Adoption Bill enforces Hague Convention

 

THE GOVERNMENT says newly published adoption legislation will provide uniform standards of child protection for the approximately 400 intercountry adoptions completed each year.

The Adoption Bill 2009 gives force of law to the Hague Convention, the main international statute governing intercountry adoptions. Ireland signed the convention in 1993, but has yet to ratify it.

The new Bill also consolidates all existing laws on adoption into a single piece of legislation, and establishes the Adoption Authority of Ireland with expanded powers to replace the Adoption Board.

Minister for Children Barry Andrews, who launched the Bill yesterday, said children’s interests would be paramount at all times in the adoption process.

“The Government’s aim in bringing forward this piece of legislation is to support and protect prospective parents and, even more importantly, the children for whom adoption services are devised and provided.”

The Hague Convention safeguards the fundamental rights of children in intercountry adoptions, in both their country of birth and the country of adoption. Further safeguards aim to prevent the abduction, sale and trafficking of children for adoption.

Once the Bill becomes law, it will be possible to adopt children only from countries that have ratified the Hague Convention, or countries with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement. This means Irish parents will no longer be able to adopt from Russia and Ethiopia, which do not have agreements with Ireland and have not ratified the convention, unless agreements are drawn up before the Bill is enacted.

Mr Andrews said his officials were working to “assess the possibility” of entering bilateral agreements with countries such as Vietnam, Ethiopia and Russia.

Some 4,600 children have come to Ireland under intercountry adoptions since 1991, with about 1,400 of these coming from countries not covered by the Hague Convention or bilateral agreements. The Bill reflected the fact adoption had changed greatly since it was legislated for in the 1952 Adoption Act, the Minister said.

At that time, and until the 1990s, the vast majority of children adopted in Ireland were Irish. However, since attitudes softened towards lone parents, such adoptions were relatively rare and most adoptions in Ireland today were intercountry.

The Minister acknowledged the 15-year delay in ratifying the convention, but said the drafting of the Bill had been a lengthy and complex process. This had the advantage of allowing Ireland to benefit from the experience of other western countries which ratified it before us. Under the Bill, adopting parents will have to show they are of good moral character, healthy and of adequate financial means before their adoption is approved. While no upper age limit is included, there must be a reasonable expectation adoptive parents will be able to fulfil their parental duties until the child turns 18.

They must also value and support the child’s needs in relation to his or her identity and ethnic, religious and cultural background.

Applicants must be married and living together or a single person who can show the adoption is desirable and in the child’s best interests.

No provision is made for adoption by same-sex couples or other cohabiting units. Children must be aged at least six weeks before being placed for adoption.

Their mother must be furnished with a written statement explaining the effect of an adoption order on her rights, and their father must be consulted.

Mr Andrews rejected calls for a “grandfather clause” which would allow parents who have already adopted a child from a country not covered by the Hague Convention or a bilateral agreement to adopt a subsequent child from the same country. “Allowing some individuals to adopt from a country simply because they’ve adopted from there before would create a double standard and a dilution of the standards which must apply all the time,” he said.

The Bill is likely to take a year before it comes into law.