Reflections on the 2017 Round Table on Intercountry Adoption

21 December 2019

To my surprise, I was invited to speak in the Round Table debate at the Dutch Parliament which took place in The Hague on 24 May 2017. A lot has happened since, which led me to these long overdue reflections.

It was a highly emotional session, where those speaking pro and against adoption used strong words.

Main subject of discussion was the report of the report of the Dutch Council for Criminal Justice and the Protection of Juveniles (RSJ), where – on its own initiative – the RSJ advised phasing out intercountry adoption, and stopping adoptions from the United States, China and EU Member States with immediate effect.

One Member of Parliament, Van der Staaij, himself adoptive father of two Colombian children, asked: why now?
Why now this unsolicited advice to stop intercountry adoptions?

The same question had crossed my mind: Why now?

In 2008, the Kalsbeek Committee was given the specific remit of advising whether intercountry adoptions should be continued or stopped. This Committee, while writing a report that was critical, nevertheless decided that intercountry adoption should continue.
Why now?

In 2007 two things happened in the Netherlands:

• The Indian Scandal about a kidnapped Indian child who was adopted in The Netherlands

• The publication of my book: Romania for Export Only, the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, exposing the “adoption lobby”.

A Dutch TV programme presented Arun Dohle’s research on kidnapped Indian children. Despite parliamentary questions, and the setting up of an investigative committee, the Indian scandal was largely covered up. Apart from three voluminous reports, not much happened. The responsible Secretary of State for Justice (F. Teeven) kept postponing reporting to Parliament. He could not gain access to the Indian criminal investigation. And when he finally could, at the end of 2012, interest in this issue had subsided. A DNA-test to confirm the Indian parent’s suspicions was deemed harmful to the 14 year old. This recommendation was issued following a request by the Dutch Court by a psychologist with close ties to the adoption agencies. There was no criminal investigation on the Dutch side. Adoptions with India could resume.

One of the principal results was that a special adviser joined the Ministry of Justice (Joel van Andel, who had previously worked in Brussels at the Dutch EU Permanent Representation).

In the meantime, changes had taken place at the European Commission: the Barroso Commission had taken seat. Strong vested interests had taken over the “Romanian Children File”. I had been removed from my job. There was huge pressure to declare me psychiatrically unfit. I had to be declared unfit for work “an invalid” on psychiatric grounds. However, some people at the highest level of the European Commission helped me fight back.

In Romania for Export Only, the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, I described the ferocious adoption lobby. The manipulation of children’s rights. The dubious role of legally accredited adoption agencies, international NGO’s. And UNICEF. It soon became clear that the Hague Adoption Convention twisted the original meaning of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Why? Because the original, intended, interpretation of Article 21b would make intercountry adoptions as good as impossible. Intercountry adoptions were meant to be an absolute exception, not the rule. The Hague Adoption Convention instead turned it into a child protection measure, one among several and transformed the subsidiarity principle into: first national adoption, then intercountry adoption. Foster care and residential care (institutional care) were relegated to very temporary solutions. Parental rights were terminated, creating parentless children (manufactured “orphans”).

The media turmoil that the Indian Scandal brought about, brought my book to the centre stage. The founder of United Adoptees International tipped De Telegraaf, and on 2 August 2007 the paper came with a full page scoop: “Killed by the Adoption Mafia”. It was the beginning of a very hot summer in adoption land.

Around that time, in fact since 2006, a revised draft adoptionption law had been pending in the Netherlands. Due to these scandals hitting the headlines, the Minister of Justice asked the Kalsbeek Committee on Lesbian Parenthood to also advise on the desirability of continuing intercountry adoption. While being very critical, the Committee advised continuing intercountry adoption (May 2008).

At about the same time, the Ministry of Justice’s Independent Research and Documentation Centre asked me to write an article for their booklet “Adoption under Fire”. In “The Perverse Effects of the Hague Convention” I spelled out the contradiction between the Hague Adoption Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 2008).

Throughout all this, I was in deep trouble at the European Commission. Strong vested interests had taken over the “Children File”. I had to be declared unfit for work. However, at the highest level of the European Commission there was a guerrilla war that tried to stop this. To cut a long story short: I was seconded to an NGO especially set up for that secondment: Against Child Trafficking. Together with the German Arun Dohle, who initiated the Indian Adoption Scandal, I worked tirelessly for almost 10 years to counter the vested interests. We did this mainly by investing our own time and funding.

In 2008 ACT got involved with the then biggest adoption agency Wereldkinderen by helping them to set up a roots program for Indian adoptees. We invested a huge amount of time, provided them with our expertise, and local experts. The idea was to set up a centre of excellence for roots searches, and request public funding. A rights-based approach for roots searches. But the cooperation failed, and we started helping Indian adoptees finding their roots ourselves. The unpaid work, given to Wereldkinderen, was paid for out of our pockets. I kept ACT financially afloat, while Arun’s working time was unpaid.

ACT received one paid assignment from Wereldkinderen in 2009. The then director was proud of Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian program, and we challenged her on that. ACT was then contracted to investigate a number of adoption files. The findings were devastating: dead parents who were alive; and adoptions without parental consent. Instead of closing the Ethiopian program and disseminating the results of our findings internationally, the Ministry of Justice and Wereldkinderen travelled together to Ethiopia, were shown around by the traffickers and business continued as usual. ACT continued to uncover scandal after scandal, via the international media. Country after country stopped adoptions from Ethiopia and finally, in 2014, Wereldkinderen also stopped (because they could no longer get children).

ACT initiated the China scandal, by being the source for the media. We networked to draw attention to the trafficking of children in Uganda and Congo. We gave our knowledge to expose the effects of the Hague Convention in Bulgaria. Not only in the Netherlands, but also in other countries, our work created havoc. And the intercountry adoption numbers were constantly decreasing.

UNICEF was our main opponent. Wherever evidence of trafficking emerged (Romania, India, China, Ethiopia) UNICEF continued to embrace the Hague Adoption Convention’s subsidiarity principle, and saw no need to stop intercountry adoptions. It was during the Romanian battle, that UNICEF changed its position into the Hague subsidiarity version, going against Article 21b of the UNCRC.
And the RSJ now advises stopping intercountry adoptions?

Why now?

Because the numbers are now so low that it is no longer justifiable and/or can no longer be efficiently organised through self-reliant adoption agencies?
Or, because I blew the whistle by writing to the President of the European Parliament, copied to the Dutch Prime Minister (EU Presidency), and the European Ombudsman?
I blew the whistle in February 2016 on how I was being treated after my reintegration into the European Commission because the secondment contract to ACT expired. More importantly, I also blew the whistle on the European Commission’s 10 years of biased pro-adoption approach to child rights. And the lasting effects it is having on European children and families (Annex I).

It was a huge battle for the European Union to get children’s rights back in order after the total mess that resulted from the advice of Defence for Children International (Nigel Cantwell), International Social Services, UNICEF and last but not least, the Hague Adoption Convention (Hans van Loon). Romania was the first “sending country” that had implemented the Hague Adoption Convention. A fully-fledged demand-driven market was the result. A sick adoption system, in which high level politicians (and their relatives) were involved, while allegedly paedophile networks had infiltrated the system.

After Romania instigated a moratorium, UNICEF organised a meeting at the US Embassy where Nigel Cantwell represented UNICEF as an expert (9/11/2001). While he is known for his sharp and critical analysis of intercountry adoption practices, he and others insisted that foster care and residential care were not to be considered as suitable means of care, and needed to be limited in time. And that intercountry adoption should be subsidiary to national adoption. In short: the Hague model. But that would have meant the same all over again, and not much would have changed. The EU withdrew from the international cooperation and continued its work with independent European experts.

This could only be done because of the EU’s adherence to the original version of Article 21b of the UNCRC and thanks to the opinion of the Independent Panel of EU Family Law Experts that (intercountry) adoption is not a child protection measure. This took strong leadership, by the European Commissioner – under whose guidance I did my work as Task Manager of the Romania Team in DG Enlargement. Because not only did opinions differ in the world of so-called children’s rights, also in-house colleagues at all levels tried to torpedo a child rights policy that would stop the export of children.

End 2004, after the Romanian government completed the EU-supported success story of the Romanian child protection reform with new legislation that corrected the former Hague biased laws, internal discussions started in DG Enlargement on how to achieve a coherent EU approach. We were aware that the closure of Romania would put other vulnerable countries at risk. I was told that achieving such a coherent approach on children’s rights would probably take 10 years. Despite the pressure and harassment/intimidations I had been subject to since I started working in the area of child protection, I was OK with that/happy to pay that price.

When hidden forces removed me from my job, I was told I could no longer work on children’s rights/anti-trafficking. With hindsight, I now understand why. Under the leadership of the right hand of Silvio Berlusconi, DG Justice would work to replace the UNCRC with The Hague Convention. Helped by French and Italian Members of the European Parliament, who were clearly the voices of the Italian adoption agency Amici dei Bambini and the French investment banker Francois de Combret, founder of Solidarité Enfants Roumains Abandonnés (SERA).

Being side-lined, I got into a weird battle with the European Commission, where a few high-level – in fact the highest level, Secretary General Catherine Day, proposed that I continued with my work on child rights. I could be seconded to UNICEF for example… Well, that was not really an acceptable option, considering my experiences in Romania. And since there were no child rights organisations promoting the correct implementation of the UNCRC’s Article 21b, it was agreed that a new NGO should be set up. This is how Against Child Trafficking (ACT) was born.

ACT pressured the European Commission to revoke their illegal acts: The Hague Adoption Convention had been removed from the acquis (EU legal basis) at the end of 2013.

The RSJ now wants the Netherlands to stop intercountry adoption and refocus on building up local child protection instead.

UNICEF, however, wants intercountry adoptions to continue, based on a position paper drafted by Defence for Children International (just look at the document properties).

Believe it or not, where the RSJ opines that the subsidiarity principle cannot be implemented in practice, and thus becomes an argument against intercountry adoptions, UNICEF, Defence for Children and ISS advise applying the subsidiarity rule for each and every child at individual level.

And I wonder, why?

The creation of the Hague Adoption Convention undermined the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by imposing adoption/intercountry adoption on the rest of the world as a child protection measure.

The Dutch are now trying to repair this by reverting to the original meaning of Article 21B of the UNCRC.

But UNICEF/ISS/DCI, all in the person of Nigel Cantwell, are trying to keep it going under a new interpretation.

And I wonder: who the hell is Nigel?

And, last but not least, I still wonder why I was invited to speak at the Round Table.

In 2008 there was no place for me at the Round Table discussion about the Kalsbeek Report, this time there was.

The RSJ report was largely based on the work done by ACT, without acknowledging that this was the case. My article about the perverse effects of the Hague Adoption Convention was extensively quoted.

I still wonder if the whistleblower letter to the President of the European Parliament, copied to the Dutch Prime Minister, in February 2016, had anything to do with that. I blew the whistle about my own situation. In August 2014 the European Commission’s secondment contract to ACT had ended, and I had been reinstated. I was not welcomed back: I was harassed, mobbed, there were again attempts to declare me mentally ill and to force me out on invalidity on psychiatric grounds. History repeating itself.

I blew the whistle on what had happened in the EU over the last 10 years. How the work on the Romanian Children File had been intentionally “forgotten” and how a full push for the Hague Adoption Convention had created a market in children in several European countries and accession countries.

Perhaps that whistle was heard after all… by the RSJ.

Unfortunately, long story short, the RSJ’s advice was put aside by the Dutch Ministers of Justice. Not stopping intercountry adoptions, but doing it better. Sure. Three years have passed, and there is no progress. At all.
Medio 2020 the Minister will come up with new legislation including a clear framework of standards, a so-called ‘normenkader’.
We’ll wait and see.

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