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:
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.
“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
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.
by Krem0076, an Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA.
I am an adoptee from a closed international adoption. I have paperwork but for many of us, our paperwork is often fraught with mistakes, lies and discrepancies. That is a challenge – is my information accurate? My birth name? My birthdate? My origin story if I even have one? Are any of the names in my paperwork real or accurate?
I have names for both my b-mom and b-dad and I decided in 2017 to try searching for my b-mom on Facebook. Here’s another challenge – because I am adopted from Korea and wasn’t raised reading or speaking my language, I had to figure out how to translate the English version of my b-mom’s name into Hangul and hope it was accurate. Thankfully I have a fellow Korean adoptee friend who could do that for me. I searched and found a woman who has physical features that are so similar to mine, it was like looking into a future mirror at myself around 50 years old.
The next challenge was – do I message her? And if I do, what the heck do I say? “Hi, you don’t really know me, but I may be your daughter whom you relinquished back in 1987. Did you relinquish a baby girl then? I promise I’m not crazy or going to cause trouble.” Yeah, I don’t see that going over well. Do I friend request her? How do I approach her without spooking her? What if she’s married and has other children? What if I’m a secret? What if she denies me?
This was back in 2017 when I first found my potential b-mom, and after weeks of agonising and being petrified but simultaneously excited, I sent her a message and a friend request. I waited days which turned into weeks, that turned into months and eventually, years. Nothing. I went from being excited and hopeful to being nervous and unsure. Eventually it turned into bitterness, frustration, rejection and loss all over again. In the end, I numbed myself to it and pushed it into the back of my brain and tried to forget.
Fast forward to March of 2021. I had recently fully come out of the adoption fog, started reconnecting with my Korean culture, language, foods and traditions and making more Korean adoptee friends. I decided to look her up again and see if there was anything new. From what I’ve gleamed as an outside observer, she looks to be married and has 2 adult daughters. It also looks like she runs a berry farm. I decided to message her again, this time in Hangul hoping she’d respond to that better. I’ve also updated my profile name to include my birth name in Hangul, hoping she’d see it. She never read the message and I don’t have the option to friend request her again.
I know I can go through other channels to find and contact my b-mom, but I am a mess. What if they can’t find her? What if they do and she rejects me? What if this woman is her and she rejects me? What if she’s passed away? That’s another challenge – the debilitating and paralysing onslaught of emotions that stop me from moving either way. I’m like a deer caught in the headlights.
For adoptive parents reading this, I encourage you to foster open adoptions if you can – not for your needs and wants, but for the future needs and wants of you adopted children. They will grow up knowing their origins, their medical history, their b-mom or parents. They will have a better sense of their identity. They will be able to ask questions and have them answered. There will still be trauma. There will still be tough days and emotions. But they will have a stronger foundation than I will never have. I’m 34 and drowning somedays. I struggle with being adopted and right now, quite frankly, I hate it.
To know your parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents …
To know your medical history; whether your mother died of cancer, your father suffered heart problems, whether your grandmother had diabetes …
To know who you look like, where your traits come from, whether your face in the mirror is a reflection of someone else ..
To know your birth story, date, time, season of the year, what hospital you were born in …
To know your country of birth, culture, heritage, language, customs, religion …
To be surrounded by people who look like you racially …
To know your origins is a privilege!
These are the things I don’t take for granted because I didn’t have any of these whilst growing up. I was born in one country, adopted to another, by a family of different race. I’m a transracial intercountry adoptee. I’ve spent a huge portion of my life wondering, searching, trying to learn about my origins.
In my community of intercountry adoptees – to know your origins is definitely a privilege!
The desire to know my origins is an innate and fundamental human need (and right).
My need to know my origins is akin to your need to breath air that keeps you alive.
We only know our origins are important when we don’t have it, or access to it. For people like me, this is our daily lived experience!
As an intercountry adoptee, I live my whole life trying to find who I come from and why I was given up / stolen.
It’s really hard to know how to go forward in life if I don’t know how and why I came to be in this unnatural situation.
My life did not start at adoption! I have a genetic history, generations of people before me who contributed to who I am.
We cannot pretend in this world of adoption and family formation that genetics does not matter, it does – significantly; I am not a blank slate to be imprinted upon; there are consequences to this pretence and it shows in the statistics of our higher rates of adoptee youth suicide!
One of most shared experiences amongst adoptees whom I connect with, is the topic of “feeling all alone”, “like an alien” and yet human beings are not meant to be isolated. We are social beings desiring connection.
Separation from my natural origins and the knowledge of these, left me disconnected and lost in a fundamental way.
My life has been spent trying to reconnect – firstly with my inner self, then with the outer self, and with those around me, searching for a sense of belonging.
As an adoptee, I can be given all the material things in the world but it did not fix the hole that my soul feels, when it has nowhere and no-one to belong to, naturally.
My substitute family did not equate to a natural sense of belonging.
I searched for my origins because my innate feelings and experience of isolation and loss drove me to find where I came from and to make sense of how I got to be here.
I was born in China. That’s it, end of origin story. That’s all I know. I was probably born in Jiangsu Province, but even that’s not certain. The earliest known record of my existence is a medical examination when I was estimated to be 20 days old. Many of my friends know where they were born, what hospital, what day, some even know the time down to the second as well as how long it took. I know none of that. They know who was present at the time they were born, what family members they met first. I know none of that. My legal birth date is estimated from when I was found, I have no original birth registration. My name was given to me by orphanage officials. I don’t know what my name was or if my biological parents had even bothered to give me a name. The record of where I was found and when have been lost or forgotten. My (adoptive) mother wrote in a scrapbook which county they were told I was found in. There are no records of it, I have no abandonment certificate like some Chinese adoptees do and I have no recorded finding ad. For many intents and purposes, my life began when I was adopted by a white Canadian couple when I was under a year old. I am one of thousands of Chinese children adopted by foreigners after China opened its doors to intercountry adoption in 1991.
Like most Chinese adoptees, I was adopted under the shadow of the One Child Policy, first introduced in 1979. The One Child Policy (the unofficial name for the birth restriction policy) dictated that couples were only allowed to have one child. There were exceptions for rural families and ethnic minorities, but the policy was implemented and unequally enforced across the country, with varying levels of violence. The cultural preference for sons is well-publicized and is believed to be the reason behind why the majority of Chinese adoptions under the One Child Policy were girls. It is widely known and accepted among the Chinese adoptee community, the majority of us who were born female, that we were relinquished (or stolen) because of our sex at birth.
China’s changing birth restrictions
On May 31, 2021, I checked the news and saw a CBC article that said China had eased its birth restrictions and would now allow couples to have up to three children, instead of the previous two, which was implemented in 2016. I remember reading a similar news article in 2015 when it was announced that China was relaxing the One Child Policy for the first time in decades to allow for two children per couple. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, I was happy that the restrictions were loosened and sad that they were still policing reproductive rights. And yet, this morning when seeing the news, I felt much more strongly. Perhaps it is because during the pandemic, I made an effort to connect to the adoptee community, through joining online Facebook groups, run by adoptees for adoptees. I started trying to (re)learn Mandarin, which I had long since forgotten, despite being put in Mandarin lessons when I was little. Maybe it’s because of the spotlight put on anti-Black and anti-Asian racism due to the multiple high-profile police killings of Black people, the surge in Asian hate crimes due to the racist rhetoric about the origin of the pandemic, that’s forced me to more closely examine my own racial and cultural identity as a Canadian, transracial, Chinese, intercountry adoptee. But perhaps most of all, it’s because I have two sisters, also adopted from China, something that wasn’t allowed in China for most families until now.
For many reasons, reading the news article on China’s new relaxed policy, gave me many more mixed feelings. Again, the happiness at a relaxed policy and the sadness and disappointment at the continued policing of women’s bodies and reproductive rights. But this time, it came with another feeling: anger. I am angry. It feels like a slap to the face for all Chinese adoptees and their biological families who were (forcefully) separated under the One Child Policy. It feels like it was for nothing, even more than before. What was the point of my biological parents relinquishing me (if that’s what happened) if they were just going to change the policy later? What was the point in creating the policy when the birth rate was already falling, as it does when women are given greater access to education, careers and contraceptives, and now they want to increase the birth rate again? What was the point of stripping me of my name, my birthday, my culture, when the driving force behind my abandonment has been (semi-)reversed? If Chinese couples are now allowed to have three children (the same number as my sisters and I), then what was the point of the policy which drove thousands of children, mostly girls, to be abandoned, aborted and trafficked?
Now the policy has been changed and so what? I’m still a Chinese adoptee, living thousands of kilometres from my birth country, with no easy way to connect to any living blood relatives, unless I want to attempt a search. I’m still a Chinese adoptee who doesn’t know my birth name, birthday or birthplace. South Korean adoptees fought for and successfully lobbied the South Korean government for recognition and (limited) reparations. They have been given a way to recover their South Korean citizenship and are now eligible to apply for the F-4 (Korean Heritage) Visa. During the pandemic, the South Korean government sent free face masks for Korean adoptees. China does not acknowledge dual citizenship, nor does it provide adoptees with a special visa that would allow them an easier way return to their birth country. China does not acknowledge intercountry adoptees or how the thousands of children who were adopted internationally were direct consequences of the One Child Policy. The policy has been loosened and now Chinese couples can have up to three children, like my family in Canada. The policy that likely drove my adoption has been loosened and yet nothing has changed for me, and the Chinese government moves on.
I don’t like thinking of the what-ifs and what-could-be’s. I don’t like imagining what my life could have been if I was never relinquished (or stolen), if I was never adopted, if I was adopted by a Chinese couple instead etc. But this recent announcement has forced me to think about the what-ifs. Specifically, “What if my birth family had been able to keep me because they weren’t restricted by the One Child Policy?” I’m happy and satisfied with my current life. Despite the occasional hiccups, racist micro-aggressions and identity struggles, I wouldn’t change anything. That doesn’t mean I can’t and won’t mourn the life that was taken from me due to the One Child Policy. I mourn that I don’t know what my biological parents named me (if they did). I mourn that I don’t know the date, time and location where I was born. I mourn that I don’t know, and may never know, if I look like any of my biological relatives. I mourn that I will likely never know the full story behind my adoption. I mourn that as a Canadian, I will never feel fully comfortable in China and that as a Chinese adoptee, I will never be seen as fully Canadian. And I’m angry that for the Chinese government, they can change the One Child Policy and move on, while I and thousands of others will bear the consequences for the rest of our lives.
by Jodi Gibson Moore born in the UK and adopted to Northern America. This is part 1 of a 3 part series written for Autism Awareness Month.
April is Autism Awareness Month
That’s what it’s been known as, anyway. Light it up blue. Puzzle pieces. Be aware of the ways our autistic kids differ from neurotypical children. Donate to “Autism Speaks.” And perhaps the most cringeworthy, “help us find a cure for autism.”
As an autistic adoptee, not diagnosed until adulthood (41), the puzzle piece has always represented adoption to me. The missing piece. We are the missing piece from our blood families. We ourselves are missing our blood family (or in the case of kinship adoptees, our rightful place in it and at least some of our family). We’re missing our origin stories; our true names; our original birth certificates; our actual, unaltered identities; our family medical history…the list goes on. This puzzlement over our origins may eventually be resolved in reunion; for some adoptees, it never is.
One of the often-cited autistic traits is the ability to notice patterns in things, so maybe that’s the reason why, since I began pursuing my own medical diagnosis, I’ve been noticing similarities or symptom overlap between developmental trauma (adoptee-specific and otherwise), autism spectrum, and other conditions often comorbid with ASD such as ADHD and sensory processing disorder (SPD). More about this in future posts.
In an autistic context, the puzzle piece has an entirely different meaning and, perhaps not surprisingly to a population historically considered unable to speak for themselves, was developed and “used without input from the autistic community” (Crosman, 2019). Crosman explains that the originator of the puzzle piece symbol was “Gerald Gasson, a board member for the (UK) National Autistic Society. He and the rest of the board believed that autistic people suffered from a “puzzling” condition, so they adopted a logo of a puzzle piece with a weeping child, displaying the notion that autism is a tragedy that children suffer from. This visualization of autism has led to decades of autistic people receiving unwanted treatments and therapies to treat a disease that they don’t have.” (from “The Ableist History of the Puzzle Piece Symbol for Autism”, 2019).
Crosman draws the puzzle piece debate into modern times with the puzzle piece ribbon symbol designed by the Autism Society of America in 1999, supposedly to raise awareness and increase early intervention, but she points out that this awareness usually involves “increased research of cures and treatments for autism” (2019), and intervention often includes controversial treatments like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Crosman criticizes ABA for “‘correct(ing) autistic behaviors by forcing autistic people to mask their autism” (2019). Masking, which I’ll cover in another post, is the exhausting and not always successful task of attempting to pass for “typical” in order to make neurotypicals more comfortable around us. So much for inclusion and acceptance.
Crosman speaks for many autistic adults when she voices her criticisms of the puzzle piece and its implications that individuals on the autism spectrum are “incomplete” or “missing pieces”, suffering from a “disease”, and do not fit in with the rest of the world. Many autistics choose to discard the puzzle piece due to its ableist connotations and history; the infinity symbol, often in rainbow colors to represent the spectrum, is increasingly visible in the autistic community. Autistic females especially are replacing the “light it up blue” with red or gold, which, with the periodic symbol Au, can mean autism. Crosman (2019) points out that blue perpetuates the male gender bias in autism: historically, autism research was only conducted on males, and due to gender-biased diagnostic criteria, females are more likely to slip through the cracks in childhood, often pursuing a diagnosis ourselves as adults, as I did. Knowing now where the “blue” comes from, I’m not going to turn my Facebook profile picture blue this year.
The attitude that organizations such as Autism Speaks have toward autistic individuals, described by Crosman as “ableist” and “infantilizing” as they claim to speak for those actually affected by autism, reminds me of the way the adoption industry, the law, and society in general has treated generations of adoptees. As the original puzzle piece logo suggests, autism has historically been viewed as a childhood disorder, with very little discussion or research into autistic adults. Not to say the supports and accommodations in schools aren’t necessary. They are. But we don’t outgrow autism. What about accommodations in college, university, career training? What about supports in the workplace? In parenting? We often end up masking so that others won’t find out our “disability” and use it against us, and masking leads to burnout, as I will write in a future post. We grow up and we’re still autistic.
Adoptees also grow up, while the law treats us as perpetual children. Most of us aren’t even allowed access to our own birth records. We are bound for life to a contract that we never signed, supposedly made on our behalf, but after we reach the age of majority we’re still adopted, and most courts won’t even think about releasing us from it, including in cases of abuse. After our adopters die, we’re still adopted. People apply the phrase “adopted child/children” to us into our 30s, 40s, 50s, after we have children and perhaps grandchildren of our own. Laws are beginning to change, but there are still many who consider us incapable of speaking up for ourselves regardless of our lived experience and advanced education. I understand that a legal declaration isn’t the same as neurological diversity, but I also know how it feels not to be taken seriously as the expert on your own life and struggles.
The opinions and feelings expressed in my online autism groups leading up to this April remind me – in a good way – of adoptees coming together to “flip the script” for NAAM in November. Those who have not experienced our reality firsthand have spoken for us long enough, and now we’re speaking for ourselves. Our voices are diverse, but we’re not puzzled anymore. We’re finding our own fit.
I’ll be here all month.
For more from Jodi, check out her contributions to numerous publications including 4 adoptee anthologies:
It’s Not About You: Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion & Open Adoption The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share their Wisdom and Tools Adult Adoptee Anthology: Flip the Script Adoption Therapy Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post Adoption Issues
“In very cynical terms, an American told me: “But don’t you understand, buddy, that this is the last reservoir of Caucasian children in the world?”
Last year I decided make an appointment with your agency to read my adoption file. I arrived on the day of the appointment, and everybody seemed surprised to see me. When I explained why I was there, they called you Carol because you didn’t show up. That evening, you wrote an e-mail that you were “sorry” you “forgot” my appointment. Your colleague Amelia took care of it. Amelia was nice, she was young, she had never worked with my birth country. Amelia didn’t explain how adoptions work for the adopters, for the children, or for your beautiful agency. Like I was supposed to know. She read out loud the few documents that she saw in my file. She made a copy of those I wanted to take with me. There’s one paper I didn’t ask for and I wish I had. Amelia was unable to tell me what was a “judicial abandonment” nor how the living conditions were at the orphanage, how long I stayed, or why I was put there in the first place. Amelia decided to read me the social investigation your agency did on my adoptive parents, probably because she felt sorry for me. She also pointed out that my adoptive father was, “Tolerant and open-minded, he liked meditating, it’s written right here”. From my previous life, there was nothing. “You should ask your adoptive parents”, she said. “At the time, we weren’t as thorough when we were filing the papers”. How many children are affected by filing methods that weren’t as “thorough” as they are now? When I left, I was bitter, frustrated and angry. I thought, “Those people are responsible for the process that changed my life forever and they know nothing”.
This year, I contacted you again Carol, to ask you how to get in touch with the intermediary who brought the children from Romania to France. I had clear memories of him since he went on vacations with my family in France for several years. You gave me two e-mail addresses and you sent me the link of an association of Romanian adoptees. They could help me find possible brothers or sisters, you said. I thought your beautiful agency helped adoptees “find their roots”. Wasn’t it a “central theme” for adoption agencies? You “invest[ed] more and more on […] the quest for one’s origins” and “your competence in this particular regard [was] well-known”… right? I even found an article about this with beautiful, colourful graphs in one of your magazines. The adoptee association you introduced me to later told me you called them to enquire on the searching process in my birth country because you had no idea how to proceed yourself. The only thing your beautiful agency did, was give me a copy of my file – which is the bare minimum. In some cases, you gave adoptees a file that had nothing or almost nothing in it, or with pictures of another child. As we saw last year (not you, since you didn’t show up), the psychologist who was supposed to give me “support” simply read out loud the papers that I was able to read myself, gave a compliment about my adoptive father without knowing him and told me, “Sorry, there’s nothing more we can tell you.”
Thank you for introducing me to the Romanian adoptee association though because their website truly is a gem. You should go check it out. I selected a few sections for you. “Since the 1980s, the number of people from rich countries who want to adopt a child has been ten times higher than the number of children adoptable in poor countries.” “Between 1990 and 2000: over 30 000 Romanian children are adopted abroad.” “The “casa de copii” (literally “children’s homes”) were State institutions were day-care, housing, food and medical treatments were offered to children whose mothers or parents weren’t financially and/or psychologically capable of doing so, for the amount of time necessary for the parents to get better and take them back.” Interesting. Did you know that a “casa de copii” (the institution I went through) wasn’t an orphanage? “The “Romanian orphans” weren’t all orphans, far from it! It might have been convenient to think so, but 97% of children had a mother who was very much alive and whose identity was known and some children also had a father. More than 50% of mothers came to see their children. Some on a regular basis, others less frequently, and others only on religious holidays.” In 1993, the Romanian government passes a law that says a child who hasn’t been visited by his or her parents for six months can be declared “abandoned” by the court and thus become adoptable. Mothers usually didn’t have any means of transportation and the trick was to move the child to an orphanage which was over 50 km away (30 miles) and there you had it. This is the law that was used in my case.
I was curious about this law from 1993 so I looked it up. I found out that in order to regulate the adoption chaos after the fall of the communist regime, a law demanded that adopters work with an agency authorised to process adoptions by the French, as well as the Romanian authorities. In 1993, the US Congress was discussing Romania’s right to get the Most Favoured Nation Clause (a trade agreement). “The US had made improvement of the situation of the Romanian children a condition for this trade agreement, and it was in that context that Romania adopted the so-called “abandonment law”. […] In 1991, an incredible number of intercountry adoptions took place, estimates were more than 10,000. Many children were not adopted from orphanages, but directly bought from poor families. In 1991, a new law was adopted, limiting intercountry adoptions to children in children’s homes and orphanages. But the children’s homes’ directors would not give those children because they were not legally adoptable, more often, the children’s parents would be known and visit their children. As a result of this limitation, adoptions dropped enormously in 1992. And thus, under the disguise of wanting to improve the living condition of institutionalised and disabled children, the US congress pushed for an abandonment law, a law that rendered children adoptable.”
These two laws, “Law 11/1990 and Law 47/1993 on child abandonment set up the legal framework for the emergence of a Romanian international adoption market after 1994. These two laws create[d] the offer – children legally declared as abandoned and prepared for adoption. In order to have an operating market, the demand need[ed] to be created and the prices established.”
When a child was abandoned, which was not as systematic that you would like me to believe, under which circumstances did the parents give their consent? When you’re living in extreme poverty, when you’re fragile, isolated, when you’re facing social and familial pressures that are sometimes overwhelming, can you really make an informed decision? When everybody wants you to believe that the only way to make sure your child survives, is to give him or her away forever, can you really make an informed decision? When nobody tells you that you’ll never see your child again, when you are asked to sign a paper you can’t even read, when nobody tells you how new laws might affect you and your child, when nobody, not even the authorities of your own country, offers you any support, even temporarily, can you make an informed decision? When you’ve just given birth to a baby and you have no idea how you’ll make it until tomorrow, can you make an informed decision?
In 2007, Roelie Post described how Holt, an American agency, was mandated by Unicef Romania to help prevent abandonments. Here is how those charming people were pressuring young mothers from poor backgrounds to give up their baby: “We discuss with the mother the possibility to consent to adoption right after birth. We wait for the obligatory 45 days to pass and then she signs. We wait another 30 days, during which she may change her mind, and then, the adoption file goes to the DCP [Department of Child Protection]”. What a lovely way to prevent abandonments, indeed. If the tactics used in poor countries to get children for adoption were used in richer countries, people would be outraged. We would all be denouncing the violation of basic human rights, of children’s rights, of women’s rights. When you know that the vast majority of children used to be sent for adoption for economic reasons, it makes you wonder, Carol. With just a little bit of help, how many parents would have been able to keep their children? It was only in 2009, that poverty was no longer deemed a legitimate reason to remove a child from his/her family. For how many decades was this the one and only reason that was used to remove a child from his/her family? I’m one of those children who were told, “Your parents were too poor to raise you, that’s why you were adopted.”
I read your nice magazine, Carol, the one from your website. I noticed you wrote an article about the search for one’s origins. I was excited to read what you had to say on the subject. It turns out you actually have very short experience working on that side of adoptions, and up to now, you have mostly been helping adopters. But there was one section I found particularly appalling. “What do they want? What are they looking for? They allow themselves, in our offices, which is a symbolic place, to go back to being the little boy or girl they once were and who was left on the side of the road.” Is this what you see in front of you, Carol? Children? People who are still the age they were when they “went through” your agency? You think I came all the way to Paris to “allow myself to be the little girl who was left on the side of the road”?
Your problem Carol, and the problem of all those people who want us to believe that adoption is a fairy tale (adopters, psychologists, “adoption specialists”, or even the old uncle you meet at your best friend’s wedding), is that you refuse to see the people most affected by adoption are no longer children, and that they have the intellectual capacities to demand explanations, to question the processes, the practices, and the whole system. You also refuse to see that we are absolutely legitimate in doing so, because in order to become someone else’s child (for international adoptions), we have to lose our natural family (parents, brothers, sisters, and the whole extended family), we have to lose our country, our language, our culture, our religion, and most of all, lose our identity. Since we were the object of the transaction at the time (a passive object, which didn’t at any moment agree to it), we understand better than anyone else how it feels, to lose all those things and how it feels to be adopted. You can keep your sympathy.
This year, your beautiful agency made headlines because adoptees from another country, very far from mine, accused you of having deceived their natural families in order to get them adopted in France. “It’s not us, we know nothing”, you claimed. How could an agency who seems to never know anything get the French authorities’ blessing to bring children from all over the world into the country for over 40 years? This encouraged me to keep digging. Remember there’s a paper I forgot to ask for last year? Big mistake, but I had no idea what kind of people I was dealing with at the time.
You were hard to reach Carol, I had to wait over two months for you to get my file. You scheduled a phone appointment. When I asked if you thought it was normal that my file had so little information about the Romanian part of the process, you came up with pretty shitty excuse. “You know, we don’t know in what conditions the files were created in the birth countries.” “Maybe the birth countries didn’t ask the parents anything, maybe nobody asked anything when the child was left at the orphanage, maybe they weren’t very thorough”. There it is again, Carol, your motto: “It’s not us, we know nothing.” With a new little addition: “It’s the birth country’s fault.”
If you didn’t know, if you weren’t really sure, why process adoptions from Romania? The European Union asked Romania to halt adoptions long enough to create a child protection system because of all the past malpractices. And you think this happened because the adoption system in Romania wasn’t fraudulent? You think Carol, that Romania was referred to as a “baby bazaar” or an “ex-supermarket for adoptions” for no reason? Theodora Bertzi, former director of the Romania Committee for Adoptions used this term to refer to adoptions in Romania, adding: “Children were sent abroad like packages. There was a lot of money involved. They were white and healthy, and adoptions were processed very quickly. Children had become objects used to address adults’ emotional needs.” According to Yves Denechères, a French professor of contemporary history, and Béatrice Scutaru, “Between January 1990 and July 1991, […] orphanages open[ed] their door but the number of adoptable children prove[d] insufficient in front of the exploding demand in rich countries. Many candidates to adoption “tr[ied] their luck in Romania”. “Thus, the rules of a post-war paucity market set in: everything was for sale and everything could be bought” (Trillat, 1993, p.20).
The report addressed in March 2002 to Prime Minister Adrian Năstase when the moratorium on adoptions was decided (quoted previously), clearly states that adoptions up to that date were a market. The words “adoption market” are used 6 times in this report. And you’re going to tell me Carol, that your beautiful agency had no idea? Well, one thing is sure, you guys kept shopping there for over ten years!
Back to the phone call. I asked you how come your agency didn’t know more about the adoptions you processed in Romania. You were feeling helpless, you told me. “Try to understand”. “The intermediary isn’t answering”. If he was the only one who knew what was going on, isn’t it a bit concerning? “The people working on Romania at the time are dead, or are old ladies now.” And, “If I knew more, I’d tell you but I can’t. Try to understand how helpless I feel”. You weren’t transported into another country, you weren’t told “those people are now to be called “mom” and “dad”, you didn’t have to re-learn your native language to understand what a bunch of undecipherable papers are saying, you didn’t have to look up laws about family, child protection and abandonment to figure out what happened to you, and yet, from your comfortable little office, you were telling me to understand how helpless you felt. I don’t claim to be a psychologist but weren’t you reversing roles there?
You then asked me in an irritated voice what I wanted to talk about exactly: my abandonment? I know you’re really attached to the concept of “abandonment” because it gives a legal base and a moral justification to the removal of children from their birth countries, and to the irrevocable legal and emotional severing of the family ties with their natural parents (in the case of closed adoptions, which are the majority in France). Your beautiful agency makes a living thanks to abandonments, after all. The word “abandonment” itself is placing the entire responsibility for what happened on the natural mothers who aren’t there to defend themselves. Like they had a choice. That way, their children don’t want to look for them later because they think they were “abandoned” by a mother who didn’t love them and didn’t want them in her life. But we don’t know that. There’s no way to prove it. It just happens to be really convenient to justify adoptions. If we were a bit more honest, we’d talk about “separation” because there were one or several separations, chosen, or not.
There weren’t actually that many truly abandoned children. When there was an abandonment, coercion, manipulation, lies, blackmail and other appalling tactics were often used to get the desired commodity: a child, as young as possible. I’ve already told you all this. Adoption agencies that held office directly in maternities, nurses that refused to let the young mother leave with her child or to give her her child back after birth, children who were declared dead right after birth to be then exported for adoption, directors of orphanages – or children’s homes- who refused to let the families see their children (who were placed there, not abandoned), social services that moved children to prevent their families from seeing them, and the authorities which kept orphanages open and filled with children specifically for international adoption were all realities, Carol. In an article published in the Irish Times in 2002, Serban Mihailescu, the Romanian minister for children, said: “The effect of foreign adoptions was “extremely negative” and encouraged officials to keep the institutions full of children.” The number of children in institutions increased because more and more foreigners wanted to adopt Romanian children and more and more of the personnel in the institutions worked as dealers and they pushed the children for the intercountry adoption. It’s like a business, a $100 million business”.
Blaming Romania only would be too easy. Without such a high demand, there wouldn’t have been such a high artificially-created offer of “orphans” to “rescue”. The pressure faced by Romanian authorities from the biggest importing countries (the US, France, Spain, Italy, Israel) was huge and the lobbying response to any attempt at regulating adoptions was ferocious. In 2002, after the moratorium on international adoptions was decided, adoption agencies from those countries still accepted files from potential adopters and requests were still being sent to the Romanian Committee for Adoptions, hoping they’d be forced to grant them. When negotiations for Romania’s integration into NATO started, “US officials […] warned the Romanian government that a continuing ban could jeopardise acceptance of Romania for NATO membership.” You know what I call that? Adoption blackmail.
You see, Carol, during the almost three months that you asked me to wait in order get my file back, I educated myself on adoptions from Romania in the 1990s. And I only have more questions now. I want to know how the six months without a visit from the family of a child were counted. Who counted the days? Was there a register? Was there a written trace of those visits? Did somebody sign a paper to prove the visit had taken place? Was the visitors’ identity controlled? Where are those papers Carol? I want clear explanations on that “abandonment” because right now, I have nothing that proves it. And you’ll understand I don’t really trust you or your agency given how much you had and still have to gain from all those so-called “abandonments”.
A few weeks later, after another useless phone call, another e-mail, you ended up agreeing to send me the papers I didn’t get the first time. By e-mail. Finally. Welcome to the 21st century. I found more inconsistencies that once again, you couldn’t explain. “It’s not us, we don’t know.” In the meantime, I kept working on the file sent to me by the French authorities (which contains papers you claimed you didn’t have) and I realised there were abandonment papers from the court of my birth region. I managed to read my natural parents’ address at the time. I found a few dates. Maybe these details aren’t true, or maybe I’m not interpreting them well. But they were right there from the beginning, in a document that neither your agency nor my parents ever bothered to decipher and have translated because the truth is, you didn’t care. What mattered to your beautiful agency and to my parents was to get a child, to erase his/her identity, to bury his/her past. And they lived happily ever after, with the poor, abandoned orphan that they saved from a life of misery.
You see Carol, nobody told me that having to deal with you would be the most challenging and nerve-racking part of the whole process. Imagine what it’s like for people who don’t have enough support, time, energy, or mental space to do all this. I can’t help but think that you and your agency are treating adoptees that way on purpose because if it was easier, maybe more people would start asking questions. In your agency’s magazine you write that you have a “symbolically important role as the intermediary between the original and adoptive families, as the guardian of the adoptee’s pre-adoptive and adoptive histories.” This sums up beautifully all the lies your agency has been writing about of its “help” in adoptees’ search for their roots. You are indeed the intermediary. But the original family isn’t even named. It is erased, made invisible, as if they had never existed. You claim you know nothing, which either proves that you were incompetent, that you were looking the other way, or that you didn’t bother to check what was going on and in every case, it’s extremely alarming. You don’t investigate on the pre-adoption history before the adoption, and certainly not afterwards once the adoptee is an adult. You make promises that you can’t and won’t keep to give legitimacy to your actions and polish your reputation as an agency that is respectful of law as well as people. What I learnt from this experience is that you respect everyone except those you claim to be saving.
 Bogdan Baltazar, spokesman for the Romanian government, in an interview with the TV channel CBS.
 Law on adoptions 11/1990 modified July 8th, 1991.
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 66
 Re-organising the International Adoption and Child Protection System, March 2002, IGIAA (Independent Group for International Adoption Analysis).
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 200
 “The directives on alternative child protection measures, which were approved by the UN in 2009, forbid to place a child in care simply because his/her parents are poor. It is preferable to offer appropriate support to the family instead.” Intervention by Nigel Cantwell, during an MAI conference, 16th October 2018
 New York Times article from March, 24th 1991, by Kathleen Hunt:
« One young gynecologist in a major hospital in Bucharest says he was approached by three separate lawyers to keep them informed of any babies abandoned at birth. “They offered me $100 for every baby I could produce, and $200 if I presented it already with the mother’s consent to put it up for adoption.””
 International adoption of Romanian children and Romania’s admission to the European Union (1990-2007), Yves Denechere, Béatrice Scutaru, Eastern Journal of European Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1, June 2010
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 200 « After the maternity tour, Unicef Romania guided Mariela to Holt, one of the biggest US adoption agencies, which held office in the maternity clinic”.
by Netra Sommer born in India, adopted to Denmark; officially no longer “adopted”. Netra’s story aired in Denmark on TV and in print media, Nov 2020.
From as early as I could remember, as a child I was not happy. This was not my place. These were not my parents. I couldn’t look like them. I was always different.
They never talked about India, were never interested in my origins whereas I was always very curious about my identity. I had so many questions. Why was I here? I am not Danish. I could never be what they wanted me to be.
As I grew older, I realised there was one thing wrong with my life – it was my adoption. All I could think about was this adoption and how unhappy I was. I grew up with a lot of violence. I was always told I wasn’t white enough; I had to be this or that to be Danish. The message I always got was I had to be something else that wasn’t me. My personality was so different from theirs – I loved colours, I loved music. They did not want any of this for me. So many things reminded me that I was always so different and not my parents’ child.
I moved out of home at a very young age. When I was a young adult at age 18, I found out I could cancel my adoption – except in Denmark, the problem was I needed the signature of my adoptive parents and they didn’t want to give it. I told them it was the one thing I wanted and then I’d never ask for anything else. They said, “No, we have done so much to get you, we want to be a family. We think you are sick in the head, so no.” Each year I asked. I pushed and pushed. They always said no. “Mum and I are tired of you. We can’t live like this anymore. We can’t deal with this. You are a psychopath who has no thought for us and how it impacts us to have you cancel this adoption”. All this was communicated via texts and emails as I refused to ever see them.
Two years ago I met a journalist. She was very interested in my life. She knew I’d been talking in my community about adoption. I told her I wanted to cancel the adoption to be my mother’s child again. These Danish people were not my parents – there is no love or understanding, nothing for me to hold onto. When she learnt more about my experience she realised it was a difficult problem without my parents consent and wondered how this could be resolved.
I tried and texted my parents again. This time they told me what they wanted in return. I was to pack all my childhood things from the home – which meant I had to go there. They also had a list of questions they wanted me to answer. I replied that no, I’m not coming back. I offered for a friend of mine to pick up my boxes of childhood belongings. They tried to involve her but she refused. They sent a letter full of questions they wanted me to answer. They wanted an explanation for things like how do I think this impacts my sister, why I wasn’t considering them, whether the things in my childhood had been that bad, etc. I didn’t feel I had to justify what I wanted. I didn’t hear from them for a long time – they were angry I wouldn’t answer their questions so they were refusing to cooperate with my request.
The journalist wanted to help with my story. With the help of her production company, the story of my life was filmed and how I wanted to cancel my adoption. We could not predict what would happen next. My adoptive parents created a lot of drama and at many points we wondered if things would ever happen.
Suddenly they sent a message. “We have seen you don’t want to answer our questions but we want to cancel. Send us the papers with your signature and date”. So I went and got the papers, signed and filmed them and sent them. I was next contacted by a lawyer via the mail who told me I hadn’t signed the papers. Everyone else knew I’d signed them. I was so exhausted fighting this. Each time there was something new they do to play their game. I was so tired of them. I found out they would only communicate to me via the lawyer so I found out what she wanted, did exactly as she said, signed and sent the papers again. They were playing a power game to show me who was in control.
Suddenly one hot summer day, my uncle called. He said, “There is a letter for you”. I had instructed them to send the signed papers to him. Now I had to wait because he was away on holiday but returning soon.
The day of his return, I sat and waited in the sweltering sun. The TV film crew were with me to film what would happen. We all sat waiting. My uncle opened the letter. I was so quiet and the film crew asked me how I was feeling, could I explain? But I could not. I had no words. Then my uncle pulled out the 2 papers and said, “Now you are free!” Finally, after more than 10 years of asking! All I could think of was to return to my home, my boat. I don’t know the words to describe how I felt.
The next day I sent the papers off to the government who told me to wait another month until the cancelation is official. I planned a big party to celebrate. The day before my big party, a lady called me. She was the lawyer from the government. She said, “I just want to be sure that you want to cancel your adoption”. After I answered she pressed the button on her computer and said, “It is now cancelled”.
The official cancelation came to me as an email. I showed the tv crew. I was just so overjoyed! I told them, “I’m not adopted anymore! I have my Indian name back!” Then we got to party. I think that was when I realised for the first time I was finally free. But I did realise too that now I have no one who is my relative. If I die, no-one will be notified. According to my Indian papers, I have no relatives, no parents, no sisters. It was the first time I felt a little scared if something were to happen to me; what if I wanted someone to take over my boat? I would need to organise a Will and ensure my things are looked after.
According to my Indian papers, I was found by a policeman on the streets of Bombay, so I have no true identifying information. It was estimated on two different pieces of paperwork that I was 1 year or 3 months old when I was found. My adoption was done via a Danish adoption agency that doesn’t exist anymore. There are so many things I want to find out. I haven’t been back to India but I want to as soon as possible. I need to know what happened, what the truth is about my origins. I want to make another documentary about my return back to India when COVID is over.
The only words of experience I can offer to fellow adoptees is that if you are wanting to cancel your adoption, be sure that this is what you truly want. There is no going back. There are a lot of hurdles to make it happen. Most parents won’t want to agree because it is a loss of a child for them. But I really believe it’s important adoptees have the choice. I wish that in Denmark or any other country, that adoptees could cancel adoptions without needing adoptive parent permission. They purchased us as a child – why should they always decide our fate?
Many people judge and think that I am not thankful for being in Denmark. It bothers me that so many continue to participate and buy a child. I think most mothers want their child if they had other options. The end result of canceling my adoption is to be left with no relatives, no inheritance, to be very alone, and of course, to have an adoptive family who are very sad and angry. They did mistreat me but the law in Denmark was difficult and didn’t support my wishes due to the statute of limitations which meant for historic cases of abuse, I was not able to press charges. I have done everything I could to be free. Thankfully it didn’t cost me financially to get my adoption cancelled – I didn’t need a lawyer and the media company were an amazing support, along with my friends and own “family” who are there for me.
by Maria Diemar, born in Chile raised in Sweden. You can access her blog at I Own My Story Maria Diemar where she published this on Aug 23.
The right to one’s identity, is it a human right? Is it a human right for everyone?
Where you belong, the circumstances you come from, is this important to know?
Is it possible to delete a person’s background? Would you consider deleting another person’s background?
What is illegal? What is unethical? What are irregularities?
In last few years, I have discovered more and more of my history. From discovering that I am Ingegerd Maria Olsson in the registers in Chile, to realise that I can vote, and renew my passport from 1975, to understanding that it seems like I never left Chile the country where I was born.
According to my Chilean passport, I live on a street in a business district in Rancagua. According to other documents, I live with a social assistant in Santiago. We are probably more than 400 children living at that address: Monseñor Müller 38.
I “live” in Chile, and I live in the United States. I am in the electoral register in Chile, and in Sweden I have a Swedish passport and can pick up a Chilean passport when I like.
My birth was never registered at the hospital where I was born. I’m a child of no-one. Instead of a birth certificate, a protocol was written in which strangers testified that I was born on my birthday.
In Chile, I am registered as an orphan because a Swedish woman, Anna Maria Elmgren, arranged and enrolled me in the register in Chile. I have a Swedish name in the Chilean register. I’m Ingegerd Maria Olsson in Chile.
I am a orphan but I have a mother in the documents from the court in Temuco. In the documents from the court, I have a mother. A mother who gives me away.
I was 44 years old when I did a DNA test, then I realised that I’m Mapuche. I’m from an indigenous people.
To be a child of Indigenous people, this detail is something that someone forgot to mention. A detail that isn’t too important. Or is it?
Is the right to one’s identity a right for everyone? Who decides this?
I always thought that my mom gave me up for adoption I was an abandoned child I learnt to believe that adoption is something beautiful Even though it hurt Even though I felt abandoned Even though I felt alone
I searched for my mom for so many years, it was almost impossible to find her until I got in contact with Ana Maria in Chile
When Ana Maria found my mom
I learnt the truth
I was stolen from my mom
at the hospital
right after she gave birth to me
My mom wasn’t allowed to see me or hold me
People at the hospital, a social assistant really tried to force her
to sign papers that she wanted to give me up for adoption
my mom refused to sign any papers
84 days went by, from the day they separated me from my mom in the small town on the country side in Chile until I arrived in an airplane to Stockholm in Sweden.
I came to Sweden with documentation it said I didn’t have any family that could care for me it said my mom had left me for adoption I never question that But I felt abandoned and alone
Today I know the truth I was stolen and forcefully separated from my mom
Few people want to see the truth as society has taught us that adoption is something beautiful
I have learnt that adoption is filthy business, and that people make money I have learnt that adoption is an industry
And I am not sure, who I am anymore if I am not that abandoned child
I have been forced to go back to face all my fears and to look at my choices and experiences
Today when I see the picture of that little girl
in my Chilean passport
I see a sad girl,
all alone in the world
with no legal rights because
no-one took the time to make sure
I came from the situation
that was stated in the documents
After 6 moths I was adopted, according to the law in Sweden despite the law in Chile
What does adoption mean to you?
And please, before you answer that question, Who are you?