The shocking murder of 8-year-old Engeline in Denpasar, Bali, and the naming of her adoptive mother as a suspect have spurred calls for a review of Indonesia's adoption laws. (Antara Photo/Fikri Yusuf)

Activists Say Awareness Key to Safer Child Adoptions as Debate Heats Up

BY :ANDREYKA NATALEGAWA

JULY 06, 2015

Jakarta. Child welfare activists have called for greater awareness and adherence to formal adoption laws, as public debate on the adoption of Indonesian children by foreign citizens continues in the wake of high-profile child abuse cases.

“Regulations already exist. The law is in place. But what’s happening now is the regulation is not implemented,” said Samsul Ridwan, secretary general of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak).

“The lack of proper implementation  leads to adoptions that ultimately harm children,” Samsul said on Wednesday.

Samsul's comments come in the wake of the tragic murder of an 8-year-old girl in Bali, whose death has sparked debate on child adoption policies.

Engeline, who was adopted by an Indonesian woman and her American partner, was found dead in the backyard of her foster mother’s home in Denpasar, Bali, on June 8.

According to a statement released by Social Services Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa, Engeline’s adoptive parents had skipped official procedures for child adoption, bypassing legal channels for intercountry adoption.

The process involves numerous requirements, including clauses mandating that prospective adoptive parents be residents of Indonesia for over two years, and be married for a minimum of five years. 

Child adoption involving foreigners also requires paperwork from relevant foreign embassies, and final approval by an Indonesian court. 

“What happened in Engeline's case was an illegal adoption, because it didn’t go through these procedures,” said Samsul. "Proper procedure requires the input of various government teams, who make decisions on adoption petitions on a case-by-case basis."

'Moratorium not necessary'

The rigorousness of existing adoption laws means that radical change may not be necessary, argue child protection activists in response to recent calls to outright ban the adoption of Indonesian children by foreign citizens.

"Indonesia already has regulations for the adoption of local children by foreign nationals,” Samsul said. "As long as we follow these regulations properly, I don’t think we’ll see foreign adoptions that end up harming children."

Komnas Anak's findings come in direct conflict with recent statements made by Asrorun Niam Soleh, head of the Commission of Children Protection (KPAI), who believes that Engeline's case indicates the need for a ban on intercountry adoptions.

In a statement delivered on June 30, Asrorun proposed a moratorium on the practice, stating that they should only be conducted as a last resort, “especially... by foreigners.”

Asrorun further noted that adoptions by foreigners “hurt the country’s dignity," as the national constitution places child welfare under the sole purview of the Indonesian government. 

However, child protection activists believe that halting legal adoption processes by foreigners could lead to greater complications.

Rien Tjipto Winoto, head of the Sayap Ibu Foundation, believes that preventing foreigners from legally adopting Indonesian children could result in an increased number of illegal adoptions, as in the Engeline case.

“If this one channel is closed, what are families going to do? If official intercountry adoption is halted, we will face issues where these activities come unaccountable, and no one can take responsibility.”

"If this channel is shut, we won’t be able to control where adoptions happen. So when people say that intercountry adoption should banned, we cannot agree,” added Rien. 

Established in 1955, the Sayap Ibu Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides transnational adoption services, a responsibility granted by the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs.

“We are already very aware of the risks of intercountry adoption, which is why regulations are so strict. They already work in accordance with government guidelines,” said Rien.

 “We must remain dutiful in following procedures if we wish to ensure child safety."

Increasing awareness

According to representatives from Komnas Anak, obstacles in implementing proper adoption practices arise out of a lack of knowledge among Indonesians on existing laws.

“The recent case of Engeline has shown us that, within Indonesian communities, we see many cases of adoptions that are illegal, or not in accordance with regulations that already exist,” said secretary general Samsul.

"Indonesia already has many laws regarding the adoption of children. But often, these measures are bypassed, not because the methods of verification are inaccurate, but because the public doesn’t understand proper procedure."

“We want all parties involved in intercountry adoption to follow regulations properly, to follow laws properly. But in order to do this, the public must understand the law. It is the responsibility of the government to make sure this happens,” Samsul added.

A lack of awareness  has led to low rates of child registration, as parents remain reluctant to report the births of their children to the government.

According to data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), only 55 percent of Indonesian children under the age of 5 were registered in 2010, meaning that over 10 million children remained unaccounted for by the government.

Children who are not officially registered remain in danger of falling through the cracks, facing greater risk of being trafficked and sexually exploited, forced into marriage and exploited for child labor.

Unicef findings note that reluctance to officially register children with government agencies is borne out of concerns regarding costs and a lack of information on the benefits of registration. 

In preventing further abuses of adoption processes, Samsul recommends a strengthening of child registration methods.

“We do not want any more cases where a woman is pregnant and the only person who knows is her partner. We need to be able to identify these cases and prepare to formally document births as soon as they happen,” Samsul said.

“If we can do this, the risk of human trafficking and illegal adoption should dramatically decrease."

Meanwhile, the protection of transnational adoption through enhancing public understanding of the law is an issue that impacts both foreigners and Indonesians, said Sayap Ibu Foundation’s Rien.

“When it comes to intercountry adoption, it isn’t always just a case of two foreigners wishing to adopt an Indonesian child. More often, it is a case of a foreign spouse wishing to adopt their Indonesia’s partner’s child; this is also considered intercountry adoption."

“If this pathway is closed, we will be harming Indonesia’s own families. We must remember that Indonesian citizens who marry foreigners also have the right to properly raise their children,” Rien concluded.

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