Welcoming remarks: „Intercountry Adoption is still an Option!“
Welcoming remarks by Dr. Birgit Grundmann, State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice, at the EurAdopt Open Day Conference: “Intercountry Adoption is still an Option” on 27 April 2012 in Berlin.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased that you are holding this year’s meeting and the “Open Days” in Berlin, and hope that you got the conference off to a good start yesterday.
I would like to welcome you most warmly to Berlin. You have made an excellent choice not only in deciding to hold your meeting in the capital city but also in choosing this conference venue. The French Friedrichstadt-Church, known colloquially in German as the Französicher Dom, is a historic building that even in its early days served as an international meeting place. The Huguenots, who were permitted to settle in Berlin by the Edict of Potsdam issued in 1685, built the church as their place of worship. But, of course, fellow believers from other foreign countries and Germany also participated in congregational life. Approximately 6,000 French religious refugees were said to have immigrated to Berlin at that time, and they influenced the cultural and political life of this city.
I hope that in your free time and after the conference you will have the opportunity to explore our beautiful capital. Many interesting parts of Berlin are within easy reach of the Gendarmenmarkt – also by foot. Incidentally, the Federal Ministry of Justice in Mohrenstraße is also just a stone’s throw from here.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The abbreviation “EurAdopt”, under which Western European organisations working in intercountry adoptions formed an alliance almost two decades ago, is probably a bit of a trade secret. This is actually a pity as the organisation plays an important role in intercountry adoption matters. It supplements the legal framework provided by national laws and international conventions on international adoption, and rounds this framework off.
The positive impact that EurAdopt has in the field of intercountry adoption becomes clear when one looks at the approach and objectives of this association:
• It promotes direct communication and co-operation in the field of intercountry adoption, without a large and costly organisational framework.
• In cases of intercountry adoption it quite rightly has a strong focus on the child's best interests.
• It develops common ethical rules that should be adhered to when arranging intercountry adoptions.
• It promotes co-operation between member States and recognised, independent adoption agencies.
• It facilitates the sharing of expertise on intercountry adoptions and on related matters.
• And it advocates further development of the legislation governing adoption and child protection.
Given the importance of these matters, it is good to hear that the number of members of EurAdopt has been steadily increasing over the past twenty years. I hope that this positive development will continue.
Looking at the situation as a whole, I believe that the independent organisations, which are members of EurAdopt, are an important factor in intercountry adoption. They possess special expertise which makes it possible for adoptive parents to adopt children even from countries where circumstances are difficult.
Firstly, they go to great effort to find suitable parents for children from foreign countries. And, secondly, they invest a great deal in ensuring that only those children are adopted who really need a new home in a foreign country. In order to do this, they build up a stock of knowledge not only with regard to the respective legal systems but also with regard to the customs and traditions of the child's country of origin. They foster and maintain contacts with trustworthy agencies in these countries in order to be able to arrange an orderly adoption in an often problematic environment.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The title of your “Open Days” is “Intercountry Adoption is still an Option”. In my opinion, this title is missing a certain punctuation mark, and with this I mean an exclamation mark and not a question mark.
Intercountry adoption should, and must, be an option also in the future. It fulfils an important function, because, in many countries of the world, there are still children who have no family, or whose parents – for a variety of reasons – are not able or willing to look after them.
Apart from young children, I am thinking, in particular, of those who have been living in children’s homes for years, or who have special needs because they are disabled.
These children should be given the opportunity to grow and develop in a family unit and to mature into individuals. Intercountry adoption can help achieve this.
However, in each case of intercountry adoption it is imperative that the child’s best interests have absolute priority. After all, the primary purpose of adoption is not to enable prospective parents to fulfil their desire to have children but to place children with suitable adoptive families. This special emphasis on the child's best interests is clearly enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 and in the Hague Adoption Convention of 1993.
The evaluation of the child’s best interests must be guided by several basic principles:
1. An intercountry adoption should only take place if the child cannot be integrated into a new family in his or her country of origin.
2. Specialised bodies should be involved in the intercountry adoption process in order to ensure that the prospective parents and child are suited to each other and that the parents are also suited to adopting a child from the particular country of origin.
3. And it is important not to allow financial gain to play any role in intercountry adoption.
We are all aware that intercountry adoptions in practice are still quite far removed from this ideal.
There are problems with so-called private adoptions. In some cases, it is doubtful whether an adequate assessment has first been made of whether the child can be placed in its own country. Sometimes there are shortcomings in the adoption procedure in the foreign country. The matching process to find the most suitable parents for a particular child often falls short. Entering and leaving the country is frequently a problem both for the parents and the child. And, ultimately, the costs of intercountry adoptions, including “post-adoption follow-up”, are so high that only the well-off can afford one.
However, it seems to me that these problems can be solved. And the dialogue between independent organisations, which EurAdopt is continuing here in Berlin, can play an important role in this.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The issue of intercountry adoption is and will remain an important issue at the Federal Ministry of Justice. We are working with the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs and the Federal Ministry of the Interior in this field as part of an inter-ministerial working group. Various issues are being addressed by this working group, and I would like to share a few of them with you today:
1. We are looking into ways of ensuring that, in future, intercountry adoption can only be arranged with the involvement of specialised bodies.
2. The system in place for adoption must be effective and appropriate. In Germany, intercountry adoption organisations are accredited by the regional youth welfare offices; however these authorities can, at the same time, also offer adoption placement services themselves. Whether this dual function is a good idea, is something we are currently examining.
3. Placements of children from contracting States of the Hague Adoption Convention and from non-contracting States should be subject to the same procedure, and this consistency must be monitored. In Germany, responsibility for the State supervision of adoption matters lies with different authorities, depending on whether a contracting or a non-contracting State is concerned.
We are therefore asking ourselves whether it might not be more effective to establish a single centre of competence for contracting and non-contracting States.
4. The fourth aspect that is being addressed by the working group concerns the costs: In Germany, the costs of intercountry adoptions are not tax-deductible. Unlike in other countries, Germany does not support the independent organisations through “base funding” either. However, the situation of adoptive parents could soon improve. At the Federal Finance Court – the supreme court in tax matters – a case is currently pending on the question of whether the costs of an intercountry adoption can be deducted from income as special expenses.
5. And finally: In nationality law we have seen difficulties with the acquisition of German nationality through so-called “weak” intercountry adoptions. This problem could be resolved by clarification of the law.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You will be addressing some of these issues I have just referred to in the course of this conference: such as how to deal with private adoptions, and the issue of financial independence of independent organisations. It is, of course, unlikely that you will develop any patent remedies today, but the discussion will most certainly move us a step closer to finding solutions to these problems.
So – with this in mind – I wish you every success with your deliberations.
Thank you very much!