Adopting a child is not emergency aid

15 February 2023


Candidate adoptive parents are available for children from Turkey and Syria. Not a good idea, academics write.

In The Seventh Day last Sunday, a Belgian-Turkish entrepreneur who traveled to Turkey to provide assistance after the earthquake testified. He outlined the extent of the damage and what is needed at this time. His report was announced on the VRT website under the title 'Saïd testifies from Turkey: There are many orphans. I'm looking at adopting.” Said did indeed say that, but it was not his full message. In the meantime, the title of the piece has changed, and rightly so. Because no matter how sincere and well-intentioned, his comment about adoption was inappropriate.

Let's return to the spring of 2019. Then the Flemish Parliament organized a hearing on fraud in adoptions from Ethiopia. This showed that the government and adoption services have failed to protect children adopted in Belgium from other countries. Some files even contain lies or fraud. How could that happen? Pressure from well-meaning citizens to help children out of poverty. Insufficient attention to the interests of those children. Many people in their thirties and forties who were adopted from India as children , and many people in their twenties who were adopted from Ethiopia as children, have already testified about their difficult identity formation and the frustrating search for their roots. Many wondered not only why their biological parents could not care for them, but also why they were taken abroad when there were also shelters in their native country.

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The scandal prompted then Minister of Welfare Jo Vandeurzen (CD&V) to appoint an expert committee to investigate past abuses. The committee issued a lengthy report in 2021 in which it argued for an adoption pause, in order to first reflect carefully on what we are doing. That turned out to be politically impossible.


However, the abuses would not repeat themselves again, because there are now more guarantees under international, Belgian and Flemish law. Firstly, there is the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. This makes it clear that children who cannot remain in their family are entitled to special protection and assistance from the government. What is important here are continuity in the child's upbringing and the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background. The European Court of Human Rights also ruled in this regard in a groundbreaking judgment on Norwegian adoption law.

There is also the Hague Adoption Convention 1993. This aims to protect children in international adoptions. First it must be investigated whether the child can be cared for in his or her own family or whether a permanent home is available in the home country. Only if that is not possible can an intercountry adoption be discussed. That treaty was established to avoid philanthropic adoptions in chaotic situations, such as during the Yugoslav war. Unfortunately, the treaty is not conclusive. For example, after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, a lot went wrong - we do not want to detract from the good intentions that were there.

Adopting a child is not emergency aid. Unicef ​​calls for support in particular to care for children on site. Money for a warm place to sleep and food. The International Social Service (ISS) also recalls that a natural disaster is not a suitable situation for an intercountry adoption, because the context makes it practically impossible to examine the individual situation of each child.

A line of prospective adoptive parents was immediately ready for a newborn child recovered from the rubble in Syria. Perhaps most of them did not know that adoption is not possible at all under Syrian law. Turkey is a party to the Hague Adoption Convention and it will not be possible to adopt a child from that country without specialized authorities analyzing the child's situation. International, Belgian and Flemish law requires us to think about the interests of every child: where will they be in ten years? Who can best explain to that child the context of his birth and his family situation? In which language? Who can show what happened? Why didn't they wait until the distant uncle was found or released from the hospital?

Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. The best help we can offer now is financial. Adoption should not be a consideration now.