Protocol for Responding to Allegations of Illicit or Illegal Practices in Intercountry Adoption

What to do if you think your, or your child’s, intercountry adoption was illegal or illicit

In Australia, intercountry adoptions are facilitated under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Hague Convention). This helps preserve the safety, rights and interests of children. The rights and best interest of the child are central to any decisions made about a child’s adoption.

The Australian Central Authority (ACA) and State and Territory Central Authorities (STCAs) are aware of the risks involved in intercountry adoption and only partner with countries who adhere to the Hague Convention. 

If concerns or allegations about illicit and illegal adoption practices are raised we have the Protocol for Responding to Allegations of Illicit or Illegal Practices in Intercountry Adoption (the Protocol). It has been developed by the ACA for intercountry adoption under the Hague Convention, in consultation with STCAs. The protocol is reviewed periodically to make sure it adheres to best practice in preventing and addressing illicit or illegal practices in intercountry adoption. 

What is the Protocol?

The Protocol provides information and assistance to adoptees and adoptive families in circumstances where there have been allegations or concerns about illicit or illegal practices within a country of origin, with the subsequent adoption of a child or children to Australia via the Australian intercountry adoption process, or specific concerns raised in individual cases.

As each intercountry adoption is unique, the needs of each adoptee, adoptive family and birth family will differ. Given this, the information on this page is a guide only.

We understand that as an adoptee or adoptive family with concerns about an adoption you may choose to undertake your own enquiries, without assistance from the ACA or your STCA.

This Protocol doesn’t cover cases where there is a suggestion of wrongdoing by Australian parents, or for expatriate adoptions. If you have concerns about an expatriate adoption you should raise this with the authorities in the country that facilitated the adoption and with law enforcement authorities where appropriate.

Illicit and illegal practices

Illicit practices are situations where a child has been adopted without respect for the rights of the child or for the safeguards of the Hague Convention. This may happen when an individual or body, directly or indirectly, misrepresents information to the biological parents, falsifies documents about the child’s origins, or abducts, sells or traffics a child for intercountry adoption. They may also use other fraudulent methods to adopt a child for financial or other gain.

An illegal adoption is an adoption that results from the abduction, sale or trafficking of a child or other illegal or illicit activities against children.

Raising concerns

Allegations of concerns about your adoption or your child’s adoption can be distressing and potentially 

life-altering for everyone involved. It’s important to remember that the rights and best interests of the child are central, as well as the need for sensitivity for both Australian adoptive parents and overseas birth families. We take all credible allegations or concerns seriously and are committed to maintaining the integrity of Australia’s intercountry adoption programs.

Concerns about illicit or illegal practices may arise for an adoptee or adoptive family through:

  • observations of irregularities in intercountry adoption cases
  • comments made by an adopted child about their background
  • concerns about a past or current intercountry adoption raised by an adoptee or adoptive family
  • concerns about a past or current intercountry adoption raised by a birth family or authority in the country of origin
  • reviews or investigations conducted by a country of origin, another receiving country or the ACA
  • media reports
  • legal proceedings or
  • origin searching.

If you have concerns about the circumstances of your own adoption or your child’s adoption you should talk to your STCA or with the ACA. Where concerns are raised with the ACA, close liaison will be required with the relevant STCA. 

Review of adoption documentation 

When a concern regarding the circumstances of an intercountry adoption is raised, the STCA will review the adoption file. This includes identifying information, however, some files may have limited documentation. After reviewing the file, the STCA will decide if there are irregularities or information that require further action. 

If concerning information is found, this doesn't mean that illicit or illegal adoption practices have occurred. Even if a review of the adoption documentation doesn’t suggest irregularities, further enquiry may still be needed.

If an adoptee or adoptive family raised the concerns, they will be advised of the outcome of the STCAs review of the documentation. 

The STCA will advise the ACA of all concerns regarding an adoption, regardless of the outcome of the STCA review. Non-identifying information about the adoption will be used for record-keeping purposes and trend monitoring as part of the ACA’s role under the Hague Convention.

Further action or enquiry

If the relevant STCA decides that further action is needed they will refer the concern/allegation to the ACA for action. Where a concern were raised with the STCA directly, and not with the ACA, the STCA will only provide non-identifying details to the ACA. 

Generally, a STCA will need the consent of the adult adoptee and/or adoptive family (if the matter is raised on behalf of their adopted child) to share identifiable information with the ACA. Where consent is not granted, the ACA will have limited ability to enquire into the adoption.

Where credible concerns or allegations of illicit or illegal practices are identified, the ACA will request that the relevant overseas authority make appropriate enquiries into the circumstances of the adoption. The country of origin and receiving country’s Central Authorities are both obliged to work together to eliminate obstacles to the Hague Convention’s application where it’s suspected that provisions of the Hague Convention have not been respected. 

While the ACA endeavours to raise concerns and proactively seek responses, the ACA is not able to influence the decisions of a Central Authority in a country of origin to investigate matters referred to them. Responses provided by overseas authorities may be influenced by factors such as the time that has elapsed since the adoption took place, availability of records and information about the adoption, or the need to liaise with other adoption or law enforcement agencies.

Contact and confidentiality
A dedicated officer from the relevant STCA and the ACA will be appointed and act as the primary contact for providing updated information about the progress of enquiries or responding to further questions or concerns. The STCA officer will be the primary contact for the adult adoptee and/or adoptive family and the ACA officer will fulfil the Commonwealth’s coordination, management and policy responsibilities as well as communicate with the overseas/ country of origin relevant authorities. 

Making your own enquiries

Adoptees and/or adoptive families can choose to make private enquiries about concerns of illicit or illegal practices, through police or other channels. This may occur in addition to, or instead of, formal enquiries made through the ACA and relevant STCA. 

The Australian Government is unable to provide assistance to an adoptee and/or adoptive family when overseas making enquiries around their adoption circumstances.  

Where private enquiries are pursued, the ACA and the relevant STCA should be notified of any concerns of illicit or illegal practices identified as a result of these enquiries, as there may be broader program implications.

Broader program implications

Where credible concerns are raised about an adoption or a group of adoptions (e.g. from a particular adoption agency or region), the ACA in consultation with the relevant STCAs, will consider possible broader implications for the operation of the intercountry adoption program. Depending on the circumstances of the adoption/s, this may involve a range of actions including: 

  • putting adoptions with specific adoption agencies on hold while enquiries are undertaken
  • suspending the program pending further enquiry 
  • limiting new applications.

Where credible concerns are raised, an assessment should be made about the likelihood of other adoptions being subject to similar practices. Discussion between the ACA and relevant STCAs may be required to determine whether to contact other families who may have also been affected.

Support and assistance 

The Protocol aims to provide broad guidance on information and services that an adoptee or adoptive family may wish to access. In doing so, it recognises that the needs of each adoptee and adoptive family will differ. 

Therapeutic support services
The Intercountry Adoption Family Support Service (ICAFSS) is a free, national counselling and support service for the intercountry adoption community. It provides post adoption support for adoptees and families formed by intercountry adoption, including adoptions by expatriate Australians while living overseas. The ICAFSS also provides support to individuals and couples before and during the intercountry adoption process.

Local and community support services

There are a number of local and community intercountry adoption support services and peer groups, which can be found on the Intercountry Adoption Australia Local and community support webpage.

Legal issues

The ACA and STCAs are unable to provide legal advice to individuals. As a general principle, should legal proceedings be initiated in Australia in relation to an adopted child, the best interests of the child will be the primary consideration of the court. If required, the Law Society in each state or territory may be able to provide a referral to a legal practitioner with experience in family law or children’s issues. Lawyers seeking general reference material on intercountry adoption may wish to refer to the DSS website

Financial assistance, legal and other related costs

The Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) administers a number of Commonwealth legal financial assistance schemes for legal costs and disbursements that may be available depending upon the circumstances of the case. General information about the schemes and application process is available on the AGD website

Managing media attention

Intercountry adoption regularly attracts media attention. Concerns about illicit or illegal practices may be raised in the media, which can present additional challenges. If this does occur and assistance is required in managing the media interest, the relevant STCA contact officer may be able to assist.

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