Czech Republic puts brakes on international adoptions after death of child

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About 40 children born in the Czech Republic have been adopted into families beyond this country's borders each year since 2000. But now, after the death of a Czech-born child entrusted to the care of a family in Sweden, international adoptions have been temporarily halted until the procedures undergo a review. Petr Sedlak, from the Brno-based Office for the International Legal Protection of Children, explains the history of international adoptions of Czech children.

"The Czech Republic is a member state of the Hague Convention on Adoption since 2000. So for a period of six years we mediated international adoptions and during this time, there was the case of a Czech child in Sweden, who died in the pre-adoption care of the prospective parents and this situation inspired us to ask if everything in the mediation of international adoptions originating in the Czech Republic is OK, or if we need some new legislation, some new rules for the prospective adoptive parents and so on."

International adoptions—at least in western countries—tend to be rather complicated. Could you explain what the process was for parents living abroad (outside the Czech Republic) who wanted to adopt a child from this country?

"Since 1993 this process is set by the Hague Convention and we have very little room to change the system. The applicants have to send us, through their central authority or accredited body, an application which contains a particular set of documents and we decide to accept or reject this application. In the case of acceptance, we start to mediate the adoption for the prospective adoptive parents. I think this system is the same in almost all the countries of origin all around the world."

Now what about a potential probationary period? Did that exist under the old Czech regulations?

"The probationary period exists in all Czech adoptions, whether they are intra-country or international in nature. The probationary period is set by the Family Code of the Czech Republic, and is at least three months long."

What about the proposed changes that are to come about? For now the Czech Republic has stopped international adoptions. How do you propose to change the procedures?

"First of all, we can't change the procedure very much because we are limited by the provisions of the Hague Convention, but we want to unify the practices of the receiving states, and we want to receive applications that follow the same format."

What percentage of children adopted from the Czech Republic come from the Czech Roma community?

"This is a difficult question to answer because in most cases we don't know about both parents of the child, so it is not possible to say that all the children are Roma, or 20% of them are Roma children. However, we can say that most of these children do have some Roma origins."