In 2008, Against Child Trafficking was registered as an NGO in the Netherlands. It was established at the behest of the European Commission by Roelie Post, a civil servant at the European Commission.
ACT argues against the injustices of intercountry adoption and provides on-the-ground assistance to adoptees searching for their real identities and birth mothers.
The Story of ACT Goes Back to Romania
In 1999, sixteen years after she started working for the European Commission, Roelie Post was assigned an unusual new job: Task Manager for Romanian Child’s Rights, Minorities and Social Affairs.
Child rights was not an issue that the European Commission had any expertise in, as each member state was obliged to implement its own child welfare system. Roelie soon became the Commission’s first expert on the issue.
In 1999 Romania was one of 12 European nations that were in the process of joining the European Union (known as “accession states”). Many of these (former Communist) countries had problems with institutionalised children but, since the “televised revolution” of 1989, Romania had frequently been in the international media for the appalling state of its children’s homes. Ten years after Romania’s revolution, the child welfare problem did not seem to be any better; there were still an estimated 100,000 children in institutions and, despite the tens of millions of Euros the Commission had spent on emergency aid, the sector was in a financial crisis.
Roelie had to sort the situation out and she quickly learnt about Romania as well as the difference between right and wrong. She soon learned that the most important document was the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as it stated that every government must support the families of children in difficulty and only use inter-country adoption as an exception, as the absolute last resort. Every country on earth, with the exception of Somalia and the USA, had ratified the UN convention by 1999 (today it is only the USA that has not ratified it).
However, in order to reform Romania’s child welfare system, Roelie and her colleagues had to confront the aggressive lobby of the inter-country adoption industry. Tens of thousands of children had been sold from Romania during the 1990s and the adoption agencies argued that this was a “child protection measure” that actually helped build up child welfare services in Romania. It soon became clear that the opposite was true as local options, such as foster care, as specified by the UNCRC, were bypassed in the rush to gain some of the cash involved in each inter-country adoption case.
In 1994, Romania became the first nation to ratify the Hague Convention on Adoption. The aim of this convention was to regulate the inter-country adoption business. Like the UNCRC it stated that inter-country adoption should be a last resort, but the “perverse effect of the Hague Adoption Convention” is that it encourages more children to be abandoned, and made available for local adoption, as there is a powerful “pull factor” of rich western couples willing to pay up to $50,000 for a child.
In order to clarify the difference between the UNCRC and the Hague Adoption Convention, in 2004 Roelie and her team invited an Independent Panel of EU family law experts, from 5 EU Member States, to provide legal guidance. This was their conclusion:
“Intercountry adoption cannot be considered as a protection measure. Romania’s situation is in this regard exceptional, as no EU Member State expatriates its children. Other Member States protect their children and deal with the issues in-country. Out of home placement is available, guidance to parents given and family allocations provided. It is therefore not necessary to abandon children.
“The objective of the new legislation is that Romania becomes like other Member States and does not export its children anymore. Intercountry adoptions lead to a vicious circle: too many intercountry adoptions will mean that Romania will not see the need for proper child protection. And as long as the child protection is not at European level, Romania risks continuing to use intercountry adoptions.
“To resolve this paradox, intercountry adoptions need to become legally more difficult, exceptional and truly a measure of last resort.”
In 2001, the Romanian government applied a moratorium on inter-country adoptions and by 2005 they passed a (child rights) law which upheld the ban on adoption and set up a child welfare service that came to be seen as a model in the region (fostering was encouraged and small family-based centres were set up). It became illegal to institutionalise children under two and, with no more demand for international adoption, the number of babies being abandoned fell sharply. Romanian families were now able to adopt, without having to compete with inter-country adoption agencies offering large sums of money for each child.
Although there were (and are) a lot of problems with child welfare in Romania, mainly due to poverty, the problems of the large children’s homes is resolved, as was the issue of selling children abroad.
The Inter-Country Adoption Lobby in Brussels
Although they lost the battle for Romania, the lobby for inter-country adoption has never given up. They continued to apply relentless diplomatic pressure on the Romanian government, the European Commission as well as Roelie Post herself. The lobby was particularly worried about a “domino effect” – countries like Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia following Romania’s example of sorting out the problem and stopping inter-country adoption completely.
The inter-country adoption system is riddled with corruption and is nothing short of trafficking. Some very strong criminal networks are involved. The desperation of childless Western couples for children makes them vulnerable to exploitation. This pressure will only increase now that homosexual couples in some countries have the right to adopt.
The other problems with inter-country adoption is that parents in poor countries are often told lies about the fate of their child; in Romania, young pregnant women were offered a financial incentive; in Africa they are often told the child will be sent abroad for an education; and in Asia there are countless stories of kidnapped children who are then handed into an orphanage, declared abandoned and then sold into inter-country adoption. Each adoptee has his/her name and birth certificate changed on arrival in the country of destination; this is identity theft on a grand scale.
Led by the French merchant banker Francois de Combret, and the Italian Marco Griffini (both now under criminal investigation) the lobby for inter-country adoption infiltrated the European Commission and the European Parliament at every level. By 2005 they had made Roelie Post’s job at the Commission untenable and various tactics were used outside the office to intimidate her and get her to leave. Her superiors were bullied into getting rid of her but, as she had such an exemplary work record, it was impossible for the Commission to actually fire her. Instead she was ostracised, ignored and not given any work to do.
Unfortunately, during the years where Romania cleaned up its legislation and practices (2000 – 2005) the other EU candidate countries were pressurised into signing the Hague Convention and open up for the inter-country adoption industry. This has led to an increase in inter-country adoptions from new member states such as the Slovak Republic and Bulgaria (and it is slowly starting again in Romania too). Currently, the pressure is on all EU Member States to ease regulations with regard to inter-country adoptions. The lobby wants a free market in children, as there is a free market in goods, capital and people within the EU.
Despite these setbacks, and Roelie’s difficulties at the Commission, some senior figures continued to support her. It was Catherine Day, the Secretary General of the Commission, who suggested to Roelie in 2008 that she should continue her work for child rights by setting up a new NGO.
In the meantime, Roelie brought her policy expertise and connected with Arun Dohle, who has valuable field experience. This was a solid partnership for setting up ACT (Against Child Trafficking) an NGO that has directly contributed to a 70% decrease in inter-country adoptions worldwide.
To read about ACT’s work around the world please click go to ACT’s achievements.