Warning about adopting children from Haiti

Labour Party

I have recently received the statement set out below regarding inter-country adoption from Haiti.  Sent from Andy Elvin, Chief Executive of CFAB (Children and families Across Borders), the UK branch of the international social service network, the statement is in line with guidance drawn up by UNICEF in association with other international child welfare organisations in the wake of the 2004 tsunami.

CFAB is asking MEPs to vote against any resolutions before the European Parliament that support removing children from Haiti’s jurisdiction whilst the humanitarian effort is still being undertaken, except in circumstances where emergency medical treatment is needed.  I urge MEPs and others in positions where they may have an influence to take this statement on board.

 Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, we call upon the European Parliament to support a moratorium on international adoptions from the country. The disaster not only caused catastrophic destruction and death, it has also produced further trauma by splitting up families, leaving many children alone. “We are worried about people who come to pick up our children, it has happened here,” stated a mother to an aid worker this week. A distraught father looking for his child said: “I tried to look for her, but I couldn’t find any information. It’s like my soul has disappeared with my daughter.” These are just a few of the extremely worried family members who are seeking their lost children. 

Given the tragedy that has unfolded, many people react instinctively and want to give injured and defenceless children what they seem to have lost, a caring family. It is vital for MEPs and other key EU decision makers to realise that it should not be assumed that children in an emergency situation are orphans, and are available for adoption.

As long as the fate of a child’s parents and/or other close relatives cannot be verified, each separated child must be considered as still having close relatives who are alive.

The EU should support measures that

–         prevent separation of children from parents and their family either inadvertently at aid distribution sites, or through adoptions,

–         insure a register of unaccompanied and separated children, tracing and reunification,

–         place vulnerable children in safe and appropriate care arrangements within Haiti while the child’s family is traced,

Taking children out of a country in the midst of chaos, can also compound the acute trauma that they already suffered and can inflict long-term damage on their chances of recovery. As well as creating devastating loss for their parents and family members. 

MEPs should note that immediate action to help children is already accepted by the European Council, in its Conclusions on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child in the European Union’s external action. The Council highlighted the need for effective and quick interventions during crises and emergencies situations, including measures to both prevent the separation of children and to re-establish links with their families. This is in line with the “Guidelines for the alternative care of children”, a United Nations framework for non emergency and emergency situations.

Despite these international instruments, in the aftermath of the earthquake, the international community is struggling to provide appropriate care and protection for children and families.  We are particularly concerned about the push to fast-track inter-country adoptions. The international community should stand firm on its fundamental principles and take all necessary measures to ensure the implementation of the existing international instruments.

If appropriate measures are not introduced immediately, there is a genuine fear that inept and potentially harmful evacuation efforts can lead to the trafficking of children through inappropriate or unlawful inter-country adoptions in emergency situations.

We therefore urge the European Parliament to call for a moratorium of international adoptions from Haiti and to support measures to prevent unnecessary separation of families.

We also urge the European Parliament to call for coordinated efforts with the Government of Haiti as well as all local, national and international governmental and non-governmental agencies to take all necessary measures to mainstream the protection of child rights in all their actions following the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

FGM – A European Issue

Labour Party

FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) is a controversial and divisive issue which tends to spark strong feeling from those on all sides of the debate. This practice, which in my view is deeply abhorrent, is typically associated with countries such as Somalia and Nigeria. Yet what most people fail to realise is that this harmful custom is also increasingly affecting girls and women in parts of Europe, including the UK.

While figures on FGM are patchy (particularly in Europe as it is often not reported to authorities), it is nonetheless estimated that almost 130 million women throughout the world have been subject to mutilation. The UK has in recent years seen a rise in the numbers of cases. A study by the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development estimated that 66,000 women living in England and Wales had been circumcised, usually prior to leaving their country of origin. The 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act is supposed to protect girls and women taken overseas for the purpose of genital mutilation; yet, shockingly, there have been no prosecutions under the law to date.

In order to raise awareness about this issue, I was asked to host an event yesterday in the European Parliament, ‘Abandonment of Social Norms Harmful to Girls and Women’, which focused on the practice of FGM. It was organised by UNICEF, and brought together speakers, predominantly women, from all over the world. I opened the event with a few words about how the problem of FGM has been addressed at the European level. Others, such as Francesca Moneti, who is a Senior Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF’s office in New York, spoke about how the practice has been impacting upon women generally.

While there is currently no harmonised EU legislation on FGM, the EU has nonetheless made some important gains. The EU-funded Daphne programme, which seeks to combat violence against children, young people and women, has been the prime source of funding for awareness-raising, prevention, and protection of those who experience, or are at risk from, FGM. As of September 2008, it had financed 14 FGM-related projects, involving a total of €2.4 million.

During the past two years, The European Network for the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation (EuroNet-FGM) has supported the establishment and development of National Action Plans for the elimination of female genital mutilation in 15 EU countries. It also organised an International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation in the EU, held in Brussels in April 2009.

The problem is that measures like these, while praise-worthy, have so far been ineffective in stopping FGM in Europe. So what more should we expect of the European Union? In a 2008 report by the Women’s Rights Committee, it was suggested that a European Health Protocol should be established to monitor the numbers of women who have undergone FGM. It is true that the gathering of scientific data might be an important tool to assist efforts in ridding the world of FGM. Yet before that can happen, I believe that all European governments should publicly recognise the problem of FGM in Europe and bring it up as a key issue at all levels. One opportunity to do this would be on ‘International Zero Tolerance to FGM day,’ which began in 2003 and takes place on the 6th of February.

However, simply denouncing FGM and condemning perpetrators cannot alone bring about the necessary change. FGM will only disappear if people, both women and men, are satisfied that they could give up the practice without doing away with important aspects of their culture.  For this to happen there needs to be more dissemination of information and appropriate education about this issue.

UN-EU Collaboration on Women’s Issues

Labour Party


Asha-Rose Migiro was at the European Parliament earlier in the week for the third time since becoming Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN). Migiro, who is from Tanzania, is both the first woman and the first African to hold this position. Her appointment by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, was a huge turning point for the organisation, and fulfilled the Security-General’s earlier promise to select a woman from the developing world for the post.

Ms. Migiro is deeply committed to gender issues, and has travelled extensively in her short time as Deputy to encourage world leaders to promote equality in the home and workplace. She arrived at the Parliament armed with a report entitled Renewing Hope, Rebuilding Lives, outlining how the partnership between the UN and European Commission can help vulnerable states to recover from natural disasters or conflict.

Migiro has repeatedly highlighted the need to combat sexual violence against women, which is so often used as a tool in war. The conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Cote d’Ivoire, have all seen widespread gender-based sexual violence used as a war crime. For Migiro, the collaboration between the UN and the EU can play a crucial role in curbing this grave crime and providing help for victims. The UN-EU partnership has supported, amongst other things, the development of key EU policies, research collaboration, and landmark conferences leading to the adoption of policies and guidelines. The latter includes the 2008 conference From Commitment to Action and the 2009 conference International Colloquium on Women’s Leadership.

Inevitably, the UN cannot preach gender equality unless it shows that it also practises it. According to Migiro, the Secretary-General has made it his aim to get more women working at the UN, and has given many top positions to women. She argues that the organisation has seen a 40 per cent increase in the numbers of women taking up high-level roles since Ban Ki-Moon came into office.

UN-logoAlso commendable is the UN’s decision to create a ‘super-agency’ for women. Until recently the way that the UN system works for women has been deeply fragmented and under-resourced. It has been a severe disappointment for the world’s three billion or so women, many of who continue to face discrimination on a daily basis. With the creation of a UN Women’s Agency, one that has as much weight as the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) or the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN will have a greater chance of protecting women in need.

It is now 15 years since the UN conference on population vowed to put gender equality and reproductive rights at the centre of development. Yet there has been no reduction in the numbers of women who are dying as a result of childbirth. I agree with Asha-Rose Migiro that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to cut maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health care must remain a central focal point. Let’s just hope that in the next 15 years, with both the creation of a UN Women’s Agency and with greater collaboration between the UN and EU, we might see some of the changes that are so desperately needed.


prostitution, Sex Trade, Trafficking

I’m not going to fall prone to claiming a modern day popular band as my favourite thing to wake up to!  But I am very pleased to read that popular rock band The Killers have joined together with UNICEF, USAID and MTV EXIT to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking and exploitation.


The Killers

The Killers

The band are said to have made a powerful video for their new track Goodnight, Travel well highlighting the dangers of trafficking and the sexual exploitation of young women.

I look forward to seeing this video when it is released on Monday 13 July when I will feature it on this blog.