Adoption and Human Rights

“Adoption should only be agreed when it is in the child’s best interests” – Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe

The Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, has issued his latest human rights comment on adoption:

“What happened to Artyom Savelev was unacceptable. The boy, now eight years old, had been adopted from Russia. His new mother, in Tennessee in the United States, had found his behaviour difficult and put him, alone, on a plane to Moscow   With him she had sent a note asking the Russian Authorities to take him back. She complained that no one had informed her about the extent of his psychological problems, and that she quite simply could not cope with what proved to be the reality.  Artyom’s case caused wide publicity in Russia and the functioning of the rules on inter-country adoptions are now being reviewed at the highest level. The result will have to be firmer protection of the principle that adoption is a child protection measure and that children’s rights have to be fully protected and promoted throughout the adoption process.” – from  “Adoption should only be agreed when in the child’s best interests” (May 12, 2010)

There are alternatives

Not all orphaned children need adoption, the vast majority of them are cared for by their extended family or close community. Also, not all children in collective centres and other residential facilities are “abandoned,” a sizeable proportion of them are placed there temporarily. Generally less than 10 per cent of children in so-called “orphanages” are true orphans.

More and more countries are deciding that they themselves are able to look after most of their children who have lost parental care, often with the exception of those deemed hard-to-place: children with disabilities or serious illnesses, sibling groups and older children. These children “with special needs” are indeed also hard to place in European and other industrialised nations.

At the same time, the number of couples and others in Western countries who are seeking to adopt continues to grow. Most of them, quite naturally, would like to adopt babies or young children who are as healthy as possible. Relatively few are both willing and able to take on the potentially more difficult task of caring for children with special needs.

The result of these contrasting realities is an increasingly unsatisfied “demand” for babies and toddlers. This has important ramifications for intercountry adoption. One is that a child’s particular needs or problems may be hidden from the prospective adopters or the latter may agree, in the absence of healthy adoptable babies, to care for a “special needs” child although they are not sufficiently prepared or equipped to do so. In such instances there are significant risks of breakdown, especially if little or no post-adoption support is available.

Risk that demand is exploited

Furthermore, there are unscrupulous agencies, “orphanages,” officials and other parties which engage in the lucrative business of procuring babies and young children for adoption, creating an artificial pool of such children to meet the demand.

To counter such tendencies it is essential to enforce the international standards which have been drawn up to ensure that the adoption process is carried out in a way that respects children’s best interests and rights – and thereby the rights of birth parents and adopters as well. The 1993 Hague Convention codifies intercountry adoption procedures and a 2009 Council of Europe Convention deals with national adoption.

Fundamental to these standards is that, when adoption is to be considered, the child’s best interests are paramount, and that intercountry adoption should only take place if all efforts to find a suitable care setting for the child in his or her own community and country have failed.

Agreed standards must be enforced

These safeguards are vital to make certain that children are only adopted for the right reasons and in the right ways, and as such they must be systematically promoted, respected and enforced.

For more information, contact:

Commissioner for Human Rights
Council of Europe
F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France
Tel: +33 3 88 41 20 00; Fax: +33 3 90 21 50 53

ACT – Against Child Trafficking


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