I am now my mom's kid
Sunday Tribune, 18th
It was a case that
shook the nation: two-month old Indonesian baby Tristan was adopted by
an Irish accountant and his Azerbaijani wife. Two years later, they gave
him back to an orphanage. Now, reunited with his birth mother, Tristan
is a happy eight-year-old, write News Investigations Correspondent John
Downes and Sarah Sayekti in Indonesia
'I like it here, my
mother is here... I am my mom's kid". The playful and inquisitive
boy who greets the Sunday Tribune at his home in the port city of Tegal,
Indonesia, is virtually unrecognisable from the two-year-old who used to
cry uncontrollably in the orphanage to which he was sent by Joe and Lala
Dowse in May 2003.
Now almost nine years
old, the boy formerly known as Tristan Dowse still identifies himself by
the first name which his adoptive parents gave him as a two-month-old
child. But there is little doubt as to where his loyalties lie.
In the years since he
was reunited with his birth mother Suryani, they have rebuilt a
relationship that was fractured as a result of his illegal adoption by
the Irish accountant and his Azerbaijani wife.
Speaking in the local
Javanese language, Tristan says he liked living with the Dowse family
"because I got to eat bread with butter and cheese every day".
He describes Joe Dowse as "nice", but cannot say the same of
Suryani adds that
Tristan used to tell her how the Dowses often took him to church, and to
vacation in Bali on a plane. He had a closer relationship with Joe than
with Lala, she says. His memories of his time in the orphanage are far
less pleasant, however.
Tristan does not speak
about the "bad experiences" of the past, his mother confides,
"unless you ask him."
"The people there
are not nice, they are sharp and mean. They hit my head with a jar or
glass bottle when we made noise," he says.
Suryani has never had
any direct contact with Joe or Lala Dowse. But through one of their
friends in Jakarta, who lives in their old house there, she sends
greetings to them from time to time.
Sometimes, she hears
back from this friend that Joe sends his greetings back, asking how
Tristan is doing. She doesn't hear from Lala, though.
The house that Joe and
Lala Dowse bought, on foot of an Irish High Court order that they should
support Tristan financially until he turns 18, stands out from the rest
of the village of Debong Wetan. It has white ceramic floors and storage
areas, unlike most of the houses in the town. The first floor also has a
terrace, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom, as well as a bedroom
which Tristan shares with his mother. On the second floor is another
bedroom, and a terrace for hanging out some washing.
Suryani bought the
house in July 2007, with the money she received from the Dowse family
for Tristan. Everything was arranged by a local notary, and the
certificate for the land is under Tristan's name.
The overall cost of
buying and furnishing their home was around €10,500.
Before they moved to
their new home, Tristan, his mother and his two older brothers Wahyu
(16) and Agung (13) shared a house with her parents about three
Suryani's mother still
lives there with her other son and his family. The ability to buy their
own home, which is a direct result of Judge John McMenamin's landmark
2006 High Court ruling, has meant a huge improvement in their lives.
Every month, without
fail, she receives half the monthly money to which Tristan is entitled
– €175 – into her local bank account directly from Ireland.
She says this is enough
to pay their daily expenses, with the remainder of the €350 a month
paid by the Dowses invested by the court on Tristan's behalf. He will
also receive a further lump sum of €25,000 from his former adoptive
parents when he turns 18.
Tristan's school is
free, but Suryani still has to pay for school books and other
considerations such as food and clothing. As a single parent whose
ex-husband does not contribute financially to the family, she struggles
to make ends meet.
Suryani spends her days
taking care of the kids and making pillow cases and bed sheets with her
home sewing machine, earning the equivalent of less than one euro a day
for the 20 pieces she manages to make in that time.
Tristan is now in third
grade of elementary school, and goes there from 7am until 11.30am each
day. After school he attends a Koran reading play group until 2.30pm
every day, something which he says he enjoys. He says his favourite
subject at school is maths.
Suryani brings Tristan
to school herself, and picks him up on her red motorbike afterwards. His
friends and family now call him Erwin, because his Indonesian name is
Erwin Reynaldi. But on official papers, his name is still Tristan
Joseph, reflecting what is written on his birth certificate and school
Asked which name he
prefers, he answers simply: "Tristan, because that is my
His mother says he is a
healthy and happy child, who gets along very well with his neighbours
and friends. His older brother, Agung, is always there to accompany him
or watch him from a distance. If he has trouble with his kite he would
come directly to Agung. Sometimes they argue and Tristan will cry just
like a younger brother does.
But most of the time
Tristan makes Agung and his mother laugh with his funny facial
expressions. During the conversation, he shows a real interest in what
is being discussed, and tries to add what information he can.
"I like it here,
my mother is here. And my friends are here and my school and Koran
reading play group too," he says at one point, before heading
outside to play in the rain.
Suryani would love
Tristan to go to university in the future, maybe in Jakarta. She doesn't
care what he studies, although she suggests he may be suitable to a
mathematics based discipline such as engineering.
for an eight-year-old-boy, she says Tristan still has no idea about what
he wants to become. It is hard for her not to worry about what Tristan
will decide to do when he turns 18, and receives the remainder of the
monies due to him as part of the High Court judgement.
Her concern is that his
head will be turned by the money, and he will forget about her.
"I am also
confused about the status of Erwin [Tristan] now, because they said that
Erwin is a foreigner so that's why he is still supported by the Irish
government," she says. "I am worried that Erwin will be
deported when he reaches the age of 18."
But she says she is not
angry with the Dowses anymore and is grateful to have her son back in
her life. Instead, she reserves much of her anger for a shadowy
Indonesian baby smuggler named Rosdiana, who has since been convicted
for her crimes.
"I am angry at
Rosdiana, the woman who 'helped' me pay my hospital bill after giving
birth to Erwin. Because she promised me that she and her daughter would
take care of Erwin and not sell him to other people.
"So I would be
able to come see him later. If I knew that she was in the kid trade
syndicate, then I would never have given Erwin away to her."
When Tristan first came
back to live with his mother he was always afraid of being left behind
by Suryani. But he adapted quickly to his new life, and spoke the
Javanese language tinged with the local dialect within a few weeks.
His mother says he is
no longer afraid of strangers. But every time he is naughty, Suryani
only has to ask him if he wants to go back to the orphanage and he will
stop his bad behaviour right away.
She remains fearful of
the risk that he will be kidnapped due to the financial support he
receives from the Dowses, which is a significant sum of money by
Indonesian standards. It is a situation which was not helped when a
local newspaper ran a front page story a few years ago describing him as
the "millionaire kid".
Thankfully, nothing has
happened to him to date and he has had no threats of kidnapping. But the
fear is still there, and she always keeps a particular eye on him,
explaining why she brings him to and from school herself.
If he goes out of the
house, she sometimes directly follows him too, just to find out where he
Towards the end of our
interview with Tristan, we ask if he would ever like to visit Ireland
"No, I don't want
to go to Ireland. Because I'm afraid I won't understand it if people are
talking to me," he says matter of factly.
He falls silent when we
ask him if he understands what happened with the Dowse family, answering
simply: "I am my mom's kid."
He shakes his head when
asked if he ever wants to meet his one-time parents Joe or Lala Dowse
again. Unusually for such an outgoing and friendly young boy, he
continues to remain sullen and silent when asked why not...
'The adoption did not
Joe Dowse was working for the well-known firm KPMG in Baku, Azerbaijan
when he first met his wife Lala. The pair married there on 18 June 2000.
A few months prior to
their wedding, in September 1999, the couple had moved to Indonesia to
further Joe's career. While there, he engaged in voluntary work with
Unable to conceive a
child of their own, they took steps in 2000 to adopt a child in
Having decided to adopt
Tristan, they brought him to their family home where he lived from
August 2001 until May 2003.
But both Joe and Lala
claimed the adoption simply did not work out, contending that Tristan
did not react or bond with them.
They eventually sought
and were granted permission by the Indonesian courts to hand him over to
an Indonesian couple, while the couple planned to return to Azerbaijan.
But he was in fact placed in the unlicensed Emmanuel orphanage in Bogor,
South Jakarta in May 2003.
In April 2004, Joe
Dowse wrote to the Irish adoption board seeking to have Tristan's name
removed from the register of foreign adoptions. In March 2005 the couple
also applied to the Indonesian authorities to formally revoke the
adoption order of 2003.
In the only interview
Joe Dowse gave at the time, he said the pair "came to a painful
realisation that the adoption wasn't working out, an extremely difficult
and painful realisation to make."
delighted to announce the adoption of Tristan into the Dowse family.
Tristan was born on 26 June 2001 and is a healthy little boy who has now
taken up full time residence effective yesterday. We are thrilled and
would like to thank everyone who helped and supported us throughout the
So wrote Azerbaijani
born doctor, Lala Dowse and her husband Joe in an email reportedly sent
to his family and friends not long after they adopted Tristan.
Less than two years
later, they gave up the toddler and effectively abandoned him in an
orphanage. He was a few weeks short of his second birthday at the time.
In their application to
the Irish High court, the Dowses claimed that he became disturbed in the
presence of Lala. They said they had sought the assistance of a
psychologist, who advised them that the long-term adoption of Tristan
was not in his best interests.
had also become pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl on 29 May 2002.
She already had a daughter, Tata.
In an April 2004 letter
to the Irish adoption board, solicitors instructed by Lala and Joe Dowse
stated that her pregnancy and the subsequent birth had "
interfered" with the adoption and the bonding with Tristan.
The boy, given the name
Tristan by Joe and Lala Dowse, was born on 26 June 2001 and adopted by
them in August 2001, when he was two months old
At the time, the
married couple were living in Indonesia and had tried unsuccessfully to
conceive a child of their own for some time.
After they decided they
no longer wanted him, Tristan was placed into an orphanage in Bogor in
He spoke only English,
was one of only two children under five there, and reportedly cried
Although he settled
into the private orphanage and formed friendships with older children,
in May 2005, the Indonesian authorities decided to move Tristan to a
larger state-run orphanage for Muslim children which segregated the
children according to age.
But the High Court here
was told that by July 2005 "Tristan was described as being hurt,
confused and somewhat bewildered".
Things began to look up
for the boy, after an RTÉ documentary found his birth mother, Suryani
and they were reunited later that year. Suryani explained that she had
been pressurised and deceived into giving up her son by a baby broker
named Rosdiana and a nurse at the maternity unit where she gave birth.
Investigations by the
Indonesian authorities found she was not paid for the adoption.
Eventually, after a
lengthy reunion process, Suryani was allowed to take her son home to the
port city of Tegal, about 350km from Jakarta. Tristan is now known as
subsequently convicted of her crimes and sentenced to nine years in
Her daughter Reta, who
took part in the illegal adoption of Tristan and up to 80 other babies,
also received an eight-year sentence.
What the High Court
Tristan's case caused
major public concern in Ireland and around the world when details of his
In July 2005, the
attorney general commenced proceedings on behalf of Tristan, as an Irish
citizen. As part of these proceedings, he sought a declaration that the
Dowses had failed in their duty of care for and support of Tristan, and
seeking orders that they should do so.
But Joe and his wife
took a counter action that August seeking to have his name removed from
the register of foreign adoptions.
The hearing of both
applications together took place in camera, as they involved a child.
However, Judge John
McMenamin ruled that much of the judgment should be made public.
In his High Court
ruling delivered in January 2006, McMenamin acceded to the Dowse's
But he made clear that
since Tristan had been reunited with his natural mother, compelling the
Dowses to take care of him outside Indonesia was not an option.
As a result, he ordered
that the boy receive a €20,000 lump sum, a monthly payment of €350
until he is 18 – half of which will be invested for him by the High
Court – and then a further lump sum of €25,000 when he reaches
Under the ruling,
Tristan's mother, Suryani is his guardian while he retains his Irish
citizenship and he is a ward of the High Court.
He also retains
succession rights to any estate of Mr and Mrs Dowse.
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