KRONIKEN 31 MAY. 2016
One country after another closed down adoption because of suspected corruption and child trafficking. Yet Danish politicians are more concerned with ensuring childless families may adopt than to scrutinize the cases where adoption has gone wrong.
ADOPTION. Why the Danish politicians do not examine the dark side of adoption? Drawing: Anne-Marie Steen Petersen
KATJA VESSELBO DØSSING HAS AN MA. , Journalist and writer and current novel ‘Other people’s children’.
Ethiopia is now definitively closed to Danish families who want to adopt. In March soc ial and Interior Minister Karen Ellemann announced that she no longer had confidence in the country’s adoption system.
A blanket of silence was laid over the Indian case, as has happened in numerous other adoption scandals over the years.
And it’s probably not too surprising, given the lack of case management and the scandals that repeatedly has characterized adoptions from Ethiopia? All warning lights have flashed red for years, and Sweden, Norway and several other European countries have already stopped adoptions from there.
It is also finished with adoption from Nigeria. The former Social Affairs Minister Manu Sareen closed adoption from the African country in 2014 on suspicion of forgery, corruption and lack of control by the authorities. And there have been good reason to doubt that adoptions from Nigeria were conducted on an ethically defensible basis.
Human trafficking is widespread in Nigeria, and so-called ‘baby factories’, where children have been sold to such adoption, have been repeatedly exposed by the Nigerian police. Yet Danish families were able to adopt children from the country for years.
Another African country, Kenya, in 2014 took the decision to close down adoption for abroad and saved a Danish minister the inconvenience. The Kenyan adoption industry was also hit by accusations of corruption and child trafficking, and a case involving several Scandinavian families, including a Danish family, is pending right now in the Kenyan legal system.
The mother of the Kenyan child, who the Danish family would adopt, reappeared. The biological mother, who is alleged to have been looking for the child for months is now requiring to get it back. The number of adoptions from Africa has exploded over the last 10 years, while the number of children who are released from other countries have fallen significantly.
Africa has become the new market for the multibillion adoption industry, and tens of thousands of African children have been adopted abroad over the last 10 years. The vast majority came from Ethiopia.
But a dangerous cocktail of massive demand for children, large amounts of money from international adoption agencies and lack of state control have been scandals to roll.
India is another country that has been repeatedly hit by adoption scandals. An Indian father named Ramesh Kulkarni still awaits an answer as to how it happened that his four children in 2003 were adopted by a Danish family.
Ramesh Kulkarni had in the wake of his wife’s death brought his children temporarily to an orphanage, and the decision proved to be fatal. He did not know the institution the children were handed to was driven by criminal traffickers who earned money to trick poor people of their children and adopt them out to Western families.
The children were without knowledge of their father sent to Denmark via adoption agency AC International Child Support. For a long time he did not even know where the children were.
In 2007 I made in cooperation with the Danish Broadcasting a TV documentary about Ramesh Kulkarni and widespread corruption in the Indian adoption industry. The former family minister Carina Christensen, suspended all adoptions from India, while the matter was investigated, but the Danish authorities concluded after statements from the Indian authorities that everything had been going by the book.
Ramesh Kulkarni had even given his children up for adoption, he was under suspicion and accused of lying.
But three years later, in 2010, the Indian federal police launched a case against the orphanage Preet Mandir, and both the adoption agency and the Danish authorities had to face that Kulkarni had been cheated. According to Indian police, he and many other parents were tricked into signing papers they did not understand, then the children were adopted away from the orphanage, which earned thousands of dollars for each child, they sent out of the country.
The institution was stripped of its adoption license, and the manager and several employees were arrested and charged with kidnapping children, falsifying documents and blackmail prospective adoptive parents for money. It was further found that corruption pulled threads to senior officials of the Indian adoption authorities. The very adoption authorities in whom the Danish minister had earlier expressed her full confidence.
In this light, you would think that the Danish authorities would start an investigation on Kulkarni’s case which now could be considered as child abduction. But nothing happened. Ramesh Kulkarni’s case was never acknowledged from the Danish side, and it was never investigated whether any of the other children from the orphanage were illegally adopted to Denmark.
A big thick blanket of silence was laid over the Indian case, as has happened in numerous other adoption scandals over the years in orphanages in China, Colombia, Nepal, Guatemala and Vietnam, from where adoptive children have come to Denmark. In addition, the many old cases where adult adoptees now investigate their backgrounds include Korea, which was a major supplier of adopted children throughout the 1970s and 80s.
Adult adoptees, who thought they were foundlings, find out that their mothers were forced to give them away. Some find their parents alive, though in the adoption papers they were registered as dead. Other find out that their families have left them temporarily in an orphanage, after which they have been adopted away without their knowledge.
A clear picture is emerging of systematic fraud and not simply ‘unfortunate individual cases’, as was customary to describe the kind of stories over time.
The current cases of the girls Amy and Masho from Ethiopia are another two glaring examples of the Danish adoption authorities’ failure. Both girls have parents, siblings and relatives in Ethiopia. The families who were destitute and ill, were persuaded to have their children adopted to Denmark through adoption agency DanAdopt.
The children were promised a better life in Denmark with regular contact with their families in their country. As has been described in articles in Politiken and in the documentary ‘Mercy Mercy’, the children had far from the life that the parents had hoped, but rather a life of chaos, conflict and failure to thrive in adoptive families.
In addition, information about the girls was erroneous, and in the papers they were been made younger than they really were.
The now 16-year-old Amy went in the spring to Ethiopia to be with her family after Næstved for years had forbidden her to visit them. Masho is placed in an institution in Holbaek without contact with her biological family in Ethiopia. The children’s biological parents who want to get custody back, have raised the matter in the Ethiopian legal system with the help of the NGO Against Child Trafficking.
On 7 April this year, families had their wish fulfilled when an Ethiopian court annulled Amy and Masho’s adoptions. “It has never happened before,” said Social Affairs and Interior Minister Karen Ellemann, and the authorities are now working to find out how the Ethiopian judgment should be handled at home.
The case of the Indian father Ramesh Kulkarni on the other hand sunk into oblivion. His children were taken from him from one day to the other, and he has had no contact with them since. The trial of the orphanage Preet Mandir will continue to run in India but an actual decision is long in coming.
Ramesh Kulkarni, like Amy and Mashos families have fallen victim to careless case management and inadequate supervision of the Danish adoption agencies and foreign orphanages. These people have lost the most precious thing they had: their children. Yet there are only shrugs and indifference left over for both parents and children, and the conclusion must be that if a child is being adopted on false pretences, then the child and the biological family have to live with it.
All close their eyes to the unpleasant truth. The political reluctance to criticism of the adoption system and the secrecy that has characterized the adoption area for years, has had serious consequences.
The fear of stigmatising and put adopted children and their families in a negative light has made the adoption debate to a taboo that only benefits those who do not want more openness. Is it not high time that politicians, authorities and adoption agencies recognise their responsibility in cases where it has gone wrong?
All political parties, except Unity, adopted in December 2015 a new adoption law, whose purpose is ‘to secure the future of the international adoption agency for Denmark’. The big question is why and for the benefit of whom?
The global adoption market is under pressure like never before. The number of adopted children who come to Denmark, has dropped dramatically the last 10 years from 527 children in 2004 to only 124 children in 2014. There are fewer and fewer children released for adoption worldwide, and fewer families on waiting lists because of the high prices and long waits.
The cost to adopt has increased significantly, and an adoption now costs a Danish family between 200,000 and 250,000 kroner. The government invests the next three years 39 million kroner in the new adoption system. In addition, the state will refund an amount of about 50,000 kroner to parents who adopt a child from abroad, which adds up to additional 6 million to 8 million kroner annually.
Advice and support for adoptive families, the so-called PAS advice, also runs up to around 7 million per year. A new adoption agency called Danish International adoptions (DIA) arose from the ruins of the two capsized agencies AC International Child Support and DanAdopt which was burdened by the mess in both the economy and administration. Also DIA has received a solid financial injection to start up on, like the Social Appeals Board, which now has taken over a major part of the supervision, and receives more funding in the coming years.
The Danish government therefore uses at least 20-30 million per year in spending on the adoption of about 100 children, maybe even fewer in the future, now that Ethiopia is shut down. To this must be added the 200,000 kroner which adoptive parents pay out of pocket.
The government’s mantra when it comes to immigrants and refugees, is that we need help in the neighboring areas. Why does this principle not apply when it comes to adoption? Why politicians prioritise to pay adoption agencies and share between men large sums of money to get the adopted children when the same resources can do more good in the areas where the children come from?
The notion that you save an orphan from an otherwise miserable life is still used as an argument when one had to legitimize international adoption. For some orphans, mostly the sick and the disabled, it might be the best solution. But for most adopted children, who will be given up by the family because of social problems and poverty, it would be better to grow up in the home country, if it were possible.
Where adoption solves a real problem for childless families, it is doubtful whether it also solves a problem for the biological parents. They stand in exactly the same social and economic problems when the child is gone. Now just a child poorer. Adoption is not the solution to poverty, which the UN conventions also clearly underlines.
According to the conventions, it is not legal to make money on adoption, but the rule is broken systematically every single day by an adoption industry that has turnover of billions. When it costs a quarter of a million kroner to adopt a single child, we can try to convince each other that there is nobody in the system who makes money on it, but it’s hard to believe.
I am not against adoption. I am not adopted and don’t even have adopted children. But I am old-fashioned disgusted at the lack of sense of responsibility and empathy by our politicians and authorities to the parents and children who through the years have been victims of the extensive failure of the adoption system.
I am surprised that no one seems to learn from past mistakes, but rather gives priority to post millions of public revenue in maintaining an adoption industry that inevitably is heading for the abyss. Never has it been so difficult to get children, and never have so few Danes wanted to adopt. Yet all harness behind the new adoption system while the politicians promised better supervision and more control.
But if the good intentions behind the new adoption law does not stop sounding incredibly hollow, is it not appropriate to grant an unconditional apology to the people who have already paid the highest price in the name of adoption?