19 November 2019
Week against child abuse

Abuses in the adoption system

Elvira Loibl defended her PhD in early 2019 for her research on illegal practices in the world of international adoption. “As a criminologist, I know that every transaction has a dark side. I wanted to bring that to light.” André Klip, professor of Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and the Transnational Aspects of Criminal Law, was one of her three supervisors – although she made their work easy. “A lightning-fast PhD that ends in a cum laude: that’s rare”, Klip says.

André Klip and Elvira Loibl

Outside the system

Many children are also brought to the Netherlands or Germany outside the formal adoption channels. “There are various tactics for this”, Loibl says. “A couple goes to Russia, and at the border coming home they say the woman gave birth in Russia unexpectedly. A man claims to have had an affair in the Philippines. The mistress doesn’t want the baby, but the wife has forgiven him, so he’s taking responsibility for the child and bringing it home. Or a couple brings a child into the Netherlands on a tourist visa and doesn’t return it to the country of origin. Embassies are becoming increasingly alert to these types of practice.”

The child’s best interests

Such children are rarely sent back to their own countries, Klip explains. “The ultimate goal of adoption has been achieved. The child has a loving family who takes good care of him. And because the best interests of the child are always paramount, you’re almost never going to remove him from the environment to which he has grown accustomed.” What about the biological parents? “It’s very difficult for them to demand that their child be returned. They’re usually poor and vulnerable, with neither the money nor the opportunity to look for their child. It did happen once: a couple from India suspected their son had been brought to the Netherlands. They came over and demanded a DNA test, but they were turned down because the authorities decided it wasn’t in the child’s best interests. They had to go home empty-handed.”


In 1995, 55 countries signed the Hague Adoption Convention, which sets out ethical and legal standards and requirements to prevent illegal practices. This did not bring an end to the abuses in the adoption world. “It’s hard for the home countries to meet these stringent standards”, Loibl says. “And the checks performed in the receiving countries are inadequate. The authorities always claim the abuses only happened before 1995, but this research shows that they’re continuing.” There is hope, Klip says. “In the Netherlands, a special committee has been installed to investigate illegal adoptions in the 1970s and 80s.” 


What can the receiving countries do? Loibl: “Check the documents thoroughly: do they look forged or homemade? Alarm bells should also go off if a lot of money is being charged for a child.” Klip: “There’s a lot of room for improvement in the delicate process between birth and placement. Especially in Germany, where each state has its own adoption agency with its own procedures. The Netherlands has one central authority, which is becoming increasingly alert to ruses. They can’t ignore this type of research. The media are also becoming more open about it. Germany is lagging behind in this area.”

Text: Margot Krijnen
Photography: Harry Heuts