodian government is working little by little to lift the ban, however, because the country is so poor, it could be so easy for things to go back to how they were where unscrupulous people try again to take advantage of parents who need help with their children.

I have always grown up wanting to adopt from Cambodia, but I cannot do that with this ban in place. It saddens me to know there are genuine orphans in Cambodia waiting to be adopted but cannot because there are too many who would take advantage of their abandonment in exchange for a profit.

As this documentary is very personal to me, I know I will find it challenging and it will be a very emotional but impactful journey to capture. It is also a possibility that I do not find any information on my biological parents and I end up with even more questions than I started. The goal is therefore, to get as much clarity about my past as I can. The outcome is uncertain but this only adds to the suspense that this documentary will capture.

If you would like to support me in my quest to create this documentary, please visit my fundraiser website.

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