Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Report of General Consultation, Part One

On November 9, 2009 the minutes of a Parliamentary committee meeting were released to the public. The meeting of representatives of the Dutch Parliament was held to debate the information contained in the report submitted by Ina Hut, the previous director of "World Children", the largest adoption agency in the Netherlands.

In attendance were eight members of the various political factions, namely: Ed Anker (Christian Union--CU), Anja Timmer (Labor Party--PvdA), Cisca Joldersma and Marleen de Pater-van der Meer (Christian Democratic Appeal--CDA), whose respective parties form the Dutch coalition government. Also present were members of the "Opposition" parties: Naima Azough (Green Left--GL), Marianne Langkamp (Socialist Party-SP), Kees van der Staaij (Political Reformed Party--SGP), Fred Teeven (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy-VVD), as well as the Minister of Justice Hirsch Ballin, who was accompanied by several officials of the Ministry of Justice (MVJ). Gaining an understanding of each political faction's view-point will result in a better understanding of their comments and positions in this debate.

In this, the first half of the debate, the discussion primarily involves Marianne Langkamp and Fred Teeven. Ms. Langkamp's Socialist Party is defined by Wiki as a "left-wing [liberal] party. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was a People's Republic of China-supported Maoist party, but in 1991 the SP dropped its communist course, and chose a more independent and less radical socialist course, denouncing Maoism and China." Ms. Langkamp is the most vocal critic of the Chinese adoption program.

Standing in contrast to her in many instances is Fred Teeven of the "People's Party for Freedom and Democracy". Wiki states that "the Volkspartij vor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) is a conservative liberal party. It thus attaches great importance to private enterprise and the freedom of the individual in political, social, and economic affairs. The party is generally supportive of European economic integration, but is less supportive of political integration. The VVD is generally seen as the most right wing of the major parties."

Another significant participant in the discussion is Naima Azough, representing the Dutch "Green-Left" party. Ms. Azough's comments were largely supportive of Langkamp's, both of whom advocated for a closure of China's program until an in-depth investigation can be conducted by the Dutch government to insure that adoptions were performed free of incentives and coercion. This conclusion was contested by Mr. Teeven and Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer, representing the more conservative parties.

Thus, the debate centers on political agenda's as much as on a discussion of corruption in China's program. Those from the more liberal parties support an aggressive protection of China's orphans, and seek a moratorium on new adoptions until an investigation by the Dutch government can take place to insure China's compliance with the Hague Convention.

Those from the political right were protective of business and political interests, and placed more emphasis on the Hague Agreement, trusting that the Chinese government is proactive in enforcing its guidelines.

Thus, the following discussion focuses largely on stopping adoptions or continuing, whether corruption is widespread or "incidental", whether the Dutch or the Chinese governments are responsible for policing the orphanages and insuring compliance with Hague principles.

The following are the minutes of the hearing, as released by the Dutch Parliament on November 9, 2009. The meeting minutes run for over 40 pages. For that reason, the first half will be presented here, with the second half being published next week.


The Chairman: Welcome. Each spokesperson should know that they have about five minutes speaking time.

Ms Langkamp (SP): Chairman. For some children, intercountry adoption is ultimately the best solution. It is a fragile process in which it is hoped that nothing should go wrong. The control and supervision of international adoption should therefore be maximized. As the demand for adopted children is far greater than supply, it sometimes becomes a market in which adoptees are sought from parents, rather than the other way around, with all the resulting risks of child trafficking and corruption. In recent years, we have been confronted with incident after incident relating to intercountry adoptions. The Netherlands adopts children form a number of countries, and it can be asked whether it still is justified to continue international adoption. Why should it be left to an adoption agency to actually make the decision of whether or not to adopt from a country? Why does the Dutch State not make this decision? Does the Dutch government want to take a position on this in the future?

Take Ethiopia for example. It was recently announced that in Ethiopia there had been cases of records tampering. Both Dutch adoption agencies have therefore temporarily halted adoptions from Ethiopia. Ethiopia was briefly one of the largest countries in the adoption world, but is a poor country with a poorly developed legal system. The rush to adopt from Ethiopia was wrong, because the financial interests are very large. Is not the extreme growth in the number of adoptions from a poor country in itself not suspicious? Were there not already signs that something was wrong in Ethiopia? An Austrian adoption agency had already ended adoptions from Ethiopia in 2007. Was not that known in the Netherlands?

Another example is Haiti. Following indications of bribery, "World Children" stopped adoptions from Haiti. Other agencies continue to perform adoptions. Why is this not more fully researched?

We come to China. We have all heard of the new scandals about child trafficking in China that have recently come out. The obstruction by the Ministry of Justice for further investigation into these stories by former director of World Children Foundation Ina Hut, was the main reason she resigned and left.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): How does Ms. Langkamp know that Hut was thwarted by the Justice Ministry? What does the Socialist Party mean by "thwarted"? What evidence does the Socialist Party work under?

Ms Langkamp (SP): Ms. Hut herself put forward this argument, that it was what caused her to resign. This is one of the arguments they have used before. If you do not mind, I will now continue with my speech because I would like to say more. Then you might understand what I mean.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): In using such heavy words, I wonder if you know the views of the ministry already?

Ms Langkamp (SP): I know this from answers to written questions submitted by me and Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer. We know their position from the answers we received on this issue from the Ministry of Justice. However, we find those answers insufficient. But as I said, I will now say more about it.

The Quality Framework for agencies participating in inter-country adoption is that it is the duty of an adoption agency to constantly keep a finger on the pulse. However, "World Children" was threatened by the ministry with revocation of their adoption license if they continued in their investigations. I find that incomprehensible. If an adoption agency finds it safe to play (investigate), then the Minister should applaud it, certainly in light of the Quality Framework, not advise against it! I think it is a shame, Mr. Teeven, that the ministry in answering our questions wrote only half truths. What I really do not understand is that a ministry, if there are persistent concerns of an agency on adoptions from a country, does not sound the alarm bells and does not direct a further investigation until the bottom of it is found. With further research, I do not mean simply inquiring of the China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) and then being reassured by them that nothing is wrong. What about that? This fact raises at least the suggestion which Mrs Hut also suggested, that there are other interests at stake which apparently play a larger role. Why does the ministry so docile with the CCAA?

Is this attitude not totally inappropriate in light of continuing reports of abuses in adoptions from China? Should one not look at other critical research that has already been done, such as that done by Brian Stuy in the U.S.? "World Children" continually reported to the ministry that everything was not right. The Ministry thus has this information. Why has nothing happened?

Until it is quite clear that adoption from China have been performed responsibly, we must establish a moratorium: Temporarily no new adoptions from China. Please get a response from the minister. And when will we get an investigation by an international independent regulator.

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): Chairman -- Not long ago we had a much wider consultation on international adoption with much more time than we have now. Now we are back here. The real reason for this consultation is the broadcast "Network" released this summer about possible abuses in adoptions from China. The doubts created by this broadcast were such that the director of "World Children" no longer felt at ease in her position. Now people with regularity are in the news denouncing international adoption practices. Nevertheless, or because of it, the continued opposition to international adoption calls up strong emotions.

At the last consultation on adoption is was explicitly stated that each country that
had ratified the "Convention for the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Inter-country Adoption" (Hague Adoption Convention) should be confident that they themselves are the safeguards of adoption procedures. When in doubt, authorities should be contacted. Can we well know the precise circumstances under which the birth parents have come to the consideration to give up on the care and upbringing of their own child?

Those who surf the Internet can find just about any country that we have adoption relations with - I would stress in all countries - stories of parents who had to decide within 24 hours to surrender their child, or who already had decided before the child was born. They were prepared for the fact that they were not really able to take care of their own child. Sometimes birth parents later regret it, and let it be known through the Internet. We can all take note of these stories. Meanwhile, their child is placed elsewhere.

Adopted children, when they are made aware of their origins, often desire to find their biological parents. What can they know about their file? How long will their information be available? I believe that Ms Langkamp in the previous agreement also explicitly asked this question, but now I come back to it in a different way. Article 8 of the "International Convention on the Rights of the Child" expressly states that a child has a right to their identity. A child has a right to know from whom they are descended. The next question I would like to put expressly to the minister: How can we do more to bridge the distance not just of parents who later wish to see what their child has become, but also vice-versa, with more justice, to help the child find out who his parents were originally?

We have worked in the previous consultation and explicitly mentioned that under the Hague Adoption Convention countries need each other to compare notes on the proceedings. Countries of origin are responsible for the information until it decides to make a child eligible for inter-country adoption. In recipient countries, the correct procedures should be followed from the moment a child enters the country. In this we strongly agreed with each other, but can we justify adoption in order to maintain relationships with countries that refuse, or are totally unable, to meet the requirements of the Hague Adoption Convention standards? Included are those countries that have not ratified the Hague Adoption Convention. I mention them only because recently questions have arisen about Ethiopia, Haiti, Mali, to name a few.

Ms Langkamp (SP): You asked the minister what more we can do to fulfill the right of a child to their identity. What ideas do you yourself have? You hopefully know that I initiated a motion which was adopted to extend the retention period for records. In our opinion, they should be extended to 100 years, but we will come back to this when we discuss the Wobka amendment.

Furthermore, you ask yourself whether we still need to adopt from countries that have signed the Hague Adoption Convention. I have not heard anything from you about China, but they signed and adopted the treaty. Yet there are also countries where repeated abuses have surfaced.

What do you think about this? Is the Hague Adoption Convention a guarantee that everything will go well?

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): To the last question first: the Hague Adoption Convention is not a guarantee. We know that international adoptions have long been at issue. We have only tried to ensure that countries hold each other accountable to the terms of the Hague Adoption Convention if doubts arise as to whether this is true. You can effortlessly find on the Internet all the countries from which children today have come to the Netherlands, find parents who say that procedures were not performed carefully. That you just found. I refer not only to China, you can call them all. But now we can appeal to the authorities on the arrangements. We can not, however, do that if the countries are not willing or able to meet the agreements.

Concerning your first question, you have rightly spoken about storage periods. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child has argued that a child has a right to self-identity. The files of international adoption should, if at any time there is a question about identity, have information that a child from its fifth year does not need about who were the birth parents. I ask whether the minister would respond to this.

Ms Langkamp (SP): I have a supplementary question about the first part of the answer. If countries have signed the Convention, the authorities of each country can appeal to each other, you say. That's right. Do you now find that that is sufficient in all situations like now in China, this is sufficient? I mention this issue also in my own contribution. The Dutch Central Authority has inquired of the CCAA and is reassured, while there are still many indications that abuses occur in China. Do you agree with me that in some cases more could be done, not just a display of another appeal?

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): Of course, other authorities can appeal cases to each other. But I know of no country where we have a relationship with adoption that you do not hear the same doubts and later hear the same concerns of parents, as we see, for example, in China. No one can 100% guarantee. The guarantee we can give is to talk to each other about these matters. If abuses occur regularly, then we must stop these adoption relationships. That has already been agreed up with each other. I also have not read out of the replies of the Minister that he has been reassured. I have read that he had his doubts, and he subsequently appealed to the authorities. He says, however, that we can not give a 100% guarantee.

Ms Azough (GL): The Christian Democratic Appeal party reacts strongly to a weak paper in which trust is central. We are talking about children who are very vulnerable and the interests of children. Is it not important for an adopting country, in this case the Netherlands, that we as the supervisory arm of the authorities of this country do as much as possible to investigate that guarantee as much as possible, even if it is not 100%? The answers of the Minister so far do not give me the assurance that the best research was done.

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): I think that the Minister himself will answer this question. I can not say he has not done everything in his power. I'm wondering whether I talk about a hard reality, but if you just browse the Web one night, you can find that all countries in which adoptive occurs have doubts and questions about them, especially from parents who then have renounced their child. If we do not want to have these issues, there is only one option: no more international adoption. So far we have not chosen that. I am now in the tenth dialogue about adoption over the past years, and I have yet to hear anyone in the House be in favor of that. I am not. Therefore I accept that the program is not 100%, and that you have to do your utmost with the Hague treaty countries to get it as good as possible.

Ms Azough (GL): Is it not crazy that in non-treaty countries, including Ethiopia, there are better opportunities to do a thorough, profound and comprehensive study that we have in treaty countries such as China? There we have to operate in very limited frameworks, taking account of "diplomatic sensitivities".

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): I come back to the consultations that we conducted last summer, when we found that treaty countries should shape their own procedures, since we have to trust those countries. I make no distinction between one country and another's convention, because I have no reason to do that. Ethiopia is not a treaty country. Thus, the receiving country is often bolder in doing its own research, when dealing with non-treaty countries, even stopping adoptions if there are irregularities, because they can not really follow.

Ms Azough (GL): Chairman: Adoption is a sensitive area that very much reflects societal trends. Adoption has many different parties with different interests, and the responsibility for making a careful process and the integrity within procedures is enormous. That it is a loaded and emotional issue is clear. We see it by the e-mails and calls we are all getting. Often critics and supporters of the current adoption policy argue against each other. I believe that is wrong. Everyone should place children in the first place. Birth parents, the authorities, and also the adoptive parents have a vital interest in preventing abuses. This applies to most parties in the discussion, as I see it. Let us not place adoptive parents in the role of people who do not want to an investigation, which tends to be done debates such as these. Precisely adoptive parents want to look at their adopted children in the eye with certainty, not uncertainty, that their children came to the Netherlands in the right way.

I have questions, in the debate we are now holding, on the basis of written questions from the Christian Democratic Appeal and Socialist Party. The resignation of Ms. Hut and the entire context thereof, has brought up many questions. In recent years, not from 2008 or 2007, but since 2003, there have been regular reports on adoption from China. The fact of her departure moves us from a general consultation to core questions. For my party this is a signal that we must have a much deeper and more thorough discussion about adoption from China. Central to my group are concerns and questions about adoption from China. The news accounts of recent years give a picture of trade, market and corruption. How that image corresponds to reality is, for me, still a question. It seems of utmost importance that this be further investigated. The responses so far from the Ministry and the Minister of Justice are still insufficient for my party. Every time that independent researchers and journalists investigate particularly China, gross violations of the Hague Adoption Convention are reported, including one very recent article in the "Los Angeles Times" of September 20. It is reported how local authorities, instead of writing out fines for violating China's population policy, take babies and sell them at a rate of $3,000 per baby. I am very harsh -- maybe too harsh -- but the investigation that the Minister of Justice performed last year by means of a high official delegation to China to speak to the CCAA, came down to this, which is also reflected the answers to written questions:

"We have talked to the CCAA. They indicated that there have been past abuses, but that they were addressed. Now there is an honest and careful procedure. We must rely on the answers of the CCAA, for the Hague Adoption Convention was set up that way. This gives us at present confidence."

You cannot call that research.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): What would the Green-Left party expect the Minister to do if he should respect the legitimate expectations? What kind of research should he have done in China?

Ms Azough (GL): That is a very legitimate question. There has been more than one year's occasion to think about how you can design research in a way that you do justice to the Hague Adoption Convention, while not only needing to rely on what comes out of the CCAA. The Ministry of Justice said to one agency, "World Children": "We simply can't do much more, so it is up to you to do research. But keep in mind that relationships should not be compromised." This is a contradiction in terms, and in some sense also a catch-22 that brings adoption agencies into a very awkward situation, in that it would become their responsibility when mistakes are made. Then it was literally said, "You better warn possible aoptive parents that mistakes may be found later." This makes it almost impossible for an adoption agency who wants to do his job. At the same time, we say that no further investigations can be done. I doubt that is the case. I think there are indeed opportunities. Perhaps you can step on a few toes but if we have the certainty that children come into the Netherlands in an honest way, it seems to me that a very good thing.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): Do you feel, as the Socialist Party does, that the worst case consequence should be that the Netherlands will no longer adopt from China and that we establish a moratorium? Since it benefits other Western European countries, that is the effect. Does the GreenLeft Party conclude that it should be halted?

Ms Azough (GL): Your question reflects my fear: doother countries benefit by this? This shows that you feel there would be a certain "market" at work.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): Try to be honest and clear tonight.

Ms Azough (GL): I'm not finished with my input. If you just wait, you will know what my conclusion will be. Would you wait? Perhaps that is convenient.

My group is concerned that the Hague Adoption Convention is an obstacle by creating a false sense of certainty in the procedures. Because we, as an adopting country, also have a great responsibility, I ask the Minister whether it is possible, following the recent reports, to do further research into the situation in China. Is it also possible to see the positive and possible negative effects the Hague Adoption Convention has specifically in the case of China?

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): I'm listening with increasing amazement. I hear you actually make an indirect call to do away with the whole Hague Adoption Convention, saying it is an obstacle.

Ms Azough (GL): No, I absolutely did not say that. If that is what you heard, you didn't listen closely to my input. I asked whether it could create an illusion. This question is to the Minister of Justice to answer, because that is one concern I have. I can not imagine that you do not have the same concerns. I am not saying that we should denounce the Hague Adoption Convention. On the contrary. I am, however, concerned about possible risks that come with the Convention. Let us not ignore that. It is of utmost importance that we can talk frankly and honestly, and that the Minister of Justice answers honestly.

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): A moment ago you talked about an obstacle, a "stand-in-the-road" in relation to the Hague Adoption Convention. Now you say that it creates an illusion. How would you get the facts on the table?

Ms Azough (GL): If I had had a ready answer, I would made a great speech about how the Justice Department should do its work. You can check out me and say "You have no answer", and decide we should leave the situation as it is today. But that is not my argument. I ask the Justice Ministry from my heart to see how whether further research can be done so we might get better responses than hitherto.

Mrs Timmer (PvdA): In the latter, I can agree, but I am very surprised at your attitude towards the Convention. With that kind of an agreement, it is all based on trust. If you literally called it an obstacle, I wonder which road you want to take? I feel very much which way you want. You literally just said that the Hague Adoption Convention can be an obstacle. These treaties are based on trust. We have extensively debated this in June. I don't find an "obstacle" to be an adequate expression.

Ms Azough (GL): I will not repeat this term. What is important is that the Hague Adoption Convention is based on several criteria, which we all very much support, and which we as the Dutch Government agree should exercise a degree of control. We have regularly called for an international authority to oversee adoptions. Mr van der Staaij there has also filed motions on this topic. I would be very satisfied if we could clothe the Hague Adoption Convention with more power and security. What is important is that we trust and have confidence that we can handle issues appropriately. If that seems a taboo in this room, I wonder why we still perform this kind of debate.

Mrs Timmer (PvdA): It is certainly is not taboo. I also have a number of critical questions. I have already made a similar plea. I even suggested something internationally under the UN to do the oversight. That was considered too broad. I also understand that, but if we are careful with each other in each debate, we must choose our words carefully. I do not like treaties to be dismissed as "obstacles".

Ms Azough (GL): Mrs Timmer, you know that my party holds international conventions as a very high priority, unlike some other parties in this house. It was not the intention that my words be so construed. The Hague Adoption Convention is a real tiger and not just a paper tiger. This is my conviction, but I have some concerns. I simply want to share some of my concerns.

The Chairman: Could you finish your speech?

Ms Azough (GL): There are indications to me that much more information is known to the Chinese authorities on individual foster children, than is currently given to the agencies. This is extremely important in the context of identity and possible investigation of children to determine their own roots. Does the minister also these signals? Did the CCAA send children abroad from the Hunan scandal on false grounds? We have already talked about this question before. At the time the reply from the CCAA was that none of those children have ended up in the Netherlands. OK, very fine. However, according to research from outside - here I am somewhat limited in my resources - that the same answer was given to all countries that received adoptive children from China. This is a very strange state of affairs. Please get a specific answer to this question.

Mr. Van der Staaij (SGP): Chairman -- With adoption the interests of the child is foremost in importance and not the wishes of the adoptive parents. It is not enough to to simply speak this as a mantra in any consideration of adoption, it must also be substantiated in practice. Like Ms Azough, I think that not only the wishes of those who are critical to the practice of adoption should be considered, but also of many adoptive parents who wonder how their children will later look at this. I want this to be seen as a shared value, as the basis of the policy.

Concern about the actual representation of the interests of the child, is the "cri de coeur" (French: "Cry from the Heart"), and is once again sounded very prominently, thanks to the resignation of Mrs. Hut from "World Children". We have always appreciated the efforts of Mrs. Hut for always actively pursuing high standards of quality and ethics. The signals from the commotion and publicity surrounding her departure should be taken seriously. That there are more parents wishing to adopt than there are children available, makes inter-country adoption vulnerable. It especially obliges us to do everything we can to prevent abuses and to address, before it goes terribly wrong, and problems that would turn adoption from a compassionate emergency measure into a serious offense. It can become a "children's trade" when money plays a wrong role.

There are important steps and principles laid out in the Hague Adoption Convention: the subsidiarity of inter-country adoption, the importance of the strict voluntary relinquishment of a child, and that there should be no profit. It is, however, very important that in practice those high standards are also adhered to. We have already, in February 2008, had a debate of some potential change that could be made. One of the two specific issues raised by the resignation of Ms Hut that has again come to the fore, is the issue of mediation in the United States. Is gay emancipation not in the interests of the child? The other issue concerned the troubles in China. Are winning economic and diplomatic interests in the interests of the child? That was the tone that has, in fact, emerged. Is the system as a whole far too vulnerable?

On the question of the United States, this was debated extensively in the debate in June. I have since then expressed my critical feelings about that. I just have a question about this, because it will not the intention to do that debate all over again. Have several other countries stopped their relationship with the U.S.? What about the problem of the lack of transparency of the costs? Mr. Hoksbergen pointed that out in an article in Trouw last August.

On another topic, the potential abuses in China, we hardly discussed them at all in June, although it was presented in a detailed letter on the agenda on September 10, 2008. It was pushed for a later discussion, but that's the part where we should have expanded on. It was indicated by the MVJ what the reaction was to potential problems or abuses in China that were already known. Is there a problem? Yes, as we see when we read that letter. The minister acknowledges that there were irregularities, particularly at the provincial level. He points to the legitimate expectations of the Hague Adoption Convention and sees at the same time positive developments, real will in China to take care of abuses. What strikes me as most important from the guarantees in the Hague Adoption Convention, which China has also signed, is that there is a critically constructive dialogue with China to continue to engage on vulnerabilities that arise.

Then the crucial question is: How promising is this? Can the central government seize on anything that goes wrong in that vast country? What is the role of the European countries in this? There are also many other countries which adopt children from China. How are those contacts done with them? Mrs. Azough again referred to my point of view on a supervising authority. The minister said that this was difficult. But he also talked about closer European cooperation. What do we see of that when it concerns a country like China and its possible abuses?

What is the role of the Hague Conference on this issue in the law? How are the responsibilities divided between the Dutch Central Authority and the agencies? The minister writes in reply at a certain moment that an adoption agency can stop the adoption from a country, but it would be highly undesirable if the same facts caused one agency to cease adoptions, and not another. Shouldn't there be a certain direction, coordination and alignment from the central authority?

One problem that affects us more, is this: That letter about China was on our agenda last time, but we have hardly talked about it because there was such a multitude of documents also on the agenda.

Chairman: Please concentrate on the points you wish to make. Indeed, you must complete your statement.

Mr. Van der Staaij (SGP): This is indeed a good tip.

In China the voluntary relinquishment of children is prohibited. This is particularly important. It has been turned completely into a negative because the proper construction of cases in which the identity of a child is known with information about his biological parents, etc.. What are the prospects to change that? How do we get more visibility on, or more importantly, more improvements regarding the practice of payments of money for children to the orphanages? Doesn't this undermine the safeguards in place?

How to help the subsidiarity principle of the Hague Adoption Convention actually getting hands and feet? These questions are all addressed to China, but also wider to the other countries. I have just mentioned the issue of international monitoring, the motion I put forward, the difficulties the Minister saw and the possibilities for European cooperation. I have thought about it some more. As European cooperation is difficult, then the risk is that in reality the guarantees will fail even if they are beautiful and they actually get form in some countries Can you not promote a further implementation of the best practices by bringing them to everyone's attention? I am talking about the prevention of such things as the transfer of children. What are the possibilities for continued research in China, as colleagues have suggested? In the discussion it was about more than just the question: undercover or not?

Mrs Timmer (PvdA): Chairman -- Adoption is a life-saving solution for a child in a desperate situation. According to UNICEF figures there are expected to be millions of orphans in 2010 due to the AIDS problem alone. It remains difficult, especially since children have no voice at all. They are much too young.

More important is to ensure, even without the possibility of a 100% guarantee - as I am aware - that any act takes place carefully, is transparent, accountable, without financial gain, etc.

That brings me to China. We will not completely address the debate between the Ministry and Mrs. Hut, with all appreciation for the role she has played for years, about the question of whether or not there was an undercover investigation. But we have from the following discussion a number of questions: Does the Minister believe further research is needed? Has he had discussions with the current interim director of "World Children" on other forms of research? If research is needed, it is useful to bring "World Children" and the other adoption organizations to the table in order to see where the bottlenecks are, but especially how we can find a way to identify and solve bottlenecks with the CCAA? I would like to receive a response from the Minister on the assertion of Ms Hut that diplomatic and economic interests prevail over the interests of children in adoption, because that statement goes far. I assume that the minister knows about this statement.

Regarding Ethiopia -- Like others, we wonder whether it is true that records are not correct. We know that Ethiopia is not a treaty country, but if "World Children" discovered this, apparently there is something wrong and we also have to do something about those issues. Has diplomacy been tried in Ethiopia and, if so, what was the outcome? If we have no treaties, we always have bilateral contacts and diplomatic consultations.

Others have already called attention to the slightly wider context. I said earlier today that you sometimes wish we in this house could also have the opportunity for a "leg-on-the-table" session. Since we do not, I realize that, but we still have to deal with the broader context of a waiting list of 6,000 people. Each year an average of 800 children are adopted in the Netherlands. Every day new people are being added to the waiting list. Now I'm not saying that we could not do more, but we have each agreed with the previous debate, including the response to a motion by Mr. Van der Staaij, that there should be more attention to foster care, because we sometimes give people hope while perhaps reality is pretty different. I ask the minister to get not only a response to the motions, but also to examine the broader context.

I am also very curious about a response from the Minister on the role of the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference, which now sits in The Hague. I always had the view that this body could do more things, but apparently not because the people and resources are insufficient. My image of them was false. It would have international significance if it could do more when things are identified that are not right.

There is already talk of international control. I suggested the last time a role to give to the UN. There could be people that are given very specific areas to oversee how it goes in the world. I have not seen any response.

Turning to the response of the Minister on the submitted motions (2009Z18045). The minister does give answers to the problems of adult adoptees that this is in the area of expertise of the "Minister for Youth and Families" and the "Secretary of Health". I am disappointed with that response, so I hope the Minister of Justice will say something about this now.

At the website of "Child and Future Foundation" (Stichting Kind en Toekomst) it states that two contacts in the United States have been terminated. Is the minister aware of this, and does he have an opinion about it? That fact surprised me somewhat.

Ms Langkamp (SP): Getting back to China. You asked the minister whether he believes that more work is needed, but what does the Labor Party think itself?

Mrs Timmer (PvdA): We all know that this is not the first time that we talk about incidents. We have already talked quite extensively about China. The Minister said that people from the ministry and the CCAA already considered incidents. I therefore strongly ask the minister: Have you talked with them again? If those problems continue, then they are probably serious and we have to look what we can do about it. But I would like to wait for the answers from the Minister, in part because it can be about things we already know about. We have to do with the one-child policy in China, and the fact that not all conditions are the same in the Netherlands as in China. That you must take into account.

Ms Langkamp (SP): I can not conceive otherwise than that you say the following: If the Minister believes that no further investigation is needed, then we accept that and so sit down. If he believes that further investigation is desirable, we find it sufficient if he again simply talks with the CCAA, which is then called "research", and if it reassures us, we will be assured also.

Mrs Timmer (PvdA): No, I am not saying that. I want to know from the minister whether any new facts relative to the research that was done last time. I have also asked questions. Mr. Van der Staaij rightly recognized that we have hardly talked about the previous letter. I would, like you, wish we could offer a 100% guarantee, but we just can't. I accept the fact that we do not have a guarantee, but these signals must be addressed. Therefore I asked you, "World Children", the interim director and other adoption organizations to sit down to bring to light the existence of any new things, or whether it simply concerns things which we already knew last year?

Mr. Teeven (VVD): Chairman -- The VVD Party thanks the minister for his letter of yesterday on the implementation of the motions. A lot of clarity was created. As for the U.S., and the part mediation, we are on the right track. Can the minister in a more timely manner, however, address the question of the second adoption agency, namely the Dutch Foundation for Adoption (NAS)? What is the progress on this point now?

The minister said that the "Child Foundation and Future" was given the same financial audit as the other six agencies. When was the last audit of "Child and Future Foundation" before? Was it last year? Was there an unqualified audit opinion? Was there a deviation in the financial statements as seen in other agencies?

The director that resigned from "World Children", Mrs. Hut, has given many of us - I think all of us - information and briefings on her findings. For the VVD party it is certain that in the treaty country China there are irregularities. I agree with Ms De Pater that you can never get 100% guarantee. That money is paid for children my party is also convinced, and also that children were forcibly transferred to orphanages. Further investigation of the minister will not prove much more of it, but that further investigation may be necessary for another reason: namely to investigate whether there is any possibility to prevent it from happening further. Does the minister have any possibilities for research in China?

Still another point is that in the whole discussion about China, it was reported that officials of the Ministry put pressure on the director of "World Children". They reportedly said that the license would be revoked if "World Children" would do its own investigations or other activities. The minister has said something about it in his subsequent replies to the written questions of the House, but now I want to hear it in direct discussion, otherwise it will be left hanging. Is the director of "World Children" of the opinion that the Minister put them under pressure - I think one of them is sitting here tonight - or not? What really happened in that conversation? Can he make it clear in these three words: "Pressure" or "No pressure"? On the one hand I hear, like other speakers at this table, that it happened. On the other hand, the ministry said that it did not happen. This type of situation we cannot have in adoptionland. For my party the conclusion regarding China is that we must consider whether the research opportunities should be increased. Can we do more in that area in the treaty country of China? I am not optimistic, so I ask other speakers. My party has not concluded, as the SP party has, that we should discontinue adoptions, despite the fact that we are convinced that there are things that should not occur, that are not in the interest of the child, that do not meet the quality framework in the Netherlands, and that we do not want. The conclusion that Mrs Langkamp draws, we do not. We believe that for now we should continue adoptions from China, because you would have to do with the principle of trust against a country that has signed this Convention. You have to be able to trust that.

Chairman: A few spokesmen are interrupting. I propose that if the interruptions are similar, we combine them in consideration of the time.

Ms Langkamp (SP): When I hear Mr Teeven correctly, he says: I take the abuses in China for granted, but I think we should continue to adopt from China. Is that correct?

Ms Azough (GL): In a way, Mr Teeven says he has no confidence in the Chinese authorities when it comes to adoption from China. It surprises me somewhat that he doesn't favor a moratorium until follow-up research can be done. He accepts that children are sent to the Netherlands based on robbery and markets?

Mr. Van der Staaij (SGP): If you so specifically acknowledge that there is evidence of irregularities and abuse, when, in the eye of the VVD party, will the moment come when you say (not just about China, but about other countries): With this country we can no longer have an adoption relationship? The VVD party in the past has supported such measures regarding Guatemala. At that time we said, "No, it can't go on anymore, now that we know what is wrong." So when can we do this, and when can't we?

Mr. Teeven (VVD): Mrs Langkamp and Mrs Azough, I say that the VVD party is not in favor of simply playing to the gallery at this table, and then perpetrate symbolic politics with no consequences. You have to clearly express yourselves as a party. Mrs Langkamp has at least done that. That is not my position, but then you know clearly what the point of view is.

We think there are incidents in China. That was even mentioned a little in the letter last September, so I also say what previous speakers and also what Mrs. Hut of "World Children" has said. The question is how big the incidents are, and whether they warrant the termination of the trust that we have with a Convention country in the treaty with China, or whether that trust outweighs the number of incidents. You can, of course, say that if one incident is proven true, we should immediately stop adopting children from China. This is not the position of my party. We are willing to make a trade-off. We also see that things are wrong in places. We do not close our eyes, but we do not, at this moment, believe we all have to stop adopting from China. That moment could come if the Minister is tells us that 60%, 40% or 20% of the cases are wrong. There are certainly things wrong. We do not deny that.

I'd rather there were not abuses, but through the the work and commitment of Mrs. Hut, with whom I often disagree, but not on this point, it is known that there certainly are abuses. Only our party does not come to the same conclusion as she has.

Ms Langkamp (SP): You just ask the minister whether there are possibilities for further research in China. You say frankly that "I do not see that there are, and we should rely only on the CCAA." Is that correct?

Ms Azough (GL): Mr. Teeven does not know how big the scale of the abuses is. That also goes for my party. I therefore call for a follow-up study. If this research can be done, then I call for a moratorium until such conclusions can be drawn. If the minister indicates that there is no further investigation possible, then consider my party in effect saying that for the time being there should be no more adoptions from China. Mr. Teeven does not. He cannot guarantee that there aren't far more incidents of abuse then have been seen so far.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): Madam Azough repeats my own words. No, I do not know. You know nothing. Nobody knows how many incidents have taken place. At this moment I am not positive about the research capabilities of the minister. He must start from the beginning of the standing treaty. But it is a balancing of various interests. My party has weighed the pros and cons which I have expressed this evening. At present there is no reason for my party to say we should stop adopting children from China. We provide clarity. That position may change, but at this moment we provide clarity. But I do have a question for the minister: Does he think that the role of government, in this case the Dutch government when we talk about treaty countries, should be larger and the role of agencies smaller? Should we leave everything to the agencies or should the role of the Government - Mrs Langkamp said this earlier and it may sound strange for a liberal party to say so - having considered all of the problems that exist in these adoptions, be bigger? Perhaps the minister believes that things are going well.

The question of Mr. Van der Staaij on the non-treaty countries I have not answered. For non-treaty countries it is a different situation. In Ethiopia and other states we have never had a relationship of trust. In each country and situation, we always review to see whether we continue to adopt from such countries. For non-treaty countries, there are greater opportunities for both the Dutch government and the agencies to do their own investigations. My question is whether the minister in Ethiopia or other countries that Mrs Langkamp already mentioned, sees possibilities for embassies, consulates and the agencies to conduct research for the Dutch government. Does he also see a more serious role for the Dutch government in the non-treaty countries? These are two different questions.

Ms Langkamp (SP): You just ask the minister whether there are possibilities for further research in China. You say frankly that you do not see that there are, and that we must rely only on the CCAA. Is that correct?

Mr. Teeven (VVD): I can be explicit. You could wonder whether you can make better use of the contacts the various agencies have in the same country. Wouldn't it be better to coordinate these contacts? Shouldn't the Dutch Central Authority cooperate more with the central authorities in other Western European countries, which also have the same ax to grind? How is the situation in other Western European countries? Is it the role of of the government as small as it is in the Netherlands? Can we not coordinate with one another? Can we do something in a European context in treaty countries and non-treaty countries?

In short: such topics will be on the agenda. But that is only addressed if you ask the seven agencies we have now, to work together. Then I'd hope we might do a lot together, maybe not. I'd like to hear that. But maybe they have to use each other's contact and know how, so they can learn the good and bad things from each other. That is my opinion.

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): Your question of whether the role of government should be bigger or smaller is a little trigger for me. There can go into two different directions with that. You can say that the previous government could say to agencies what they can and can not do. If that is so, let me know. But perhaps you think that the Government knows something better than the agencies. If that is the case, I want to hear exactly what you mean.

Chairman: Mr. Teeven, after your answer, you must conclude your speech.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): Chairman, I am only answering questions.

Mrs. Pater mentions two subjects at the same time. First, the Ministry in the case of "World Children" and her research in China said "This far and no further, Mrs. Hut. We do not want you to go do research yourself, because it affects a number of other interests othat than the interests of the child." That assessment was made by the Minister, and we can like that or not. If you leave the government's role more important, than you can step on the brakes earlier and respond to problems. I'd like to hear what the minister thinks about this.

Second, you could wonder if the government should do it herself. Would you be able to do a better job than the officials have now done in China, or that has been done in the framework of the "deel-bemiddeling" in the United States, or by the adoption agencies? Perhaps you would not have to deal with a reluctant "Child Foundation and Future", which in the United States digs their heals in.

Maybe things would run more smoothly if the government would do the mediation part with the United States. I would like to hear that.

We are still a party, so I say now to Mrs. De Pater, who says that we should not close our eyes if it turns out that the government can do it a little bit better.

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): This is about the first time I hear someone from the VVD advocate the idea that the government can do something better. That is a conclusion more than a question for me.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): No way. That remark about the VVD party was made in passing. Our party has also advocated that the taxis in Amsterdam should be in the hands of the Government again. That is, however, a whole other subject.

Chairman: We continue with the topic of this debate.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): That this is the first time we are asking for more government is not true. We do that really! We realize our mistakes, something that your party does not always do.

Mr. Anker (CU): President. We are in an meeting where not much seems to be on the agenda. At the same time, this is a very big subject. The reason is that Mrs. Hut has resigned as a director of "World Children". We are all a bit shocked. I share the respect and appreciation for the work she has done with everyone who said anything about it. It is actually not finished yet, because it allows us again tonight to ask a whole series of questions about international adoption, particularly about China.

The report of the committee Kalsbeek, which we have discussed before, states that the focus has to be on monitoring intercountry adoption to the Netherlands so that the entire chain of partners all actually act in accordance with the principles of the Hague Adoption Convention and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Then we come to the point which we are discussing today: is China acting in accordance with the actual principles of the Hague Adoption Convention or are they just saying that they are, but in actuality the CCAA does not have a grip on what is happening in the country, especially in the provinces?

I have some difficulty in saying that Beijing should get a firmer grip on its provinces, because I'm not in the internal affairs committee of China. But when seen from the interests of the child, the answer should be clear. This also applies to adoptions from Ethiopia, India or any country. The Central Authority cannot say, "Yes, the country is so large that we can't check it all." We should be able to expect from the authorities thaqt they know what is going on in their country.

The picture is clouded by the many signs of abuse that are still coming in about the adoption process. Such signals provide societal unrest. It is very important to be sure that the Minister has sufficient resources to verify the signals, to guarantee the carefulness of the adoption process.

The trust principle is the starting point of the the Hague Adoption Convention. It is a good principle. However, in several countries something has gone wrong. Shouldn't another, perhaps typical Dutch, expression, "Confidence is good, but control is better?" apply here?

Mr. Teeven (VVD): You ask in name of the Christian Union party nice questions, but what is the consequence? Do you think the minister needs to go to China himself and check things out? Or are you saying like Mrs Langkamp: that we should stop adoptions from China? Or are you saying like me: : I see the abuses but shouldn’t we continue for a while?

What is the conclusion of the Christian Union party?

The rest of the debate will be published next week.


An he Ai said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have this kind of discussion in the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, or even within international adoption agencies in the U.S.?

Thanks for passing along the narrative, Brian.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this.
For those that still believe in the power of the Hague or government in overseeing this program, please pull your head out of the sand!

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if we could have transcripts of what is really discussed at the CCAA as well.

I also am dismayed that some of the officials think any level of abuse of this system is tolerable. What exactly is the "cutoff"? 1%, 10%, 50%? These are children's lives at stake here.