Painful adoption issues still remain
WHAT would it take to walk away from a little boy like Tristan Dowse? The three-year old's troubled eyes gazed into our souls last year in a complicated story involving inter-country adoption, alleged lack of bonding and the never-ending riddle of whether money can buy you love.
In August 2001, two-month old Tristan was chosen to become the first son of Joe and Lala Dowse. He lived with the family until he was almost two years old, when the couple decided he wasn't the son for them.
Joe, a Wicklowman, is an Irish citizen; Lala, a professional in her own right, was from Azerbajian where she had already given birth to a daughter by another father. She'd reportedly thought she couldn't become pregnant again but after they adopted Tristan, she did. The family then returned from Indonesia to Azerbaijan where they live with Lala's daughter and their infant son.
Rather like a fashion statement that went wrong, Tristan was returned to an Indonesian orphanage. The Dowses blamed him for not bonding, but a child bonds no matter what, for better or worse, if brought into a family at so young an age as two months.
Without the only parents he'd known, without his big sister, Tristan must have felt absolutely abandoned. He couldn't even communicate with his carers because he only spoke English and they did not. He cried constantly when he was sent back, Mr Justice McMenamin pointed out yesterday.
The High Court decision to maintain Tristan's status as an Irish citizen, to appoint his natural mother as legal guardian, to oblige the Dowses to compensate him, pay maintenance and honour his inheritance rights is a wise outcome to this private and public scandal.
The natural mother is taken out of poverty and given a direct interest in raising Tristan herself.
Yet the case provokes serious questions about the ethics and management of inter-country adoption. Yesterday's judgments ease but don't solve them.
Why did the Irish Adoption Board recognise Tristan's adoption when no inter-country agreement existed and no checks had been done as to the Dowses' suitability or otherwise as adoptive parents?
Other Irish couples have to endure a three-year waiting period, 12-week training course and up to eight meetings with a social worker, where they are obliged to answer deeply personal questions, including questions about their sex life.
How ethical is it to remove a child from its birth culture and transplant it to a richer place? In so doing, are wealthier first-world families provoking a demand-and-supply reaction which risks turning vulnerable third-world areas into baby farms for the rich? A UNICEF review found that inter-country adoption can be a positive measure because children benefit by being removed from unsatisfactory care situations into permanent family environments.
But, they added, large-scale adoptions also signal a failure by birth-states to care adequately for their most vulnerable members - they wondered whether alternatives such as foster care, domestic adoption and programmes to help birth families keep their children were being neglected.
Change has happened in Ireland since Tristan's story - specifically the Dowses actions - risked damaging the many positive cases of inter-country adoption here. Under Minister Brian Lenihan, such adoption is now limited to countries who've signed up to the Hague Convention, which puts the rights of the child centre stage.
What hasn't changed are the long lists of desperate people with real love to give who are still waiting to be assessed, who will mortgage the rest of their lives to the hilt for the sake of having a child.
Or the greater numbers in the third-world with just as much love but not enough money to spare children like Tristan such dreadful loss.