Father faces probe into Indonesian adoption

Date: 2005-04-17

THE government is set to review legislation involving foreign adoptions following the abandonment of a three-year-old Irish child in an Indonesian orphanage.

Brian Lenihan, the minister for children, said his department was examining whether the return of Tristan Dowse to an orphanage by his adoptive parents was illegal and whether the law governing adoptions abroad needed to be tightened.

Joe Dowse, from Wicklow, father of the Indonesian-born child with Irish citizenship, may face prosecution if found to have abandoned his child under law without due care.

Lenihan said: “This may be a case of an Irish citizen abroad who had abandoned an Irish child and we will be reviewing this to see if it was improper and what the consequences for this are under Irish law.

“In light of this, we will review our legislation in this area of overseas adoption.”

Dowse, an accountant, and Lala, his Azerbaijani wife, adopted the child when he was just two months old in 2001, but after more than a year in their care he was placed in an orphanage in Jakarta. Dowse previously said the adoption was “not working out”.

He said the adoption, which the Indonesian authorities claim was illegal, was bona fide, but said they had problems bonding with the child.

The Dowse family decided to adopt when they had trouble conceiving a child of their own. Lala already had a daughter, Tata, from before her marriage to Dowse. She later became pregnant again, after which the couple gave up Tristan. She has since given birth to a son.

Boy left without words or family

TRISTAN DOWSE will be unaware of the international furore that has surrounded him at such a young age.

An English speaker, the three-year-old is unable to communicate in any meaningful way with workers and fellow children at the Imanuel orphanage on the outskirts of Jakarta. So he’s unlikely to know about the increasingly fraught diplomatic wrangle that has enveloped him. Yet its outcome will have a profound impact on his life, determining whether it will be played out in Ireland, the home of his adoptive father, or Indonesia, where he was born.

At just three, Tristan has already learnt about rejection. Born in Pondok Cabe in southern Jakarta, on June 26, 2001, a small child, weighing just 6lb 3oz, he was put up for adoption by his natural parents. Little is know about his mother Suryani or his father, a street trader called Sarkawai.

When a wealthy Irish accountant and his doctor wife who were living in Jakarta adopted him at eight weeks his future looked bright. Lala Dowse had had one child before her marriage to Joe, a KPMG employee from Wicklow, but the couple were having difficulty conceiving a second.

The Dowses initially welcomed Tristan into their home, having a new family portrait taken with Tristan when the adoption was completed. In an e-mail to friends and family announcing the adoption, Joe wrote: “New arrival — Joe, Lala and Tata their natural first-born daughter are delighted to announce the adoption and arrival of Tristan into the Dowse family. We are all thrilled and would like to thank all those who helped and supported us throughout the whole process. Joe, Lala, Tata and Tristan.” But within a year things had gone sour.

After Lala became pregnant for a second time, Tristan was left in an orphanage outside Jakarta which is sponsored by KPMG, the worldwide accountancy firm for which Joe works. The couple had decided the adoption “wasn’t working out”. Shortly afterwards they moved to Azerbaijan where they still live.

But Tristan has been left in a legal limbo. During the wrangle over his legal status the toddler has been sitting in an orphanage for the past year. Emmanuel Laumonier, one of the orphanage workers, claimed this weekend that Tristan had been traumatised by what has happened to him. He said he no longer played with the box of toys his adoptive father left with him.

“There was a Winnie the Pooh teddy bear in the box but Tristan doesn’t like to play with it any more,” he said.

It is understood the parents’ solicitor and Tristan’s extended adoptive family are in talks to decide who should be responsible for the child, but resolution remains remote.

This weekend, the row over who should take responsibility intensified. Because the Dowses were resident in Indonesia when they adopted Tristan it was processed under Indonesian law.

However, Tristan was issued with an Irish passport after Joe Dowse, still living in Jakarta, applied for the adoption to be recognised in Ireland. The Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs claims the adoption was illegal. The Irish Adoption Board, which gave its blessing to the adoption, has rejected claims that it was illegal. The agency says it has court documents to prove that is was bona fide.

The Indonesian authorities, however, are said to believe proper procedures were not followed and the outcome of their probe will be crucial. Already several Irish couples have come forward to offer Tristan a home but, if his passport is deemed to be illegal, there is little chance he will be returned to Ireland.

The Adoption Board says he can’t be re-adopted without his family making an application to the High Court to have the adoption cancelled.

Speaking about the case last week, Joe Dowse said: “This was not a half-hearted attempt at adoption; it was a properly done thing. However, over that time we came to a painful realisation that the adoption wasn’t working out, an extremely difficult and painful realisation, as you can understand, to make.

“It wasn’t something that we felt was in Tristan’s best interests to remain with us.”

In the meantime, Tristan — said to be quiet and disorientated — will have to wait a little longer before his future is decided.

Adoption Ireland said last week it would be better for the child if he remained in his native country.

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