Swiss regret failure to stop illegal adoptions from Sri Lanka

A total of 881 adoptions from Sri Lanka were approved in Switzerland between 1973 and 1997. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP, REUTERS) - Swiss authorities voiced deep regret on Monday (Dec 14) for failing to prevent adoptions from Sri Lanka for two decades despite indications of illegal practices. They vow to help adoptees to search for their origins.

"The Federal Council (Swiss government) expresses its sincere regret to those adopted and their families," Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter was quoted by the ATS news agency as saying.

A fresh government report has acknowledged the failures of Swiss authorities, at both the federal and cantonal level, to react to information starting in the 1970s indicating illegal and exploitative adoptions of Sri Lankan children were taking place.

A study by Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in February found that nearly 11,000 Sri Lankan children had for decades been provided for adoption across Europe through organised and often illegal means.

Swiss authorities learned of the irregularities surrounding adoptions from Sri Lanka no later than 1981, but nothing was done to stop the practice until 16 years later.

The ZHAW study found that a total of 881 adoptions from Sri Lanka were approved in Switzerland between 1973 and 1997.

The study described how babies and young children were produced for adoptions through "baby farms", with Swiss parents willing to pay between 5,000 and 15,000 Swiss francs (between S$7,500 and S$22,500) for a child.

The birth mothers meanwhile often received no more than a few dollars or even just a Thermos in compensation, the study said.

The Swiss government said in a statement that it "acknowledges the misconduct of the authorities at the time".

"Despite early and clear indications of illegal adoption placements in Sri Lanka, the Confederation and the cantons waited far too long before taking the appropriate action against the irregularities."

The government said it realised "the negligence of the authorities has marked the lives of adults adopted as children to this day".

Voicing regret that authorities failed to shoulder their responsibility to the children, it vowed to "provide greater support in future to the persons concerned in their search for their origins".

The government also said it intended to conduct a broader historical analysis of illegal adoptions in Switzerland to compliment the ZHAW study and probe whether there had also been "systemic irregularities" linked to adoptions from other countries.

And it said it was creating a group of experts to "examine the current system in order to identify any remaining weaknesses in the organisation, responsibilities and procedures for adoption".

"If the analysis reveals shortcomings, the Federal Council will propose appropriate legislative amendments," it said.

The issue came to light after a Dutch television documentary in 2017 reported that thousands of Sri Lankan children were given up for adoption, often illegally, in European countries over the course of several decades.

The Dutch government also responded to the television expose by creating a special investigative commission that is due to deliver a conclusive report in February 2021, after delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The commission has examined adoptions from Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the 1980s and possible involvement of Dutch government personnel in any alleged fraud.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.