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It's estimated that at least 40,000 children are adopted internationally every year. The aim of the system is to give abandoned children in developing countries a home, and childless couples in the West a family. It would seem an ideal solution.
"...Every child has the right to grow up in a loving family or a family replacing situation." The UN Treaty of the rights of the child
But recent reports in the Dutch press show that there is a decidedly darker side to the system.
One example is the story of Rahul, a young boy adopted from India by a Dutch couple. It turned out that Rahul had actually been stolen from his biological parents and sold to an orphanage before being adopted abroad.
Critics say the scandal is just the tip of the iceberg and that it illustrates the serious flaws in the system.
Some go as far as to say it's no more than 'legalised child trafficking' and call for inter-country adoption to be banned altogether.
Are they right? And what of those who are the centre of the debate: the children - what's best for them?
Dutch EU official Roelie Post. She was employed to work on the 'Romanian children dossier' of the EU Commission. Author of the recently published Romania: for export only. The untold story of the Romanian 'orphans.'
David Smolin, a law professor of the Cumberland School of Law in Alabama. An expert on International children's issues, including inter-country adoption. He's also the creator of a website on international adoption called Adoptinginternationally.
Ina Hut, the director of Wereldkinderen, the largest childcare and adoption agency in the Netherlands.
David Smolin's personal experience of adoption:
"We adopted two girls who were ten and twelve when they came into our household from south India. …. It did turn out that they had been stolen from their original family."
"… The means of doing that was to persuade the mother whilst she was vulnerable to place the children in care. Often times the poor in India and other countries place them just to get an education and when they're under some stress, without meaning to give them up. This is what happened to this mother, when she went back for them, she wasn't permitted to have them back."
You can read more about David Smolin's experience here
Ina Hut on the fact that it's not possible to guarantee adoptive children are not trafficked:
"This [illegal practise] is happening because there are a lot of couples who are childless and there are always persons and organisations, abroad also, who want to profit from this childlessness. And they want to make money out of it"
"You can never be sure for 100 percent but for 99.9 percent. I am sure about the backgrounds of the children. But I can never guarantee 100 percent…. I can't give the guarantee that we at Wereldkinderen never have adopted a child who was involved in child trafficking. No organisation can guarantee that."
David Smolin on why so many people want to adopt from abroad:
"Some of the demand side is fuelled by agencies that promote the idea that this is an act to save children….We had sons, we did not have daughters, so we would like to have daughters, and we had been part of a child sponsorship thing, so we had known about the problem of the girl child there, the problem of female infanticide, abandoned girls, so we put the two together."
"But there is, of course, another group of parents who can't have children, and that fuels a lot of demand as well. But it's not just those people. It's the idea that is promoted that this is the best way to help children overseas, that many times the adoption agencies create demand as well."
Roelie Post on how demand feeds supply:
"We have to realise also that there is an enormous competition between countries to get children and this competition as in any free market drives up the price…. It's all about children in the beginning.
There are many, many people who want children for adoption and those people are in Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the United States and so on. This has created a market."
On the big role money plays in the adoption process:
"I have looked into this deeply and I have found that there are often systematic patterns of obtaining children. I call this child laundering because the children are taken illegally and then given false paper work and then systematically processed through the system. What troubles me about the way the system operates is the fees that are provided to the overseas agencies often create a motivation for this."
"We don't want to pay extra money for the children, so what do you see? Children from children homes abroad are going to other countries than the Netherlands, like the USA, France, Spain or Italy."
David Smolin on whether there is a real need for inter-country adoption:
"I don't think we will know whether there is a true need until we reform the system…so that every single agency, every single program, was number one: helping families first, number two: looking for local solutions and number three: there was no extra money, it was transparent. We don't know the true need because the need gets inflated."
"I've been to different kinds of orphanages in India and it's very remarkable that orphanages orientated around adoption magically tend to have babies in them, very young children. Orphanages that are around child welfare tend to have older children and tend to be helping them with their families."
Roelie Post on why adoption from abroad be banned:
"All the years that Romania was the biggest sending country the numbers of children in institutions and children's homes remained high, because every child that left, every empty space was immediately filled because of the market.
"It was only when inter-country adoption stopped that less children came, there was less attraction to get children into children's homes. The children would go to Romanian foster families, families would be supported. So [international adoption] puts everything upside down and it means children are getting into children's homes, which normally without adoption wouldn't be there."
David Smolin on whether international adoption should be stopped:
"I'm not for banning international adoption but I am for a reform of the system…. In both European countries and the US the way we have operated is to create this demand-side entitlement idea: that we entitled are to the children of the poor from other countries."
Ina Hut on how inter-country adoption can work properly:
"If every adoption agency is working according to the same ethical rules, I do think it's possible to set up a system for international adoption which is good for the children who otherwise will stay in their own countries in children homes. I think adopting a child to the Netherlands or abroad is better than letting the children stay in children's homes."
Roelie Post on the alternative to inter-country adoption:
"The alternative is to provide assistance there…. we can support countries to create care in the countries like we have it here, we're working with double norms and standards. In the European Union countries there are children in care, there are children in homes, there are children in foster families, there are disable children. But we have to look after them. And I think we should help other countries to do the same."