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Why international adoption should not yet be terminated

Van Hilten Advocaten & Mediators (previously Van Hilten de Vries van Ruitenbeek) specialises in (inter)national family law.

As of January 1, 2017, the firm has expanded under its new name to two locations in The Hague and Amsterdam.

In an ideal world, every child has a safe home. Unfortunately, day-to-day reality is different. When a child does not have the option of growing up in the protective environment of his or her biological family, there is sometimes the option of them going to a children’s shelter, a foster family, or being adopted.

Every child deserves a home

It has been scientifically proven that adoption is better for a child's wellbeing than growing up in a children’s shelter. And for a small group of children, intercountry adoption is a real option, since there are many couples keen to adopt in the Netherlands.

Intercountry adoption

In the Netherlands, intercountry and interracial adoption entered the scene in the 1970s, due to television broadcasts showing the suffering of children in war zones such as Korea.

In 1971, the association Wereldkinderen was established in the Netherlands. It is evident from looking at 45 years worth of adopted children's profiles in the Wereldkinderen's archives, along with scientific research, that most children who were adopted from abroad continue to do well in the Netherlands.

Many of them live with Dutch adoptive parents, but a number of them also live with expat parents who were able to adopt a child through Wereldkinderen. 

Unsolicited advice

In the Netherlands, there are five licensed organisations that facilitate adoption. These organisations and many others were unpleasantly taken by surprise in the first week of November when the advice of the Council for the Administration of Criminal Justice and Protection of Juveniles to the Ministry of Security and Justice was released.

Its advice was to put an end to international adoption and it even went so far as to say that the cooperation in the area of intercountry adoption between China, the US and European countries should end immediately.

The council stated that rich countries such as China, the US and those in Europe should be able to offer relief to their own children, within in their own country, and that these countries could be considered negligent of the principle of subsidiarity of The Hague's Adoption Convention.

The possibility to adopt children through intercountry channels would, according to the council, only hinder the development of proper youth protection in their developing countries of origin. The council also mentioned the risk of illegal practices, for instance, adoption for financial gain.

An assuming council

However, the council does not seem to realise what efforts are already being made in that area. Nor that it is up to the countries of origin themselves, of course, to determine when intercountry adoption is no longer necessary.

Furthermore, to consider that the advancement of youth protection in developing countries is a task of the Netherlands could be considered quite eurocentric.

The way the advice was presented has offended many adoptive families and many adopted children. It was widely spread in the news. Whilst the news spread throughout media outlets in the Netherlands, many people were unaware that the advice issued by the council was in fact, unsolicited.

Adoption regulations

As a member of the board of Wereldkinderen, but also as an adoptive mom and a lawyer specialising in family law, I agree that children should preferably be taken care of by a family in their own country and that all possible efforts should be made to achieve this.

Were it so that intercountry adoption was no longer necessary, I would certainly applaud the council's advice. For the time being, however, a lot of children can be given a second chance if they are adopted by couples in the Netherlands.

For adoption to be successful, the regulations of (intercountry) adoption should be followed, of course, and the licensed adoption organisations audited. This is common practice in the Netherlands.

The aim should always be to optimise the regulations and the way adoption is organised in the Netherlands.

Children’s rights

A complete end to the practice of intercountry adoption, however, should be considered contrary to Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets forth the obligation of states to undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures to implement children’s rights, to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international cooperation.

It would appear that the interests of the various parties involved have insufficiently been taken into account. We do not close down all paediatric hospitals because most children are not ill, nor do we do this because a medical mistake has been made in one of them.

Harm done? 

As expected, the minister reacted to the council's advice in January 2017. In his letter, he stated that intercountry adoption should remain possible for those children for whom there is no alternative available, and measures should be taken to improve the quality of adoption procedures.

So, it seems that for the time being, the unsolicited advice of the council will not affect legislation. However, as the council has shown little respect for the adopted children's countries of origin, some harm seems to have been done already.

Not only to the adoptive families in the Netherlands but especially to the children who were about to be adopted by adoptive parents in the (near) future in the Netherlands.

The countries of origin will not appreciate the way they have been bullied by the council. The expectation is that these countries will reconsider whether they want to allow their children to leave for the Netherlands. An irreversible process that appears to have already started.

The consequences, however, are not yet known. Especially for the licensed organisations that facilitate adoption and aftercare, as well as for the families currently using their services or planning to do so in the near future. 

As a family lawyer, I always try to point out to my clients the consequences of my solicited advice and even more so of my unsolicited advice. We do this because as a legal firm, it is our responsibility to be vigilant and act in the best interests of our clients.
 

Edith van Ruitenbeek is a lawyer, mediator and partner at Van Hilten Advocaten & Mediators.

Need specific advice about your particular situation? For this and any other questions, you can:
Contact Edith and her colleagues directly
Schedule a free 30-minute introductory interview in The Hague or Amsterdam
 

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Edith

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Edith van Ruitenbeek

Edith van Ruitenbeek is an attorney since 1997 and co-founder of van Hilten de Vries van Ruitenbeek Advocaten & Mediators in 2012, the precursor of Van Hilten Advocaten & Mediators...

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