Opinion: The government should invest more in the recovery for adoptees

20 August 2023

A national government that has acted negligently in intercountry adoptions must do more than prevent new abuses. For example, by supporting adoptees financially in their search for information.

I was born twice. I don't remember anything about my first trip through the birth canal, but I still vividly remember the second time. My sister and I were dressed up: we wore short white dresses with brown trim and black shoes with low heels. For example, we flew from Seoul to Amsterdam together with a number of other children. Overjoyed to be there, our new parents looked into our eyes and stroked our hair as they spoke softly to us. Although we had no idea what they said, we let them be, because even with a second birth you have little choice. As a child, your fate is in the hands of adults.

This was in 1979. In the years that followed I adapted as best I could, although my environment regularly reminded me that I came from somewhere else. In addition, I had not only arrived at Schiphol with my sister, but also with memories of the village and the house we lived in, the aunt who took care of us, our father who came to visit, the children's home in which we lived. All this raised questions, but since answers were not forthcoming, I kept them to myself for a long time.

As an adoptee, you miss out on a lot of information that most people take for granted because you can't tap into the collective memory of your biological family. Because your family in the Netherlands knows nothing about the culture from which you are cut off. Because you don't have the options to look for information or don't know where to start. Because your native language is gone from your memory and it takes years to learn it again.

For example, it was not until 2005 that I saw two pieces of paper with the names and dates of birth of my Korean parents and the context in which my adoption took place. At that moment, some of many missing puzzle pieces fell into place.

I can therefore not put into words how painful I find it that in 1983 and 1999 the Ministry of Justice and Security destroyed thousands of files of intercountry adoptions from the period 1967 to 1979 . Painful for people like me, for whom the destroyed information is essential, and painful for the national government.

The destruction did not take place according to prescribed procedures, such as weighing the interests of various parties, and only after official approval of the destruction list. As the State Archives Inspectorate found and tolerated in 1983, the ministry destroyed documents on the basis of destruction lists that had not yet been established.

For me, this is another example of a national government that pays insufficient attention to the interests of adoptees.

“Unfortunately, we cannot reverse the destruction of files. We can now only make a case for improving the supervision of new files," NOS quoted a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and Security as saying . Fortunately, the national government can do much more than just ensure that files are better managed from now on, starting with taking responsibility.

If you allow children from other countries to be adopted in the Netherlands, it is your duty to ensure that this is done in an ethical, humane and careful manner. And if, as the Joustra Committee concluded in 2021 , you have done too little against serious and structural abuses for years, then you should not only focus on preventing them, but also on what you can do to rectify the error.

Of course I know that the national government has taken steps in this direction. In recent years, for example, it has taken a critical look at intercountry adoptions and has set up the Expertise Center for Intercountry Adoption (INEA) and set up the subsidy scheme 'Interland Adopted Interest Organizations'. Now it's time for a fund that finances individual searches of adoptees.

I am now in a situation where I can afford intercontinental airline tickets, local travel and accommodation costs, costs for DNA tests and interpreters. But your search for answers to existential questions about your origins and identity should not be limited by financial barriers. Just as the children from the destroyed files have grown up, I also expect the same from a national government that has established time and time again that it has not acted sufficiently in the best interests of the child.