By Aurora Weiss
VIENNA, 31 May 2023 (IDN) — A case that may implicate Croatian bureaucrats came to light in December 2022 when an alert immigration officer at Zambia’s Ndola airport detained eight Croatian citizens on suspicion of child trafficking and falsification of documents.
At the start, the validity of the documents on the adoption of children from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was questionable because international adoptions from there have been completely prohibited since 2017. The suspected persons have since been officially arrested and charged with attempted child trafficking, and the trial is about to be heard in the Supreme Court in Zambia.*
A Congolese lawyer who was an intermediary in issuing false adoption documents was arrested too. He has admitted that everything took place outside the rule of law.
At the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) on 21 March, after several months of silence, Dickson Matembo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security of Zambia, for the first time confirmed the long-awaited information.
The eight Croats who were detained in Zambia in December on charges of attempted child trafficking used travel documents obtained based on false adoption documents. Also, Zambia wants to return the children, who are now “officially Croatian citizens”, to their native DRC.
Resource-rich DRC has been in chaos due to ongoing conflicts since 1998 and over 5 million people have died due to the conflict, and another 1 million infected with HIV. This has left over 700,000 orphaned children in the country. Foreigners, however, have not been able to adopt legally from the DRC since 2017 when a new family law code was passed.
On the basis of false documentation (seen by IDN), that was issued in the DRC and submitted to the courts in Croatia, adoptions were certified without checking the authenticity of the original documentation. At that moment, the false court decisions on adoption received from the Congo became official in Croatia.
Based on them the children could be registered, and the Ministry of the Interior would issue the travel documents. After that, they would be transported via Zambia to Croatia.
“The authenticity of the adoption decision itself could be doubted at the start because the documentation did not arrive through diplomatic channels, which is standard procedure in such cases,” point out a specialist in child rights and adoption Roelie Post.
“It is not the practice for the Croatian Ministry of Interior to issue travel documents in the receiving country for a child who has never seen his adoptive parents or been in Croatia.”
The press office of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Family claims that the ministry does not have any supervision over international adoptions from countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention, as is the case with the DRC.
It is difficult to determine how many children the Croatian courts recognized over the past decade. The Ministry of Interior issued documents for 94 children, and the Minister of Social Welfare and Family, Marin Piletić, in a media statement, said that 131 children were adopted from the DRC. The numbers do not match, and as IDN has learned from confidential sources, all traces of the other 37 children who are supposed to be in Croatian families are being lost.
According to the data of the newly founded ‘Association of Adoptive Parents from DRC International Adoption – Croatia’, 104 children were adopted plus 4 children who live in three families outside Croatia. No one from Homeland Security has addressed the correct numbers, checked where these children are, and in what conditions they live. Croatian authorities would not be so carefree with children from Croatia.
“The price for a child is from 15 to 40 thousand euros. The owner of the orphanage where Croats adopted children, Emmanuel Kabongo, charges approximately $ 10,000 per child someone chooses. Extra costs go to lawyers, court interpreters, travel and accommodation, and the costs start from 15 and can go up to 40 thousand euros,” a reliable source revealed to IDN.
Judges in the Croatian city of Zlatar accepted bribes to approve adoptions in one day, and the adoptive parents themselves admitted this to IDN.
Regarding the lack of documentation and court decisions, IDN consulted Professor Dubravka Hrabar, a specialist in family law, who has observed this issue from the legal framework.
“Something like this is a disciplinary procedure if not a criminal offense. They should have been removed from duty to reduce the possibility of concealing evidence and influencing witnesses while the investigation is ongoing. But the key problem is that there is no investigation in Croatia,” said an alarmed Hrabar.
“The recognition of a foreign court decision cannot be justified only with one court seal,” she points out. “We also cannot pretend that they do not exist because, in addition to electronic records, they must be archived in paper form, where each court decision is recorded separately and must be archived and up to 50 years.”
“Judicial reasoning is an integral part of the court decision, which every judge is obliged to present. How is it possible that nothing is written in the explanation in these court decisions?” asks Hrabar.
The payments continued even when the Croatian parents came to Zambia to pick up the children who were supposed to arrive from the DRC. After the adoptive parents arrived at the hotel room, they would take their travel documents, both from them and from the children, with the excuse that they needed to arrange additional documents before bringing the children.
They were not able to refuse it because they had already invested too much. After that, these same people would come back and ask for the money needed for the additional documents, usually costing about 2,000 dollars. “Extortion takes place very subtly”, claims the person who witnessed it, but since they took their travel documents, “there is no way for going back,” testified a source from Croatia who went through the procedure of illegal adoption that wanted to stay anonymous.
This action was also confirmed in the court on 26 May by a police officer who arrested the Croats at Zambia’s Ndola airport and testified that Steve Mulija, who prosecutors say was the mastermind of the Congolese child adoption operation, charged $2,040 per child to transport them to Zambia from an orphanage in DRC. The police officer said in court that he saw a WhatsApp correspondence between one of the accused Croats, and Steve Mulija who worked in agreement with Emmanuel Kabong, the head of the orphanage in Congo from which the children came.
The Dutch specialist Roelie Post, who worked for more than 20 years in the European Commission as a pioneer for children’s rights and closed international adoptions from Romania, knows well the modus operandi of international adoptions. She is also the author of the book Romania: For Export Only. Post claims that the international “adoption store” moved to the DRC after the closure in Romania.
“This not only violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but also, if it is an order, payment, and delivery, as in this case: it is child trafficking! It is forbidden to trade with human beings. Corrupt adoption practice has nothing to do with the rights of the child, but with meeting market demand”, stressed Post.
On the surface it all looks altruistic, you are adopting children and doing more good by adopting those children, but that is part of the marketing used by marketers. If we look deeper, the adoption industry is full of people who make money off orphans who are not orphans. This is how it turned out with children from the DRC.
Some adoptive parents (who did not want to be named) told IDN that they knew that the children were not abducted because they regularly hear from their parents in the DRC. Those people who claim to be the parents of these children demand money from the adoptive parents, in this case, Croatian citizens, which can be seen as emotional blackmail.
Post claims that the mafia (i.e. organized crime), is hiding behind agencies and mediators for international adoption. “In addition to the false documentation that we have seen in the Croatian cases, there are also children who are fraudulently separated from their parents in order to meet the demand for Western adoption,” noted Post.
Post said she has noticed that the same people are found within the industry and operate in several countries at the same time. According to her, it is a traveling circus. The middlemen set up a “shop” and if they are caught, they go to another country and open a store there. What is created is an industry, and the product is children. They were moved to the other side of the world in a completely different culture because someone, a consumer, wants a child.
The lack of political will in Croatia to carry out an investigation has given the impression that employees of public and state bodies were involved in organized crime and that the case was being covered up. Croatia ratified the CED convention last year, so now the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) at the Office of UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner has jurisdiction over this issue.
Note: Because of the ongoing legal proceedings many people who provided information to compile this report wanted to remain anonymous.
*After this story was transmitted, it was reported that a Zambian judge had acquitted the four Croatian couples on 1st of June, who had been held for nearly six months on child trafficking charges. “The prosecution has failed to make out sufficient evidence” against the eight, judge Mary Mulanda told the court in Ndola, north of the Zambian capital Lusaka.”I therefore acquit them,” she said. (source: AFP) Investigations into illegal adoptions will continue both in Croatia and in Europe. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Image: Corrupt adoption practice has nothing to do with the rights of the child, but with meeting market demand. Credit: UNICEF/Marco Dormino.
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.
This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 31 May 2023.
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