“Adoption is legalised child trafficking”, say Roelie Post and Arun Dohle. Together they founded Against Child Trafficking. If it were up to them, inter-country adoption would disappear in five years..
On the wall of their Brussels office is a large world map with green, red and blue dots. Green for the ‘open’ adoption countries, red for the countries that closed the doors and blue representing the regions which Roelie Post (49) and Arun Dohle (36) have so far examined: Malawi, Ethiopia, China, Peru and India.
Their goal is a “red world”. According to them, intercountry adoption is “legalised trade of children” where vulnerable children are exchanged for large sums of money. Their description of adoption has John Le Carré-like features: stolen babies, unscrupulous traders, cheating orphanage directors and forged adoption procedures. This, as they say, is the rule.
To make this “commerce” visible and to frustrate it, Post and Dohle, together founded Against Child Trafficking (ACT). In their office, located in Post’s basement, the two work long days, “often the phone rings here at three at night”.
The researchers collected information about bad or dubious adoption cases, through the Internet and by word of mouth. Their database is growing daily, “we talk to adoptive parents, adoptees, lawyers and professors from around the world.” When they stumble upon a case of kidnapped children or other doubtful cases, they inform the adoption agencies and ministries.
That hasn’t made them popular in the inner circles of adoption. Bertie Treur, the director of Stichting Kind en Toekomst (Child and Future Foundation) heaves a sigh at the sound of the names’ Post and Dohle. “We are committed to ethical adoptions,” she says. “These people are looking for evil. I think it is troubling that they assume that adoption agencies act randomly.”
In turn, Post and Dohle hold little regard for the agencies, which cooperate in a system they have experienced as sick and corrupt. They see most governments in a negative light too, because time and again, they succumb to the powerful lobby of (prospective) adoptive parents. Their desire to have children is leading, say the two, not the interests of the child.
Against those powerful forces, they conduct their guerrilla fight. Post devotes her time to policy and children’s rights, while Dohle is the researcher in the field. With a suitcase full of dossiers, he regularly gets on a plane, for example to Ethiopia or India to check the background of adoptees. It is not like the “Spoorloos Method”, says Post. “the TV program that brings biological and adoptive parents’ children back together and that’s that. While we think justice must prevail.”
Dohle was closely involved in some of the recent high-profile adoption incidents. He worked on the Netwerk broadcast ‘Rahul’, the boy who was stolen from his Indian parents aged eighteen months, and who was possibly adopted by a Dutch family. Dohle brought the biological parents in contact with a lawyer, who, so far unsuccessfully, has for years requested the Dutch adoptive parents for a DNA test.
Dohle and Post, in collaboration with a local human rights organisation, also managed to thwart Madonna. The Court of Malawi first refused her adoption of Chifundo ‘Mercy’ James, because she is not a resident of Malawi as the law demands. The Judge based his decision on the information provided by Dohle. At the second attempt the U.S. megastar eventually got the girl. Post laments: “That’s how adoption works. It’s all about money, money, money.”
Then there was the recent revelation of Dutch adoption agency Wereldkinderen that Ethiopian ‘orphans’, adopted by Dutch parents, appeared to have Ethiopian parents that are very much alive. The agency based its conclusions upon a study done by ACT. As a result Wereldkinderen temporarily stopped adoptions from Ethiopia.
Dohle and Post’s indignation is great, their position clear. Inter-country adoption is not a “last resort” for children in need, but a lucrative market that serves involuntarily childless couples. Adoption has little to do with ‘child protection’, they say. Those really wanting to help should invest in local child protection programmes and provide care to poor parents in order to prevent relinquishment of children.
The two claim that recent cases of child trafficking for adoption are not one off incidents but can they prove it?
Yes, say Post and Dohle: they have so far investigated over one hundred adoption cases and found irregularities in all of them, ranging from abduction of children to wrong files, based on which local judges approved an adoption. “It is a crime to misinform the court.”
Sometimes the paperwork is correct, but mothers don’t even know what they are signing for says Dohle: “They do not understand what it means to waive their parental rights. They think they can take their child back in their arms when it reaches age 18”
But do the over one hundred acts of wrong-doing show that the approximately 36,000 intercountry adoptions per year are not done well? Can ACT provide evidence of large-scale corruption and crime? Post sighs deeply at this question: “How much more evidence do you need?” She calls it turning the world upside down: “The adoption agencies should provide evidence that their adoptions are ethical. But they can’t and will not do. These agencies stay inactive, they don’t investigate anything. Their records are often so vague, you wouldn’t buy a second hand car based upon them.”
But does a messy file indicate child trafficking or unethical adoption? According to Post “the biggest problem is that parents who consider relinquishing their child, for example because they have no money for food, usually don’t receive any alternative help. No coaching, no loan, no other recourse but relinquishment and adoption. Adoption Agencies have all sorts of aid projects, but those are intended for other families, not for parents that potentially relinquish. “
Does the evil Dohle and Post are convinced of, not colour their perception? “If only that were true,” says Post. “We are not against adoption, but against child trafficking. Unfortunately those two can not be distinguished from one another.”
Who are the adoption fighters?
Roelie Post acquired her knowledge about adoption in Romania, where she worked on behalf of the European Commission, for many years. She saw crowded orphanages and aggressive foreign adoption agencies running their “Legalised child trafficking”. “The supply was made to match the high demand,” Post says. In her book Romania: For export only. The untold story of the Romanian orphans’ (2007) .
Together with the Romanian authorities, the European Commission closed the major children’s homes and established a system of child protection that takes care of Romanian children in their own country. But an active lobby kept pressing for the ‘export’ of Romanian children, which Post strongly opposes.
That lobby made her work for the European Commission impossible, says Post. She was finally seconded to Against Child Trafficking (ACT), an organisation she founded herself. “I’ve seen children get sucked into the system, instead of helping them,” she says. “I must share my knowledge about adoption, that is my social responsibility. Nobody else comes up for these children.”
Post found a supporter in Arun Dohle, an Indian who was adopted by German parents. Dohle has for years been doing research into his own roots from India. He suspects that he is an illegitimate child of a member of the famous Pawar family. Before the court of Bombay, Dohle demanded the identity of his mother to be revealed, but the case so far is hindered by “the power of the family”. His quest became a big Indian media story. “Son of Pawar wants to know who his mother is,” the newspapers headlined.
“I discovered my adoption is complete shit, the paperwork is nothing but a bunch of lies,” says Dohle. “Nowhere in my file is a waiver of parental rights, signed by my mother. I think they took me away from her under duress.” Dohle also examined some hundred adoption files from other adoptees, which according to him, all contain irregularities.
Four years after the publication of this article intercountry adoption worldwide decreased by more than 65%.
First published December 22, 2009 in De TROUW