Strasbourg, 30 November 2009
Embargo until delivery / check against delivery
“Hello, would you like to adopt me?”
That is what a little boy called Mondo would ask the people he met.
“There were people who would have liked to because Mondo seemed a nice little boy, with his bright-eyed, round face. But it was difficult. They could not just adopt him like that, straightaway” writes French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature, in his story Mondo.
Le Clézio was right not to reduce adopting a child to the result of a mere whim, whether on the part of the adoptive parents or of the child.
As he so rightly expressed, you cannot adopt “just like that, straightaway”. There are rules to be complied with and responsibilities towards the child.
That is precisely the reason why we are here today: to have an exchange of views on these rules and responsibilities and on how our societies can best provide a loving family to the high number of children who, like Mondo, are without parental care.
Let me be clear. There is no right to adoption for parents looking for children. There is however a right of the child to a family. The prime objective of adoption should therefore be to give a child a family and not to give a family a child. The child’s best interest should be the primary concern for both the adoptive parents and the bodies in charge of adoption.
The Council of Europe has been addressing adoption issues since the early 1960s. We started in 1967, with our first Convention on Adoption. It influenced the domestic law of Contracting States in Western Europe through a minimum of essential principles of adoption practice.
Since 1967, important social and legal changes have taken place in Europe. The notion of the family is not the same today as it was back then. Our
societies have changed. So we sat down and revised our convention in 2008 in order to address these changes. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose 20th anniversary was celebrated last week, was our guiding light. The best interests of the child became the backbone of the revised convention. The child, the main actor in the adoption arena, was given a voice in the adoption procedure: his/her consent became in any event necessary as of the age of 14. Another important feature in this respect is the possibility for the adopted child to have access to his/her identity.
During the revision process, we could not go as far as we would have liked to on a number of sensitive and controversial issues. But I am convinced that the revised Convention improves substantially the procedure for child adoption. It makes it more transparent, efficient and, most importantly, resistant to abuse.
One of the sessions today will focus on adults in the adoption process and who can adopt. A major improvement brought by the revised Convention is the requirement of the consent of both of the mother and the father of the child to the adoption. Another improvement, optional though, for Contracting Parties, is the possibility to apply the Convention to same-sex couples who are living together in a stable relationship. I am sure that each of us in this room has a different idea of what a child’s best interest is in that context. In many countries, children are removed from their families because they are poor, illiterate, homeless. In many countries, same sex couples are not allowed to adopt, whereas singles can. I am convinced that the discussions on this topic will be lively and fruitful and this is exactly the role of the Council of Europe: to advance human rights by overcoming the obstacles created by different approaches, opinions and legal systems.
Let me share with you my personal conviction in that regard. I believe that there are many things that social services and society can give to a child: education, health, care, food. There is however something that children rarely get from institutions but should always get from their parents and this is love, protection and respect. And that is not exclusive to married, rich or educated mothers and fathers.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Convention has been signed by eleven States and we are expecting two more signatures today. I trust that ratifications will follow shortly. Children without parental care need a solid national and international legal framework which excludes any risk of abuse or even trafficking.
A solid legal framework for adoption at national level paves the way for a stronger legal framework for inter-country adoption.
Tomorrow, we will focus on inter-country adoption. I should like to share a personal experience with you in that respect. Some years ago, I was invited to take part in a televised debate for a major television channel in France. When asked what I thought about French nationals adopting child victims of the Tsunami, I favoured the approach of exhausting all suitable solutions within the country, indeed the community, of origin before considering inter-country adoption. The day after the debate, I started receiving messages from colleagues and French citizens expressing their agreement or disagreement with my views. Amongst those messages was an extremely aggressive and anonymous letter from a person who had adopted a child from abroad and who accused me of depriving children from abroad of suitable homes and loving families.
Let me explain again: in many cases, legislation alone cannot determine the best interests of each individual child in each specific situation. That is why, in my opinion, decisions on children’s future must be based upon the widest possible choice of options, if their best interests are to be fully respected. Children like Mondo deprived of family homes deserve no less than this. The Council of Europe considers inter-country adoption as a valid option, particularly when it offers a permanent family environment to children that otherwise would face long-term placement in institutions. Provided, and I insist, that the best interests of the child is respected and that international conventions are implemented.
Finally, I should like to underline the co-operation between the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the Hague Conference as well as the United Nations. My special thanks go to the European Commission for their generous support in the organisation of this Conference. I firmly believe that on such a sensitive issue as adoption, with such a direct impact on the lives of so many children, it is essential that our message is the same: that the interests of the child always come first.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Council of Europe is very committed to the protection of children’s rights. May this Conference add a new stone to the building of a Europe for and with children.
I thank you for your attention.