Diplomat 'dumped his adopted child because she did not fit in'

Relates to:
Date: 2007-12-14

Roger Boyes

A diplomat accused of “dumping” his adopted daughter flew home yesterday after triggering a row about the ethics of Europeans adopting Asian children.

Jade, a seven-year-old of South Korean origin, is the focus of an escalating dispute across two continents. At the age of four months she was adopted by a Dutch consular officer based in Hong Kong, Raymond Poeteray, and his wife Meta. But the couple have now surrendered Jade to the Hong Kong social welfare department for readoption, reportedly because the child could not adapt to Dutch culture.

The revelation has sparked protests amid claims that the couple were treating the child as if she were an unwanted present. She had been discarded like “a piece of household rubbish”, said the Dutch daily De Telegraaf.

Mr and Mrs Poeteray, back in the Netherlands yesterday, defended their actions, claiming that they had acted on medical advice.
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Mr Poeteray, 55, said that when the family moved from Indonesia to Hong Kong three years ago, “medical specialists” said that Jade had “serious bonding problems”.

They had embarked on family therapy, but without success. “To our great disappointment, things didn’t get better, they got worse, and the rest of the family began to suffer hugely from that,” he said. The couple have an older son, and a younger child born after Jade’s adoption.

By the middle of last year they were being urged by doctors, social workers and the adoption agency, Mothers Choice, to place the child in temporary care, the diplomat said in an open letter to De Telegraaf.

“Although the specialists now think it is not possible that Jade can be brought home, we continue to hope. We will do our best to find a solution allowing her to find happiness in her life,” he wrote. “This is a private matter, for which we as parents bear the responsibility . . . the publicity itself is already painful enough, but what’s worse is it doesn’t help us find a solution for our problems.”

The Poeterays never applied for Dutch citizenship for Jade, but claim that this was an administrative oversight.

The family’s plea for privacy and understanding has been ignored. Online chatrooms have hosted hundreds of comments about the case, most of which condemned the actions of a public servant paid to represent his country. “Of course a child that has been given away for adoption is going to have a fear of emotional bonding!” said Anna, from Lelystad, on the De Telegraaf website.

Another said: “What would they have done if their own children had been sick? Would they have given them away? This man is sick himself – can’t he be given away?”

The Dutch Foreign Ministry, embarrassed by the international fuss, has recalled the diplomat for consultations but is standing by him. Many Dutch bloggers, however, argue that he has committed an offence against natural justice and that he should resign from the diplomatic service.

One blogger found a reference to a party that the Poeterays held in January 2005 in which one grateful guest thanked the diplomat, “his lovely wife Meta and young son Jamie”. There was no mention of Jade, suggesting that she was not fully accepted as a member of the family.

The hostility is in part because the case has stoked up lingering suspicions about the commitment of Europeans to adopted Asian children. Two years ago an Irish couple caused outrage in Asia when they returned a child to an Indonesian orphanage, saying that she did not fit in.

National pride is at stake and some Asian governments fear that they could end up in tangles similar to those experienced by African countries unless tighter guidelines are introduced.

A French charity was criticised heavily this year when it tried to evacuate 103 children from Chad, in Central Africa, to resettle them with families in France and Belgium.

The South Korean Consulate in Hong Kong said that Mr and Mrs Poeteray had complained that Jade was not adapting to Dutch culture or food. “That is the reason they gave for why they want to discontinue the relationship,” a South Korean official said.

This was met with incredulity. “They adopted her when she was a baby,” said Law Chi-kwong, a professor at the department of social work at Hong Kong University. “They are responsible for shaping the child’s mind and culture. How can you say that the child cannot adapt to the culture in which she was raised?”

Dutch newspapers tracked down a former babysitter yesterday who took care of Jade when she was a baby in Indonesia. She too was bemused by the fate of the little girl whom she remembers as a quiet but normal child. “I took care of her in the evenings, while an Indonesian woman was with her in the daytime,” she told De Telegraaf. “But Meta did not treat as her real daughter.”

The Hong Kong authorities are searching for new adoptive parents. Jade speaks Cantonese and English and, despite the claims that she could not communicate with her parents, some Dutch.

RISK OF FAILURE HIGHER WHEN CHILD IS FROM ABROAD

— The rate of adoption failure in the United Kingdom is estimated at 10 per cent for children placed under the age of 10, and 20 per cent to 40 per cent for those placed at an older age

— Of all finalised adoptions in the United States in 2000, 1.43 per cent of children returned to foster care within the same year. It is extremely rare for this to happen when children are adopted as babies

—The UK Government says that risks of a failed adoption are higher with children from abroad: “Some children available for intercountry adoption face health and developmental difficulties which may require active treatment. Many will need compensatory nurture. In others, harmful experiences may lead to permanent physical or mental impairment”

Source: US Government, UK Government, British Medical Journal

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