Tighter control on adoptions to be rushed in

It will become a crime, punishable by imprisonment, for adults to bring children into the country without official approval
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The Independent Online

Tough curbs on couples who import children for adoption without going through proper checks in this country are to be rushed through by the Government to stop a repeat of the internet twins debacle.

Tough curbs on couples who import children for adoption without going through proper checks in this country are to be rushed through by the Government to stop a repeat of the internet twins debacle.

It will be made a criminal offence for couples to bring children to this country without the approval of adoption authorities in England and Wales. Penalties will be three months' imprisonment or a fine of up to £600.

The case of the twin sisters bought via the internet by Alan and Judith Kilshaw is due to go to the High Court this week after the intervention of Flint- shire county council, which seized the children and passed them on to foster carers.

Yesterday, proceedings were started to make the twin sisters, Belinda and Kimberley, wards of court. This would place them formally in the care of the British legal system, and could prevent further intrusive reporting of the case.

Ministers privately have been advised by their lawyers that it is likely they will be returned to America if it is proved their mother, Tranda Wecker, gave false evidence to the Arkansas court to enable a "quickie" adoption to go through in the US. "If she committed perjury, the adoption collapses," said a ministerial source.

George W Bush, the US President, will be urged to conduct a major reform of US adoption law in the wake of the case.

Conna Craig, who helped the Bush campaign team write its policy document, Strong Families, Safe Children, wants the administration to draw up a uniform law to ensure that adoption is regulated in the same way across the US.

The Kilshaws had travelled to Arkansas to have the adoption formalised. The home state of former president Clinton enables a birth mother to have her child put up for adoption there if she has lived in the mid-western state for just 30 days. The cooling-off period between the handover and final decision is only 10 days.

Last night Ms Craig, head of the Institute for Children, the Boston-based research organisation, said: "There is a clear case for a uniform adoption Act in the US. We need a lot more accountability. There is inertia within the system, and there has been an oversight in the lack of accreditation of facilitators in some states."

Ms Craig said that she, like many people in America, had been shocked by the Kilshaw case. "We need far more regulation. There has been a black market for children developing, and until now people have not wanted to talk about it." She rules out banning internet agencies, however, and wants adoption to be made simpler and less bureaucratic, although tightly regulated.

New laws coming into force in England and Wales in April mean that adoptive parents will have to be approved in this country with a full home study report, probably by their local authority social services, before adopting children from abroad.

Downing Street denied suggestions that it was climbing on a bandwagon by implementing the new safeguards. A spokes- man for the Prime Minister said last night that the Government was introducing powers passed in 1999 when Britain ratified the Hague convention on intra-country adoption.

Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, said: "Adoption is a service for children. It is not a service for adults. We want more children to be adopted. It is why we are reforming the system to make it fairer and faster. In doing so, the interests of the child will always come first."

The US is also in the process of implementing the convention. Cecile Bledsoe, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Arkan- sas, said as a result of the scandal she was proposing urgent legislation to crack down on the state's relaxed adoption laws. She said the state was considered a "soft touch" for adoption.

"I think this is giving our state a bad image," she said. "We have decided there is a need to revise our adoption laws," she told BBC Radio 5.

Meanwhile, couples will have to wait until after the election for reform of Britain's adoption laws, despite promises of action when the Government published its White Paper on adoption before Christmas.

Tony Blair last week promised swift action when he came under pressure from William Hague to adopt a private members' Bill by Caroline Spelman, shadow health minister, to implement the Government's own adoption White Paper.