Illegally adopted children testify: “How could Belgium let this happen? »

18 July 2023

Illegally adopted children testify: “How could Belgium let this happen? »

False identities, children torn from their biological families and wrongly qualified as orphans, psychological violence... While the word is freed among adopted children, who have become adults in search of their origins, the Belgian government is slow to recognize their status as victims .Article reserved for subscribersA first photo marked with a number for Yung Fierens (left) and a false name for An Sheela Jacobs (right).A first photo marked with a number for Yung Fierens (left) and a false name for An Sheela Jacobs (right). - Dominique Duchesnes.Charlotte Hutin Testimonials - Journalist at the Society DepartmentBy Charlotte Hutin

Published on 07/18/2023 at 06:00 Reading time: 9 mins

En the hands of An Sheela Jacobs, the photo of a chubby baby with dark skin carried by one of the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Kolkata (India). This little girl, more or less 11 months old, is holding an A4 sheet with a first name written in capital letters: Charmain. A name to which An Sheela never felt "connected", but which she thought was her name from birth until the age of 38. “During a second trip to India, I discovered that the data, which appear on the official documents of my adoption and which were accepted by the judge, are false. I learn that the first name given by my biological parents is Sheela. So I decided to call myself An Sheela. An being the first name given to me by my adoptive parents. »

An Sheela Jacobs I still don't know my exact date of birth, the identity of my biological parents, if they really abandoned me, or if it's just another lie

In the absence of a birth certificate, she remains An Jacobs in the Civil Registry. However, in her Brabant home, the signs of belonging to her country of origin are not lacking. India is everywhere, in the jewelry she wears, in the decoration of her living room. “I had a happy childhood and loving parents. I very quickly adapted to Belgian culture, while being interested from afar in my country of origin. It was when I became a mother myself that I began to question myself about the conditions of my adoption. The changeover came in 2016, when her father died. “He was my role model. I felt empty, incomplete. I felt the need to meet other adoptees, to return to India to understand who I was. But this quest for identity, which should normally have ended at the beginning of adulthood, comes with many unknowns. “On returning to India, I also learned that my date of birth was not correct. According to the registry, I was one and a half years old in 1980. My adoptive parents thought I was 11 months old in 1981. I still don't know my exact date of birth, the identity of my biological parents, they really abandoned me, or if it's just another lie. »


While the Chamber adopted a resolution on June 9, 2022 "aiming to recognize the occurrence of cases of illegal adoptions in Belgium and to initiate an administrative investigation into the subject", a year later, the investigation is still at a standstill, this, despite the deadline set at the end of the 2022-2023 parliamentary session (see below). The situation of An Sheela Jacobs, however, is far from unique.



Lies around her adoption, Yung Fierens, originally from South Korea, also paid the price. Adopted at the age of nine months by an Antwerp family, she thinks she is an orphan. In any case, this is what appears in her adoption file. “I never researched my family, I thought there was no one to look for. » In 2007, at the age of 30, she obtained her first computer and set out to find her origins. “Naïvely, I sent an email to the orphanage to ask if anyone remembered me. A few weeks later, I receive an email saying that my biological mother has been looking for me for two years. I fell from my chair. The one she has just found reveals to her the circumstances of her adoption. “Following postpartum depression, my mother left the family home for a while to leave me with my grandmother. When she got home, my grandmother told her that I was dead. While my mother visited the morgues, I was on a plane to Belgium with hundreds of other Korean children. My grandmother took me to an orphanage without my parents' consent. It was on her deathbed that she confessed everything to my mother. »


Between the 1950s and 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Korean children were adopted, not only in Belgium, but also in other countries such as France, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. At that time, the Korean State delegated the management of international adoptions to the private organization Holt, leading to a situation of quasi-monopoly. Several countries (France published a historical study on illicit adoption practices last January ) have since recognized the existence of problematic, even illegal adoptions when the adoption process did not comply with the legal texts and standards in force. or violated human rights.


South Korea recently set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to shed light on these abuses. In December 2022, she agreed to consult the adoption files of children, initially presented as orphans or abandoned, and who, once adults, were reunited with their parents. More than 400 individual adoptee files have already been identified across nine countries, including Belgium. "This committee has already admitted that the suspicion of 'paper orphans' was well-founded,” says Yung Fierens. According to the survey carried out, 65% of Korean children adopted were adopted without the consent of their biological mother. “This is a systemic problem, made possible by the lack of a national birth registry. Even today, Korean children are not immediately registered. Adoption is an important source of revenue for many countries. Everyone thinks that adoption is based on charity, but the primary motives are geopolitical. And behind, there is of course a neocolonial vision; Western countries are positioning themselves as the saviors. »


The illegal adoption is said to concern other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 2018, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation against the Belgian association Hacer Puente, which dealt with adoptions in Guatemala. This accredited organization is now suspected of being a hub for child trafficking in Europe. In this case, several Belgians and their families have filed civil suits for several counts: kidnapping, forgery and use of forgery, adoption fraud. The judicial investigation has been ongoing since 2019.



Mariela Coline Fanon, born in 1986 in Guatemala, is one of the Belgians who brought civil action in this case. She who thought she had been abandoned by her biological mother will learn years later that she was kidnapped at birth. In 1987, her adoptive parents, a couple from the Ardennes, went through the adoption agency Hacer Puente. Coline (Mariela is her birth name) describes her adoption journey as “classic and lucky” with wonderful parents. Until the day her 5-year-old daughter comes home from school with questions. “I had no answers to give him about his origins. That's how my investigation began. Very quickly, I fell behind the scenes. »

By doing research on the internet, she discovers that the person in charge of her adoption file is recognized as being a human trafficker in various investigative articles. “When translating my file, I realized that there were many inconsistencies, that the act of abandonment was done before the birth certificate, things that do not hold water legally. A few weeks later, she finds traces of her biological parents on social networks, after 31 years of separation. His mother writes to him: “Hello my beautiful love, I think I am your mother. Believe me my heart will stop. They told me you were dead. After an unbearable wait, Mariela Coline flew to Guatemala. “It's as if I had never left, everything is done very gently. There is a lot of love, ”she recalls. “Two days after my birth, the hospital informed my mother of my death. At that time, it was war in Guatemala, they told him that my body was buried in a mass grave. »


Mariela Coline FanonThe associations must undertake the research themselves. We do a work of public interest without any support from the state

It is through the testimony of other people and photos taken on the spot that Coline discovers the conditions of her abduction and her sequestration. We see her only a few months old, her little body tied to the rails of an adult bed. It will then be sold to the Belgian association. For their part, the Fanon family will follow all the legal prescriptions and will discover the circumstances of the adoption at the same time as their daughter. “It was very hard for them to learn that they had been lied to, my conditions of confinement, but also their indirect participation in human trafficking. I consider that they are just as victims as I am. Faced with these tragedies, I wonder: how Belgium could let this pass? »


For Yung Fierens, the answer is clear: the Belgian government was aware of the abuses surrounding these adoptions. “When I went to the Foreign Affairs archives, I discovered a file containing correspondence between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time, the Belgian Embassy in Korea and the organization Enfant du monde. People complained about the situation, mentioned their doubts. Through these documents, it is obvious that the Belgian government was complicit. In correspondence, including Le Soir was able to consult a copy, employees of the non-profit organization Enfants du monde accuse the American organization based in Korea, Holt, of being "an international market for child trafficking", benefiting the president of Terre des hommes Belgium . The ASBL also deplores “the lack of valid surveys on families both in Belgium and in Korea”. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will close the case, concluding to an ordinary quarrel between two competing adoption agencies.


Today, Yung, An Sheela and Mariela Coline expect a strong gesture from the political world. “Everything remains to be done,” laments the latter. “The associations must undertake the research themselves. We are doing work in the public interest without any support from the state. With her association Racines Perdues , she passed the milestone of 100 families united. “As an individual, this event destroyed me. I am very well surrounded, but I need to hear from our representatives that yes, it has existed and that it certainly still exists, that yes, the Belgian State has certified adoptions that it would not have not. »


In Flanders, a report by the Vrije Universiteit Brusse l (VUB) commissioned by the then Minister for Welfare, Public Health and Family, Jo Vandeurzen (CD&V), concluded that "there are indications that the rights of adoptees and first parents had been systematically violated in the past”. The system is too susceptible to fraud. Also according to this study, the negative consequences of illegal adoptions were numerous, both administratively and psychologically: trauma, attachment difficulties, trust problems, suffering in the construction of identity. Hence the importance of recognizing the status of victim of the persons concerned, believe the authors of the report.


After two years of searching, An Sheela still has no trace of her biological parents. “I think there are things that went wrong with my adoption, that's why I'm actively looking for my birth mother. She's the only person who has the truth about the beginning of my life. One day, for lack of results, I may have to accept the situation and mourn the beginning of my existence. »