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

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

Click here to read the official communique.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Illicit Intercountry Adoption Project

ICAVs collaborative project, named: Lived Experiences of Illicit Intercountry Adoption. Who it Impacts & What we Recommend is looking for participants.

ABOUT

Are you an intercountry adoptee who has been adopted via illicit means? Are you a family of loss to an illicit intercountry adoption? Are you an intercountry adoptive family who received a child into the family adopted via illicit means?

What can be learnt from these experiences and what do we recommend for Governments and non- Governments, as a better response and support?

This project is the first of its kind to collect the triad voices of those impacted by illicit intercountry adoptions and will be in support of and underpinned by reference to the international standards of the CRC, the Optional Protocol (Sale of Children), and the Palermo Protocol.

WHAT YOU CAN PROVIDE

We want to hear your lived experience of having been adopted via illicit means, having lost your child, sibling or relative to intercountry adoption via illicit means, or finding out that the child you received in your family was adopted via illicit practices.

Your story can be in English, French, Dutch or Spanish with an unlimited word length.

Your story can include:

  • name(s) (pseudonym, original, adopted),
  • country of birth of the person who was adopted illegally or via irregular means,
  • adoptive country,
  • process of adoption and/or illegality/irregularity,
  • source (if any) that demonstrates illegality/irregularity,
  • impact statement including your needs & rights and to generations,
  • what has been the response so far from various stakeholders (agencies, governments, peer network, alliedhealth professionals, triad members),
  • and your recommendations on how various organisations (government and non government) could betterrespond, including services that currently exist (or don’t exist).

We welcome all voices of those impacted: adoptees, adoptive families and families of loss. If you would like to be involved, please send your experience to us at ICAV contact@intercountryadopteevoices.com or Contact ICAV.


The Lived Experience of Illicit Intercountry Adoption


This year, one of ICAVs goals is to bring to the forefront, the voices of those who have lived the experience of being illictly adopted via intercountry adoption practices. The experience of an illegal intercountry adoption is now recognised as “existing” by many of our governments and central authorities who facilitate the adoptions. ISS-SSI even provided a Handbook on Responding to Illegal Adoptions about this in 2016, including input from some with lived experience. However, it remains a fact today, that there are barely a handful of adult intercountry adoptees who have received appropriate support and assistance, whether that be emotional, financial, legal, or governmental liaison in response to their illicit adoptions.

What about illicit intercountry adoptions that are technically “legal” but are fundamentally unethical under international or other standards like the Palermo Protocol? The powers who control and regulate intercountry adoption do little to provide useful support to those who experience it.

In 2011, my adoptive country Australia, led the way in a working group at The Hague to developing cooperative measures for the prevention of illicit practices in adoption and they remain one of the few adoptive countries to develop a “protocol” for responding to allegations of child trafficking in adoption. However, this protocol response is severly limited in that it only acts to “review the adoption documentation” and yet it is often the documentation itself, that has been falsified and difficult to ascertain without other sources of information. Even IF documentation is proven to be false, what then? In cases like the Julie Chu Taiwanese trafficking ring where legal prosecution followed, there has been little to nothing done for the Taiwanese adoptees and their first families both in the adoptive and birth country’s. Shouldn’t those impacted be provided fully funded services to help them reunite, reintegrate and reconnect if they want this at any stage of their life? Or do they each have to pursue legal action in order to ever be compensated for their losses and legal implications? And what if they don’t want legal action but still want help?

In my time at ICAV, I have witnessed the lifelong growth that occurs developmentally for adult intercountry adoptees – first we start to explore our indivual journey but as we connect to fellow adoptees and peer support networks, we become exposed to the larger picture of intercountry adoption and the world-wide practice as it occurs today. The Hague Convention for Intercountry Adoption was designed to combat illegal adoptions but despite it’s ideals, it hasn’t been able to stop them altogether nor does it ensure adequate post adoption supports – especially for this specific segment of the intercountry adoptee population. Many critics say The Hague Convention has made the problem worse by masking the illicit practices under the guise of a “legal” adoption. As the adult adoptee population ages and matures, what I observe is a huge number, enmasse, of adoptees who are becoming actively involved in exposing the many illicit adoptions that have chequered its history.

South Korean adoptees like Jane Jeong Trenka have led the way in the fight for adoptee rights due to their historical place as the first babies enmasse in modern time to be exported in the largest numbers — but more recently there are those who pave the way for adoptees of other birth countries who have been illicitly adopted. Impacted adoptees such as:

  • Patrick Noordoven from Brazil Baby Affair who recently won his historical outcome of legal recognition that those adopted illegally had a right to their information; in general paving a way for other Brazilian adoptees from the Brazil Baby Affair period; and also a success with the Dutch court appointing an external commission to investigate intercountry adoptions in the past from Brazil but also including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Colombia and Indonesia;
  • Sanne van Rossen who released her ground breaking expose The Sadness from Sri Lanka (english translation avail this year) and the accompanying media coverage by Zembla which has effectively encouraged Sri Lankan adoptees all over the world to work together; Sanne’s work also led to official recognition of the Baby Farming era by the Sri Lankan government;
  • Alejandro Quezada who founded Chilean Adoptees Worldwide along with other Chilean adoptees are working with the Mothers of Chile who’s children were stolen or lost to adoption. Together they have pushed for a formal investigation into the illegal adoptions from Chile;
  • Marcia Engel at Plan Angel and other Colombian adoptees in the group are advocating to have illegal adoptions investigated officially;
  • Osmin Ramirez and his father’s historical Inter-American Commission on Human Rights outcome; plus other Guatemalan adoptees encouraged to work together in their group to provide support for all who are illegally adopted;
  • and Arun Dohle from Against Child Trafficking who has for decades exposed illegal adoptions out of India and many other countries.

What is to be the government and central authority responses to these enmasse occurrences of illicit adoption practices? For how long will they continue to ignore the voices of those impacted the most from a practical sense – helping them find their families and re-integrate back into their countries if this is their desire? How about funding the “lived experience organisation” who helps the most because they best understand the complexities? Or a “lived experience advisory group”?

I hope that by encouraging advocacy and helping to expose the voices of those who live it, we will see change – not only formally acknowledging the wrongs done, but to attempt to make ammends and provide much needed support for those forced to live it. It is one thing to acknowledge the terrible practices of the past and attempt to avoid repeating them into the future, but it is another to address the current issues and provide support for those who have lived a lifetime resulting from past practices.

Today, I present to you the story of Mariela who has lived the experience of being illegally adopted from Guatemala to Belgium. This is an example of one person’s lived experience of illicit intercountry adoption. We look forward to sharing soon our new project to bring together many more voices like Mariela’s!

We can only ever fully understand the full complexities of illicit intercountry adoptions by listening to those who live it!

Lynelle Long