Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Dutch Meetings in Sixty Seconds

The minutes of the Dutch Parliamentary meeting are important for the adoption community to read and understand. For years, the response to allegations of corruption has largely been, "I trust that my government will look into it. If the program is not shut down, that is evidence to me that the problems were small. I trust the Chinese government and my government, combined with the Hague Agreement, to protect my adoption from corruption."

The minutes of the Dutch meeting show the problems with such assumptions. The Dutch, in this meeting, were grappling with the resignation of the director of the largest adoption agency in the Netherlands. Ina Hut resigned due to her inability to do research to dispel or confirm accusations of wide-spread corruption in China's orphanages. She reportedly was told by the Ministry of Justice that doing independent research would threaten the "treaty relationship" that the Netherlands had with China, and if she did so her adoption license would be revoked.

So, the central question in the meeting was: If one suspects that the CCAA is not being truthful in their answers to official questions (which factually they had not been in the case of the Netherlands), what options are available for further investigation?

To date, the Dutch have done no governmental investigation into problems with China's program. Official delegations have been sent to the CCAA, questions have been asked of the CCAA, reassurances have been given. That is the extent of the "research".

As Ms. Azough so succinctly put it, "You cannot call that research."

The issues confronting the Dutch are the same issues confronting all governments involved in China adoption. Can investigations by officials of foreign governments be done inside China? Would such investigations damage important corollary relationships? These discussions should give everyone pause before asserting that world governments are actively involved in monitoring the integrity of adoption programs, especially the program of one of the most powerful nations on earth.

Lastly, the Dutch minutes show that they, like all other governments, are reactionary rather than proactive in finding problems. All of the meetings, all of the delegations sent to China, were a result of media exposes' that revealed problems. While some may deride the media, without the newspaper and television reports about problems inside China, there would be no debate about China's program. At the end of the day, it is the media, rather than governments, that bring the issues to public awareness.

Given the propensity of all politicians to repeat, reframe, obfuscate and obstruct, it has been suggested by one reader that I give a "bullet-point" synopsis of the meeting. What follows is a boiled down version of the meeting, with the important charges and questions retained. I, of course, encourage readers to read the full minutes.


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. . . .

We come to China. We have all heard to 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.

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!

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 is the ministry so docile with the CCAA?

Mrs. De Pater-van der Meer (CDA): 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.

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?

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".

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.

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?

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.

Mr. Van der Staaij (SGP): 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. . . .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.

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.

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. Teeven (VVD): 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.

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): Mr. Anker already said it himself -- If you have signed that treaty, like China and the Netherlands have done, you have to deal with the principal of trust. And then he knows as well as me that the possibilities to investigate things for yourself in those countries are extremely small, if not nil?

Minister Hirsch Ballin: I come now upon the two letters concerning the decision by Mrs Hut to quit as director of "World Children", as well as to the responses attached to them. Much is said about it. Of course it’s also based on what Mrs Hut herself has publicly stated about the reasons for her decision, along with others why she could not go along with the way which was reacted regarding an offer concerning an investigation into the abuses that allegedly occur in China. In July this year, the report about it came out in the media. In it a connection was constructed between the removal of children from parents who did not comply with the one-child policy, and the unlawfully ending up of those children in the adoption circuit. Then we immediately had questions submitted to the CCAA to see whether that message could be confirmed. The CCAA has let us know that the case has been taken under investigation.

It was asked whether Mrs. Hut was put under pressure. I want to preface my answer by saying that none of those sitting at this table, were present at that conversation. That seems to me reasonable at such a conversation. And then I assume that it refers to one and the same talk. But, as I've answered the questions of the Chamber, it is perceived that several talks have taken place. They are talking about one conversation.. It seems that it in a certain way came across from Mrs. Hut there have been various discussions. I'm discussed this in pretty much detail. With that "World Children" brought the possibility up for something like an undercover investigation into possible abuses in case of adoption. Then on the part of my ministry it was said: "That’s not the way we should and can go." I have given the reasons for that. We have a treaty relationship with certain countries. I would not leave any doubt that I consider that treaty relationship valuable. In previous consultations we have talked about complications that could result in your ending up without a treaty relationship. We are nevertheless exploring some opportunities beyond the existence of a treaty relationship, but we have always devoted ourselves to the treaty relationship and the obligations resulting from it for the states who are parties to the Convention.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): When Mrs. Hut said she was going to do an investigation and the Ministry said that this would be an undercover operation, was it then said by the Ministry the straight answer: "If you really are going to do it, you will immediately lose your license"?

Minister Hirsch Ballin: I will once more state this explicitly: We have no eye- or ear witnesses of that discussion here at the table. So I can neither say with certainty from my own knowledge about the dynamics of that conversation. But it was reported to me that the response to this idea was businesslike, and that what was said is that this does not fit in the relationships we maintain.

Ms Langkamp (SP): The Minister is still expressing his full confidence in the CCAA, but that institution has explicitly urged the Netherlands to not do any further investigation. I have namely, a letter proving this. Why does the Minister still have the fullest confidence in a investigation by the CCAA? It turned out earlier that they had got it at the wrong end of the stick, saying that there was nothing the matter. Afterwards, it turned out there was really something the matter. Why does the minister still trust the CCAA?

Minister Hirsch Ballin: You say something different than what I just said. I have said that the principle of trust between states is what counts. It’s something different when you vis-a-vis the [Dutch] government say whether or not you have the fullest confidence in the government. In the interstate relations we call each other to account on what they owe each other. That’s what we mean by the interstate trust principle. Then a situation could emerge where you must say: "Hello, there is a state that does not respect its treaty obligations."

Ms Azough (GreenLeft): I have another question, in line with that of Mrs Langkamp: I think we all have that letter from the China Center of Adoption Affairs, which was also mentioned in the “Netwerk” show. One sentence is crucial there. I was terrified by that sentence. The sentence reads: "It is better not to pursue, expand or elaborate further on this issue and to keep it secret for the related families, in order not to interrupt the association established." That language causes at least my party some concerns. I very much like to have a response from the Minister to this.

Minister Hirsch Ballin: I remember that sentence too, so I understand your question well. Let us first wait for the reports of the Inspection Youth Care. I will take care of it that you get sufficient description of the procedure that was used. That will be the case in a few weeks. I'm not trying at all to jump to conclusions. I'm just trying to do the investigation orderly.

Ms Azough (GreenLeft): What is your response to the specific sentence I just put forward?

Minister Hirsch Ballin: From this investigation we will have to learn it. I’m not jumping to conclusions. That’s also the reason I distanced myself, by interruption, to previous questions from those who thought that I would have drawn the conclusion that there is nothing wrong. Of course this is not the case, otherwise we would not investigate. That includes this sentence too.

Ms Azough (GreenLeft): I’m not that much after a conclusion of the Minister. I just ask a reaction to the fact that such phrases in a letter of the CCAA do exist.

Minister Hirsch Ballin: As you've seen, this statement is open to a certain ambiguity. That statement could mean that something has gone wrong and that it was better not to dig too much deeper and do no investigations. It could also mean that there is no absolute certainty, and therefore there is no reason to go further. That sentence also has struck me. That obvious question will be addressed either in the investigations, or in the discussions which will be conducted by the delegation under my supervision.

Mr. Teeven (VVD): Now I have told the whole story. They would have said that the license will be revoked from "World Children" if it did its own investigation. It was said that the reason for the measure was, that "other interests" played a role, and that the China-Netherlands relations could be damaged. Now, you are answering the question about commercial interests in the negative, but this was literally said so by the ministry, according to the manager of an agency.

Minister Hirsch Ballin: First, I do not know whether this is a literal quote. Moreover, as far as this text is cited, we are not talking here, if it is about relations with China, about commercial interests, but rather about the relationship from state to state. That's what it is about.

Chairman: There is still an opportunity for a second round. Please, keep it short.

Ms Langkamp (SP): Chairman, I will try to be brief. The Minister says: "Let us wait for the investigations in China and then our delegation will go there with the right investigation questions to ask to do the further investigation." Can he explain the difference with the previous investigation of the delegation which has been previously to China, and which came back with the message that nothing was wrong? If it is, namely, again boiling down to number of talks over there, I really have no confidence at all that there will be any other outcome possible, given the attitude of the CCAA to date.

Mrs. Azough (Green Left): Chairman. I’m dying to know what the investigations exactly involve. So far, the Minister is somewhat vague about it. He also says he doesn't know exactly what has been investigated. Until then, he will keep his mouth shut. I find that a bit strange, because he can very well indicate in which way the investigation was done. He does not need to give the results right away, but I can’t imagine that the methods have not been discussed. The interpretation of the phrase in the letter of the CCAA seems of great importance to me. I may hope that a very specific answer will be given in the letters that the Minister has yet to send the Chamber. Mr. Anker asked a good question: What are the limits of the principle of trust? The Minister did not address this, although this might be the core of this debate.

Mr. Anker (Christian Union): The director of the "World Children" said that she has been put under pressure and could possibly lose the license if she did her own investigation. On that, the Minister has not yet responded.

Minister Hirsch Ballin: I did not respond because I was not present at that conversation. I can very well imagine that was clearly expressed that it does not fit into the type of relationship with China, namely a relationship ruled by the treaty, that an agency is doing private investigations. The question was whether then something is said about the situation that would arise if it yet would happen despite this warning. I have the impression that Mr. Anker asked if a particular kind of improper pressure came into play. In these conversations, improper forms of pressure should never be allowed, but you can say that certain activities do not belong to what a agency ought to do, knowing that it is about a relationship between two states which should address each other as states.

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