Is Haiti finished as an adoption country?

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The telephones at Dutch adoption agencies have been ringing off the hook over the past two weeks. The disaster in Haiti in combination with images of Dutch adoptive parents clutching a Haitian child deeply touched many people. However, all adoptions from Haiti have been halted as of Sunday. 

Nobody knows how many Haitian children are missing, or how many have been orphaned. The current chaos and confusion brings an unacceptable risk of child trafficking. The United Nations children’s organisation UNICEF has therefore decided that unaccompanied children will be taken to special shelters where they can be kept under supervision.
 
Haitian contacts
The decision to halt all adoptions is a drastic break with Haiti’s status as an adoption country. The tiny state is second only to China in terms of the number of adoption children it provides to the Netherlands. No less than 1,000 Haitian children have been adopted by Dutch people since 1983. So why is Haiti so popular?
 
Yvonne Geelen of the Adoption Services Foundation:
 
"A relatively large number of adoption children come to the Netherlands because the country traditionally hosts many organisations acting as intermediaries. Initial contacts with Haiti established many years ago have continued to grow over the years.”
 
A contributing factor is that Haiti is one of just a few countries which do not object to one-parent families. Contrary to what one might expect, the earthquake will not spark a wave of additional adoptions, says Yvonne Geelen, even if Sunday’s total ban is revoked. 
 
"I don’t expect additional children will be made available to the Netherlands because Haiti’s infrastructure has totally collapsed, which would make it unwise to put children up for adoption."
 
Doubly traumatised
"You can trust me, I will always want to help you”. This in one of the sentences all prospective parents learned by heart before they went to pick up their adoption children from Haiti. The children were able to come to the Netherlands as the result of an accelerated adoption procedure implemented immediately after the earthquake. In many cases, these children were doubly traumatised; the fear generated by the earthquake coming on top of earlier neglect, abandonment and possibly abuse. 
 
Adoption expert René Hoksbergen does not want to stop these children from coming to the Netherlands, but warns of the possible consequences:
 
"These children belong in Haiti. And they may have relatives. To these children the Netherlands is a very complicated country, much more complicated than Haiti. These children may experience serious problems in the Netherlands, I have seen this in practice, particularly with children from Haiti."
 
Roelien Ruiter, mother of 18-year-old Alexander who came to the Netherlands a long time ago, says this is nonsense. Extraordinary circumstances, she argues, call for extraordinary measures. She made her statements in a recent edition of the Dutch current affairs programme NOVA. 
 
"At this moment, I say: let’s get as many children out of there as we can. Make sure they end up with screened foster parents or adoptive parents. But after all that’s happened, let’s just get those children out of there."
 
Better off in their own country
However, UNICEF believes there is a great risk of child theft, child trafficking and corruption in the chaos that has gripped Haiti. The children will remain in their native country, at least until it is clear how many they are, who they are, and whether their parents are really dead.  
 
And nearly all organisations and countries involved in adoption have serious reservations when it comes to international adoption. The Hague Adoption Treaty states that is better to find a solution in the country of the child’s origin. 
 
 
Most popular countries for adoption by Dutch parents
 
Top 10
1. China (299)
2. Haiti (91)
3. United States (56)
4. Colombia (51)
5. Ethiopia (50)
6. Taiwan (40)  
7. South Africa (36)  
8. Poland (28)
9. Nigeria (22)  
10.Bolivia (12)

(figures for 2008 released by the Justice Ministry)

 

Photo: A Defence Ministry plane carrying Dutch citizens caught up in the earthquake in Haiti landed at the airfield in Eindhoven on Sunday. A total of 12 people were on board: six adults and six Haitian children between three and five, five boys and one girl, who are being adopted. Five of the children were picked up at the airfield by their new Dutch parents. The adults on board are one adoptive mother and five other Dutch citizens, including two aid workers from Wereldkinderen (World Children) and the emergency hotline Mondial Assistance - ANP/ED OUDENAARDEN