In Norway, a Proposed Ban on Foreign Adoptions Rattles All Sides of a Heated Debate

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One Norwegian woman only discovered via an old letter, hidden for 50 years, that she had been taken from her Korean parents. Another was taken from her home while she was stricken with polio; a woman had arrived and said she was taking the girl to medical care but instead took her to an orphanage. Yet another woman was given up to an orphanage by a vindictive grandmother, trying to break up her son’s marriage.

In each case, the women believed for their entire lives that they had been unwanted, given up or orphaned by their biological parents. The truth, though, could not have been more different.

Theirs are but a sliver of stories that have rattled Norway’s — and, potentially, greater Europe’s — robust foreign adoptions industry. On Tuesday, one of Norway’s top policy bodies recommended a halt to all foreign adoptions amid a probe into allegations of stolen children, forged paperwork and illegal, adoption-for-profit schemes. On the same day, Denmark’s sole foreign adoption agency announced it would be winding down its own operations following similar concerns.

The recommendation in Norway, sweeping in its scope, took all sides of the adoption debate by surprise.

“The snow ball is now rolling, and in the right direction,” said Christian Strand, a leading Norwegian journalist and advocate for transparency in foreign adoptions. Mr. Strand, himself an adoptee from Indonesia, has documented several cases of irregularities in Norway’s foreign adoptions.

The announcement from Oslo is the latest development in a scandal that first came to light last year, when Norwegian investigative journalists published a report on a sweeping adoptions scheme that alleged dozens of children had been illegally taken from their biological families in countries like South Korea and Ecuador. In many cases, the children were taken from their parents under false pretenses, given fake paperwork and sold to adoptive families in Western Europe, the reports alleged.

The reporting, published in the Norwegian tabloid newspaper VG, prompted authorities in Norway to establish an investigative commission to probe the allegations. That commission, convened in 2023, is still working.

The ban, recommended by Norway’s main policy body on children and family affairs, would require the approval of Norway’s Ministry of Children and Families. On Wednesday, the ministry responded by asking for more information before instituting the recommended ban, raising concerns about the potential consequence of such a suspension.

Adoption groups have similarly urged caution, saying a prolonged stall could financially ruin the few legitimate foreign adoption agencies operating in Norway.

“We support the investigation, but a temporary ban would stop kids waiting to be adopted and families waiting to adopt them,” said Young Kim, the executive director at Verdens Barn, one of the country’s three foreign adoption agencies.

Under the recommended suspension, families who are already in the midst of an adoption process and have been assigned a child would be able to continue despite the recommended ban, but each respective case will undergo its own review, Norwegian officials said.

In Denmark, similar criticism began last November over a series of adoptions from Madagascar, in which payments were made that potentially violated the law. Sweden announced in 2021 that it was undertaking its own review of foreign adoptions from 1960 to 1990; that country halted adoptions from South Korea last fall.

The suspension in Norway, if instituted, could signal one of the most sweeping restrictions yet on foreign adoptions in Europe. It would forbid any foreign adoption, and could last as long as two years if confirmed by Norway’s Ministry of Children and Families, the official government body that oversees foreign adoptions into Norway.

Henrik Pryser Libell contributed reporting from Norway.

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In Norway, a Proposed Ban on Foreign Adoptions Rattles All Sides of a Heated Debate

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