Lived Experience of Illegal and Illicit Adoption

Intercountry adoption is regulated by the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. This convention was designed to protect the best interests of the child in intercountry adoption and prevent the abduction, trafficking or sale of children for intercountry adoption purposes.

While it is impossible to calculate exactly how many illegal and illicit adoptions have occurred into Australia, we do know we have specific cohorts of adoptees here from various countries. Ethiopia and India were the most recent countries where our programs closed due to irregularities. Our early history in the 1980s includes trafficked adoptees from Taiwan where Julie Chu was convicted of falsifying paperwork and sentenced to prison for her role as leader of the Taiwan trafficking ring.

Globally, in February this year the Netherlands suspended its intercountry adoption program due to its historic illegal and illicit adoptions. Other European countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, and Belgium have all taken steps to carefully examine their historic adoptions.

What will Australia’s response be to our own history of illicit and illegal intercountry adoptions? Australian policy makers are currently grappling with this question and the implications. For this purpose, ISS Australia and InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) are pleased to present our free webinar on this sensitive and complex topic with a focus on the voices of those with lived experience. We hope to help educate about the experience from lived perspective, how it impacts, and what impacted people want to see policy makers and professionals take into consideration.

This webinar took place on 10 November 2021 titled Lived Experience of Illegal and Illicit Adoption. We bring you Australian specific lived experience, however, this can be extrapolated to the global arena.

A huge thank you to our panelists: Professor David Smolin, Kimbra Butterworth-Smith, Annita Pring, Clement Lam (as read by his daughter, Marie Gardom).

  • Professor David Smolin is a professor of law at Cumberland School of Lawin Birmingham, Alabama. He is also the Harwell G. Davis Chair in Constitutional Law and director for the Centre for Children, Law, and Ethics. Professor Smolin is a world leading expert on illegal and illicit intercountry adoption and has written and spoken extensively on this topic. He has also been personally impacted by illegal and illicit intercountry adoption.
  • Kimbra Butterworth-Smith has experience working in humanitarian NGOs in Australia and abroad. She is also an intercountry adult adoptee from Taiwan whose adoption was facilitated illegally by Julie Chu.
  • Annita Pring is an Australian adoptive mother to a Thai son.
  • Clement Lam Swee Seng is a retired counsellor in marriage, youth and drug addiction ministry in Malaysia. He also is a Chinese father of loss to a daughter who was sent abroad and adopted into a British adoptive family. Clement has only recently been reunited with his daughter.

Many thanks to my co-presenters at ISS Australia, CEO Peter van Vliet and Deputy CEO Damon Martin.

Reference to the investigation other countries have done already, can be found in the resources list for this past blog: Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Adoption Practices.

The Truth About Intercountry Adoption

The first part of this article, is written by Jessica Davis, adoptive mother in the USA who adopted from Uganda. She wrote recently and I wanted to share my thoughts in response to hers.

Namata

by Jessica Davis

A mother with no available options doesn’t actually have a choice when it comes to letting her daughter go on an “education program”.

Her child getting “adopted” while on the education program was the result of desperation, greed, ignorance and corruption.

A greedy adoption agency that chose to look the other way as to how children were coming into the system for adoption.

Ignorant adoptive parents who didn’t fully understand the problem at hand before trying to “help”.

A desperate middleman who chose to “bend” the truth and exploit vulnerable Ugandan families in order to put food on the table.

Corrupt judges and other government officials that cared more about lining their pockets than the well being of a child.

The misguided notion of “a better life” led everyone involved down a path that contributed to almost erasing a child’s identity, culture and ties to her family.

Adoptive parents’ love that wasn’t based solely on a child being part of their family helped them see beyond the lies and help her get home.

A child’s bravery in speaking out enabled the truth to be understood.

Continuing to allow children with families to be needlessly adopted and subjected to a lifetime of trauma and loss as a result of being separated from everything and everyone they have ever known and loved — from their identity within that family unit is inhumane.

Every time I get to visit with Namata and her family these are the things that run through my mind.

All that was ALMOST lost and erased.

4 out 5 children living in institutions worldwide have families that they could go home to.

Ignoring this family separation crisis will only continue to ensure that 4 out 5 times children like Namata will be needlessly adopted and separated from their families.

Subjected to a lifetime of trauma and loss NEEDLESSLY.

If adoption is about the well being of the child, why do we only care about their well being to the extent that they end up in a new family?

Adoptees are 4 times more likely to attempt taking their own life, so who’s well being is being prioritised when we knowingly ignore the truth and continue with intercountry adoption the way it is today?

Know better. Do better.

Jessica Davis

Lynelle’s response to Jessica:

As an intercountry adoptee separated forever from my family, these photos bring tears to my eyes. Last night I dreamed of my biological father – it was the first time he’s ever been present in my dreams. Usually it’s my mother. Seeing your daughter surrounded by people who mirror her, are her clan and having her place of belonging is just so beautiful! I know how much heartbreak, unspoken loss and grief, misplacement and longing you have prevented for her!

Your grief every day is the grief she would have lived with her whole life if she’d remained adopted.

Lynelle Long

Thankyou for being a mum who’s done what is in her best interest! What a gift you gave her to stop that unnecessary pain! I’m just sorry you feel yours and it’s the first time I’ve really comprehended how painful it must be for you and the rest of your family.

I wish other adoptive parents could understand this. It’s either your pain or ours that exists with intercountry adoption but so many choose to save themselves from the pain, instead of the child. You are one of the rare few I know who chose to accept it for yourself and do what’s right and ethical!

She’s just beautiful and deserves to be where she belongs!

Shared with Serena & Namata’s permission.

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