Interview with Chairman Joustra of the Committee Investigating Intercountry Adoption:


Come clean and prevent problems in the future

(By Henri Kruithof)

In April of this year, Minister Sander Dekker (Legal Protection) set up the Committee Investigating Intercountry Adoption in the past. According to the institutional decision, that committee must, among other things, investigate the existence of abuses in intercountry adoption and the role of the Netherlands government and intermediary parties in those abuses.

What was the reason for setting up the committee?

“During an internal archive investigation at the Ministry of Justice and Security, following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, things had come to light that raised the question:” Is this correct? ” When the minister was confronted with this question, he immediately decided that a completely independent investigation should be carried out. He thought it would be good to come clean, “says committee chairman. Tjibbe H.J. Joustra.

“When the minister asked me to lead this investigation, he indicated that the investigation really had to be independent. I myself had never been concerned with adoption and that is good for two reasons. To be independent it is good not to have been involved in the past. But on top of that, I like to tackle things that I know little about. ”

“So first it was important to find two more members for the committee, each of whom could provide input from their own perspective. I am happy that I have found Beatrice de Graaf and Bert-Jan Houtzagers willing to take a seat on the committee. Professor de Graaf is a gifted historian with extensive experience in archive research. After a long career as the State Advocate, Houtzagers is now a state council at the Council of State. ”

The committee will look at the system of intercountry adoption, not at each individual case. This does not mean that individual cases will not be dealt with.

Joustra: “We will certainly analyze individual cases of international adoption, if only to serve as an illustration of our findings from the study. But we will not offer a solution for every individual adoptioncase. ”

The committee chairman understands that for many people who have been adopted, this can be a disappointment because they have often been looking for their past for a long time. “I therefore want our report to provide tools for individuals to continue their lives. We will certainly include recommendations to the government to provide a solution for people who are struggling with their adoption history. It is an emotional subject with very different views. So we know that we have a critical audience and we are already noticing that. ”

The committee was commissioned by the minister to conduct research in at least the period 1967-1998. In 1998 the so-called Hague Adoption Convention on intercountry adoption for the Netherlands came into effect. “However, we will not limit ourselves to that period,” says Joustra. “It is true that the Convention changed and improved the situation, but that does not mean that there were no more abuses afterwards. We will therefore not stop at 1998. ”

And then the three of you sit around a table and you have to start. What are you doing then?

“Yes, what do you do,” says Joustra. “We have started archive research. Beatrice de Graaf has put forward an excellent team of researchers who deliver good, penetrating and fast work. They do research in various archives of ministries and organizations, newspapers and so on. We also study background literature. What has been written about this issue in the past? And we look at the legal framework. Which legislation applied in the course of time. The knowledge and experience of Bert-Jan Houtzagers is very useful here. In this way we try to build an image of theory and practice. ”

“We will then test that image in practice. Researchers make visits to at least two countries out of five that are in our task (Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka). They have already been to Sri Lanka and are going to Colombia soon. Archive management is complicated in those countries. But in Sri Lanka the people they spoke with were very open to the researchers, so that gives hope. ”

“Although our research primarily concerns the role and involvement of the government and the intermediary bodies, you cannot conduct that research without talking to those directly involved. So we talk with adopted parents themselves, with adoptive parents, but we will also speak with biological parents in the countries of origin, in order to form a picture that is as complete as possible. ”

“It is striking that in the past there has been a lot of attention for this issue in both the press and the House of Representatives. I did not have that sharp. In recent months I have had the impression of an extremely complex issue and very sensitive matter, with those involved sometimes very fiercely opposed. ”

And at a certain point you must write a report.

“Yes. After describing the situation as it emerged from all these investigations and discussions, we must draw conclusions and make recommendations for the future. Of course I can’t anticipate that, but there are things to note about what happened in the past, “says Joustra with a sense of understatement.

“We have to be careful that we don’t judge the past with today’s glasses. Today’s system of standards cannot just be the benchmark. It was a different period in which different standards applied. Many of the adoptions were made out of noble intentions. It was sincerely thought that it was in the best interest of the children that they would have a better future here than in the countries where they were born. But on the other hand, that cannot be an excuse for all the abuses that have been undeniable. There are universal standards that are of all times, we have to face that.”

When will you be satisfied when the report appears?

“The most important thing is that we contribute to a solution for those who have problems as a result of their adoption. I hope our report can help prevent future problems. And underlyingly, I hope the research will be recognized. That one will say: this is indeed the way it has been “.