In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, four Croatian couples are on trial for child trafficking, but Slovenians are also interested in adoption there. We spoke to two who backed down after the affair broke out.
Today, the trial of eight Croatians accused of child trafficking continues at the High Court in Ndola, Zambia’s third largest city. According to their own words, they actually wanted to adopt them in the neighboring country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Slovenian couples also wanted to expand their families. We got in touch with one of them, who abandoned his plans precisely because of the experience of our southern neighbors.
The court approved the adoption
The drama of the untried Croatian adoptive parents aged 36 to 52 – the guitarist of the punk rock band Hladno pivo, popular here, too – began on December 7 last year, when they took over children from an orphanage in the DR Congo in Zambia. The court there approved the adoptions, and on the basis of these documents, the children were previously granted citizenship and thus passports in Croatia. But four couples were detained at Ndola airport, as was an immigration officer, and their children, aged between one and three, were taken from them. It is not clear how and with which documents they crossed the Congo-Zambia border – their adoptive parents had Croatian documents.
Gauthier Luyelaresponsible for child protection at the Congolese Ministry of Family, said that since 2017, according to the law on family law adopted at the time, foreigners cannot adopt their children, or that they will be able to do so only after they establish a state agency for adoption . “I don’t know how our court could grant them adoption,” he also said. On top of that, the DR Congo is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Protection and Cooperation in Intercountry Adoptions, which makes the latter all the more complicated.
Some European countries have stopped issuing entry visas
But Luyela’s astonishment at how the court approved the adoption should be taken with a grain of salt. A well-informed source told Reuters years ago that there is a thriving black market in adoptions in DR Congo, a lucrative business for government officials, judges, lawyers and orphanages. Since the children do not get an exit visa, the smugglers then transported them to Zambia, Ethiopia or Rwanda, where they were taken in by their adoptive parents. In the United States alone, at least 80 children from the DR Congo are said to have been sold this way in two years. A few European countries, including France, Belgium and Italy, therefore stopped issuing entry visas to them some time ago.
After the outbreak of the scandal, the Croatian government ordered an extraordinary control over the work of the municipal courts in Varaždin and Zlatar, but the inspection from the Ministry of Justice did not find any irregularities in the confirmation of documents from the court in the DR Congo.
The eight defendants, who were jailed for 65 days and then allowed to defend themselves on bail of $1,000 each, have insisted in the high court, where the trial was moved because of the international impact, that they had no part in trafficking in children, and that they have all valid Croatian documents. Deputy Head of Immigration Office at Ndola Airport Mary Phiri testified in their favor that they had not broken any law in Zambia. According to some information, the children were transported from the orphanage to Zambia by an employee of the DR Congo consulate.
Five hundred dollars in advance
In the five and a half months since the Croats have been in Africa, another one of their compatriots adopted a girl from the same orphanage in DR Congo. “She authorized the local woman, who has a company in Croatia, to take over the child with already arranged Croatian documents, and together they left the country without any problems,” the portal 24sata reported. In this orphanage, seven children, also with Croatian passports, are said to be waiting to be handed over to adoptive parents in “their beautiful”.
The adoption process in the DR Congo was explained to us by an early middle-aged couple from Ljubljana. First of all, they made contact with couples in Croatia who have either already adopted children or are planning to adopt them in the near future, most of them are connected on social networks. There, they learned about the address of the orphanage in the DR Congo, from which all Croats were supposed to get their children, and also that everything would cost them between 20,000 and 25,000 dollars. The largest part of the amount is said to go to the lawyer and other intermediaries. “We had to pay them five hundred in advance to the head of the orphanage,” they said. A case of Emmanuel Kabongawho reportedly ran away after the affair began.
Our interlocutors then planned to register in the Slovenian civil registry, but they withdrew from the adoption due to recent events. If they didn’t, they might suffer the same fate as the Croats, and they too would most likely be left to fend for themselves.
From Africa and Ukraine
We contacted the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities for an opinion on adoption in the DR Congo, but they replied that the procedures and potential complications there “we can’t comment because we don’t know them”. Strange, given the high profile of the case and the already mentioned fact that quite a few European countries do not issue entry visas to children from this country.
However, they provided us with general information regarding adoption procedures from abroad. “In Slovenia, there is a disproportion between the number of children that are given up for adoption and the number of couples or individuals who want to adopt a child. It is precisely because of this disparity between the number of children and the number of candidates for adoption that there is also a trend in Slovenia for adoption procedures from abroad . A similar trend is observed in most European countries, which, like Slovenia, are in the vast majority of countries accepting children. In recent years, most adoptions from abroad have been from some countries in Africa, Ukraine, a few years ago there were a lot of adoptions from the Russian Federation.” they wrote down. “Regardless of whether applicants want to adopt a child from the Republic of Slovenia or from abroad, the process of consideration by the Slovenian authorities is the same. Couples or individuals submit a written application to the social work center that they wish to adopt a child. The social work center checks the fulfillment formal conditions and evaluates the possibilities and suitability for adoption and, based on these findings, forms an opinion about the adopter, which is crucial in the adoption process, even if it concerns the adoption of a child from abroad.”
There is no interest in North Macedonia
They continue, it is possible to adopt a child from countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention on Adoption – Slovenia has been since 2002 – and it is considered that the country of the child determines the conditions and procedure of adoption. It therefore decides which child can be adopted at all, and if it can be adopted in a foreign country. The country of the child also decides which documents need to be prepared and in what form, if a foreigner wants to adopt a child from their country. If an adoption takes place abroad, the act of adoption is issued by the competent authority in the country of the child, and in Slovenia it must be recognized by our court so that it has the same legal effect as a domestic court decision. In cases where a couple or an individual wishes to adopt a child from a country that is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Adoptions, they must contact the competent authorities of the country from which they wish to adopt the child; of course, even in these cases, he must go through the process of determining suitability for adoption according to Slovenian legislation, i.e. at the center for social work.
At the same time, the ministry warns: “If candidates themselves go abroad for adoption procedures (after obtaining an opinion from the competent center for social work that they are suitable candidates), the risks are certainly greater, including for example whether the competent authorities of the child’s country have really determined that the child can adopt and that there is no possibility that the child can be properly taken care of in the home country and that it is available for intercountry adoption, the financial aspect of adoption, which may not cover only the actual costs of the process, etc. In case of any doubt regarding the origin of the child, we it is the duty of everyone, but especially state authorities, to report such circumstances to the police.”
In 2008, the agreement on intercountry adoptions between the governments of Slovenia and North Macedonia entered into force. During this entire period, more than 50 applications for adoption were forwarded to North Macedonia, but in most cases the candidates withdrew them over time, as very few were realized: “Recently, Slovenian citizens have not shown much interest in adopting children from North Macedonia, which is probably the result of the difference between the number of applications for adoption and the number of children available for adoption, the preference of Macedonian citizens in adoption, and the preferences of adopters regarding children, that we would like to adopt.”