Dekker: There will always be a risk of wrongdoing with intercountry adoption

In February, the Joustra committee concluded that, for years, the Netherlands had not acted forcefully enough against wrongdoing in adoptions into the Netherlands from abroad, because it was felt these adoptions were ‘the right thing to do’. There was forgery of documents, child trafficking, fraud and corruption. The committee also observed that vulnerabilities remain in the current system, which means that it cannot be ruled out that such wrongdoing is still an issue. Hence, Minister Dekker suspended adoptions from abroad. This suspension will remain in effect for the time being.

According to Sander Dekker,

‘We should not repeat the mistakes of the past by ignoring the vulnerabilities in the system or by glossing over them because we feel these adoptions are the right thing to do. We must now take a very careful look at the future of intercountry adoptions. The child’s interests should be the highest priority.’

As wrongdoing cannot be ruled out, we need to have a fundamental look at the future of intercountry adoption. This presents three dilemmas.


  • The child’s interests versus the vulnerabilities of the system

There is no doubt that, at an individual level, many adoptions have had a positive impact on the adopted children. At the same time, the Council for the Administration of Criminal Justice and Protection of Juveniles (RSJ) has concluded that, considered more broadly, the adoption system is not the best option to protect children. This is because the system incentivises adoptions. Having the option of intercountry adoption leads to more children being offered for adoption in children’s homes. As a result, intercountry adoption undermines the options for children to be cared for in their country of origin. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child states that caring for children in their own country is the best solution for children. An overhaul of the system would not eliminate this vulnerability.

  • Country selection versus care in own country

In the plans for a possible new system, the Netherlands will have to significantly reduce the number of countries with which it cooperates. When selecting countries, the focus will be on whether they have reliable and verifiable adoption procedures. As a result, countries will be selected that resemble the Netherlands in terms of rule of law and government. In this way, the risk of wrongdoing can be minimised. However, it is precisely these countries that should be able to provide children with sufficient care in their own country. Therefore, country selection may lead to adoptions from countries where the focus should be on caring for children in their own country. This is undesirable, as it is in the children‘s best interest to be cared for in their own country.

  • Reforming the system versus declining numbers

The transition from the current system, in which adoptions take place between private parties, to a system in which government bodies take on these tasks will require substantial investment. Not only in terms of time and money, but also in amending laws and regulations and arranging the transition of employees. At the same time, the number of children adopted from abroad has been declining for years. In the early 1980s, more than a thousand children a year were adopted into the Netherlands; in 2019, this had decreased to 145 children. And that number will fall even further if a new system is introduced where only children from a select group of countries are eligible for adoption.


Minister Dekker:

‘I want to protect children who are adopted from abroad from wrongdoing. If it is not possible to provide that protection, I feel that serious consideration should be given to ending intercountry adoption.’

Minister Dekker will elaborate on a number of questions raised by this initial review, such as which countries the Netherlands can continue to cooperate with, what would be needed for the transition to a new system and how many adoptions would still take place. In the meantime, the Minister will continue to have discussions with adoption agencies to discuss the practical implications of the suspension.