Leading Article: Adoption is no crime

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The Independent Online
IN LAUNCHING yesterday's interdepartmental review of adoption law, Tim Yeo, the Under-Secretary for Health, suggested that 'common sense, compassion and a sound legal framework' should be the guide to debate. There is much good sense in the document, but it falls short of Mr Yeo's criteria when dealing with 'inter-country' adoptions.

It is, for example, hard to imagine every local council equipping itself, in these straitened times, to provide the services that might be required for such adoptions, or even arranging for them to be provided by approved adoption societies, as the report suggests. It goes on to recommend that once a more streamlined inter-country adoption process has been developed, it should be made a criminal offence to bring a child into the UK for adoption without prior authorisation from the relevant authority. A local authority should, moreover, have the power to apply for a court order authorising it to remove the child from the prospective adopters, should no authorisation have been granted by a UK adoption agency.

There are good reasons for not encouraging any sort of trade in babies, especially in desperately poor countries where youngsters may be kidnapped for sale to wealthy foreigners. Yet the motives of adopters driven abroad by the scarcity of babies at home are almost invariably honourable. A few may be less than ideal as step-parents, but in most cases common sense suggests that children will benefit from being translated from pitiable orphanages or impoverished Third World villages to reasonable homes in relatively prosperous Britain.

Take the 400 or so Romanian children rescued by Britons from orphanages when their appalling state was revealed after the 1989 revolution. Many were brought in as a result of spontaneous solo rescue missions. The idea that criminal charges should be brought against those whose compassion and longing for parenthood spurred them to action is grotesque. It is no less abhorrent to imagine the children concerned being taken into care by the local council soon after reaching the haven of a comfortable and loving British home. In that situation, help and advice may be needed, but not the full weight of the law.