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Joustra Commission report on intercountry adoption

February 8th, 2021

Terre des Hommes Nederland supports the conclusions of the Joustra Commission report on intercountry adoption and argues that the temporary stop should lead to abolition of the practice. Terre des Hommes spoke with the Commission about adoptions from Bangladesh in the 1970s and also shared its views on intercountry adoptions.

Terre des Hommes in Bangladesh

In the 1970s, Terre des Hommes Netherlands provided emergency medical assistance, schooling and assistance with the construction of emergency shelters in Bangladesh, ravaged by civil war and natural disasters. Our then local director in Bangladesh, in addition to his employment at Terre des Hommes, was also paid by the Dutch adoption organization BIA (Bureau Interlandelijke Adoptie). In that role he coordinated adoptions. Terre des Hommes NL was aware of this but had no role in the adoption procedures. In 1977 he was accused of convincing parents to give up their child for adoption under false pretenses. The allegations implied that he had abused the confidence that these parents had in the BIA and in Terre des Hommes.

In response to renewed questions about this issue by the adoptees of this period and the investigation of the Joustra Commission, Terre des Hommes has researched and made available as much historical information as possible about our work in Bangladesh in the 1970s. We shared the report on this in September 2020 with the interest groups of the adoptees and the Joustra Commission.

Forty years later, it is difficult to determine exactly how each adoption came about. We have however found no evidence that our country director at the time misused his position as representative of Terre des Hommes. The various investigations at the time also did not confirm this. However, what we have seen is that due to the interdependence of all aid organizations and the chaotic humanitarian emergency in Bangladesh, the various international and local aid organizations worked together to assist each other at times. In a sense, Terre des Hommes was intertwined with these adoptions. For example, employees of Terre des Hommes would on occasion escort children to the Netherlands.

As a children's rights organization, we feel very involved with the adoptees who are now, more than 40 years later, struggling with uncertainty about their origin and the circumstances of their adoption. We are also aware of the families in Bangladesh who have similar questions about the fate of their adopted child, brother or sister. That is why we offered support to the interest groups of the adoptees last year. Over the next two years, we will provide financial and - if desired - practical support to their initiatives to restore contact between adoptees and their relatives with a targeted search program. We hope to be able to report more about this together with these organizations in the short term.

Abolishing intercountry adoption

We hope that the report of the Joustra Commission will contribute to the debate about the undesirability of intercountry adoption. Terre des Hommes Nederland is against intercountry adoption and has also made this known to the Commission. Of course we see the many successful adoptions. But in light of the many issues in the practice of intercountry adoption, we believe that the focus should be on strengthening youth care systems in countries of origin so that children can be cared for in their own country and culture. This is in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This convention recognizes the right of children to grow up in their own culture befitting their own identity. Intercountry adoption is not a legitimate interpretation of the duty of care that governments have towards their children. We are pleased that the Joustra Commission is taking a similar approach, as advocated in the advice of the Raad voor Straftoepassing en Jeugdbescherming. In their report “Reflection on Intercountry Adoption” (2016), the RSJ, after careful consideration of the pros and cons, also argues for the abolition of intercountry adoption.

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