The illegal adoptions of the Lebanese War

The illegal adoptions of the Lebanese War

On this photo, taken on 10 February 2016, a young Syrian girl asks motorists for money in Beirut. Today, with the refugee crisis, like during the Lebanese civil war, the most vulnerable children in Lebanon are exposed to the risk of trafficking for adoption.

(AP/Hassan Ammar)

A fundamental rupture was preventing Christiane from moving forward in life, even though she did not really know why. Until one day, during a somewhat drunken night out, her best friend told her she had been adopted: “Your whole life is demolished within seconds. All your foundations have been a lie. Your identity, everything,” stammers the thirty-something year old woman in a café in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, where she came back to live three years ago to find her biological family.

Christiane is one of the 10,000 children who were illegally adopted during the conflict that tore Lebanon apart between 1975 and 1990. During that period, everything could be bought and sold: weapons, drugs, toxic waste, prominent and less prominent hostages… and children.

For Zeina Allouche, co-founder of the NGO Badael Alternatives, which supports adopted adults in their quest for their origins, one thing is certain: “They were not adoptions, it was trafficking, a business. The children were sold for prices as high as €10,000 (approximately US$10,700).”

Badael is fighting for a law to protect the right of these stolen children to know their origins.

“We have already gathered the testimonies of 3000 adoptees. But our bill has not yet been submitted to parliament. As long as the confessional system remains in place, with the same men in power, nothing will change,” she sighs.

On 26 August 1991, after the conflict came to an end, a general amnesty law pardoned all the criminals and warlords, who went on to become members of parliament or ministers, with little interest in reopening files from the past.

“I have spent a lot of time looking for my mother, but I think that even the name on the declaration of abandonment is not hers. All the police has to say is that she left me in front of a convent and ran away. I’m totally disheartened. I’m trying to write a book about my life, but I don’t know the ending!” confides Christiane.


Adoption trade

As the war raged in Lebanon, adoptive parents opened their arms in France, Switzerland, the United States and the Netherlands.

Not all of them covered up the truth about the adoption: many were full of good intentions and were oblivious to the fate of the biological mothers. But the adoptees who, after reaching adulthood, decided to look for their origins in Lebanon, came up against a wall built of taboos and secrets of war.

Daniel Drennan recalls, with dismay, how the nuns reacted at the crèche where he had been placed, when he returned there. “They threatened to burn the files. The nurse told me that certain men could not put their reputation or their lineage at risk.”

In Lebanon, children who are not recognised by their fathers are born orphans and are placed in a religious institution. During the war, children were born out of wedlock and their mothers fell prey to the trafficking orchestrated by a network of nuns, nurses and doctors within crèches and hospitals.

It took Marie Andonian 37 years to find her daughter. The orphanage where she had placed her, for want of means, gave her up for adoption one morning in the autumn of 1979, without consulting her. “I went to visit my daughter once, twice and a third time. Then she was no longer there. And when I asked about her, they finally told me to forget about her because she had been taken to France and she was better off there.” Marie never forgot and finally found her daughter in France. But none of the other biological mothers that she knows have tried to find their children.

From her house on the high slopes of Mount Lebanon, Marie explains the reasons behind this denial: “During the troubles, there was fighting, drugs…The young people didn’t get married during that period. They would leave their children on the doorstep of a church or hospital...The mothers who went on to marry have no interest in recognising these illegitimate children. But in the meantime, who suffers? The child.”

According to the Hague Convention of 1993 on the protection of children and cooperation in respect of international adoption, ratified by 85 states but of which Lebanon is not a signatory, all adoptions must take place “in the best interests of the child”, ensuring “that the persons, institutions and authorities whose consent is necessary for adoption, have been counselled as may be necessary and duly informed of the effects of their consent” and “that the consents have not been induced by payment or compensation of any kind”.

The mother of Dida Guigan was deemed to have given her consent on signing a paper without knowing it was a declaration of abandonment. That was in 1984.

A young Swiss jazz singer, Dida spent twelve years of her life looking for her biological mother. The tracks had been obscured: her birth certificate had been falsified, stating that her adoptive parents were her biological parents. Her quest to find her identity finally paid off, but she almost lost her mind in the process.

Her brothers and sisters, also adopted, have struggled to cope. “As an adopted child, you can react in different ways. You can submerge yourself into the search for your biological roots, or go into denial. And sometimes, if you don’t have the necessary support, you sink…for my three brothers and sisters, it has been prison, drugs, psychiatry.”

After having cofounded Badael Alternatives in Lebanon, she founded the Born in Lebanon association, based in Switzerland, to assist adults adopted from Lebanon in their quest for identity and to raise awareness among politicians of the urgent need for cooperation on the issue.

The Hague Convention is not sufficient to wipe out the phenomenon of illegal adoption in the world, as highlighted by Hervé Boéchat, the author of a report on the grey areas of international adoption: “The paradox is that although regulated in theory by the Hague Convention, two thirds of intercountry adoptions are not currently governed by the treaty.”

In Lebanon today, it is Syrian children who risk being the victims of illegal adoption. They represent half of the 1.2 million Syrian refugees in the country, where 71 per cent of them are living below the poverty line.

Zeina Allouche is in no doubt: “We are seeing the model of the Lebanese war being replicated with the Syrian refugee crisis. Child trafficking networks have been dismantled, but I don’t want to talk about it, for security reasons.”


This story has been translated from French.