Rights of children key
issue in applying best practice to inter-country adoption
EMILY LOGAN, Irish Times,
Mon, Apr 18, 2011
OPINION: Ireland has a
particular duty to ensure highest international standards
IN ADVANCE of an Irish
delegation from the Adoption Authority travelling to meet the relevant
authorities in Vietnam about the possibility of proceeding with adoptions
from that country to Ireland, it is timely to discuss the need to apply
rigorous standards to the inter-country adoption process.
When the Oireachtas first
addressed the question of adoption in the Adoption Act 1952, one of its main
purposes was to provide for the integration of children born to unmarried
parents into a more socially acceptable form of family environment. This was
done to shield the children from the stigma attached to being
The proportion of
non-marital births that resulted in adoption remained very high in the
decades following the 1952 Adoption Act, reaching a peak in 1967, when over
96 per cent of all children born to unmarried parents in Ireland – nearly
1,500 in total – were adopted. Over the same period, some 2,000 Irish
children were adopted abroad, mostly by Irish-American families in the
Thankfully, Irish society
has changed dramatically since then, as has the number and profile of
adoptable children. Far fewer children are adopted now, mostly by relatives.
However, it should be
emphasised there is a large number of young people in long-term foster care
in Ireland who want to be adopted. In the absence of an amendment to the
Constitution, this will remain the case.
In light of our own poor
history of adoption, as well as the fact Ireland has one of the highest
rates of inter-country adoption in Europe, we have a particular
responsibility to ensure the highest international standards are met in this
area. Children adopted from other countries are entitled to the same
safeguards in place for children adopted within Ireland.
The principal international
standard governing the inter-country adoption process is the 1993 Hague
Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of
Inter-country Adoption. In essence, the system of inter-country adoption set
up under the convention is geared towards making sure children are genuinely
adoptable before consideration is given to finding alternative care for them
in another country.
This means states must be
satisfied that the system for establishing the adoptability of a child can
guarantee all consents have been properly obtained and that the adoption
does not involve improper financial gain.
In a report commissioned by
UN children’s organisation Unicef and the Vietnamese government, which led
to the suspension of adoptions from Vietnam to Ireland last year, it was
found the availability of children who were adoptable abroad corresponded
more to the existence of foreign prospective adopters than to the actual
needs of “abandoned” and orphaned children. It found the circumstances
in which babies became adoptable were at times unclear – and disturbing.
The danger is that if
states are not sufficiently diligent, the adoption process could become
demand-driven – and this would represent a fundamental inversion of
principles. Adoption concerns the right of a child to become integrated into
a new family in cases where one or both of the child’s biological parents
are, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to care for the child.
We must be mindful of the
long-term effects of our actions. If adoptions proceed in circumstances
where we cannot be confident the child’s adoptability has been properly
established, we could be contributing to a system in which a child’s right
to remain with his or her family is not being fully respected. More children
could therefore find themselves in that situation in future.
The Hague convention
recognises that a child should grow up in a family environment of happiness,
love and understanding. It accepts inter-country adoption can offer such a
home to children in need of alternative care. There is no doubt many
children adopted from other countries have found such homes in Ireland and
will continue to do so in future. It is in no one’s interest – least of
all children – for the inter-country adoption process to be any lengthier
However, the Hague
convention accords with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in
emphasising that states should take steps to enable children to remain in
the care of their birth families if possible and that inter-country adoption
should only be considered when no suitable alternative care can be found in
the child’s country of origin.
Given the profound effect
adoption has on individuals, we must ensure their rights are fully respected
at every stage of the process.
Emily Logan is Ombudsman
© 2011 The Irish Times
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