Press Release – Justice Showers Commission of Inquiry
Freetown, 13th April, 2012 – The Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice today circulated A Government White-Paper addressing the critical issues and recommendations of the Justice Showers Commission of Inquiry into the HANCI-MAPS adoption.
It should be noted that in 1997 a Non-Governmental Organization HANCI-MAPS, purported to have adopted 29 children from various families in parts of the Northern Province. The adoption itself became questionable when some of the parents of the 29 minors at the time agitated for a return of their children. The problem associated with the confrontation between HANCI-MAPS and the parents of the 29 children was inherited by the Government of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, who later insisted that the matter be thoroughly investigated in an effort to address the concerns of the aggrieved parents.
Utilizing Constitutional instruments issued in the year 2010, President Ernest Bai Koroma established a Commission of Inquiry, the Justice Showers Commission of Inquiry to examine the case of the purported adoptions.
The Commission of Inquiry investigated the facts relating to the so-called adoptions, taking into consideration the terms of reference given to the Commission, and also the Commission examined the legal aspects of the adoption.
The Government of Sierra Leone after thoroughly examining the report of the Commissioners developed a White-Paper as its reaction to the findings of the Justice Showers Commission of Inquiry. The details of the inquiry are available in the White-Paper that has been widely circulated.
In view of the seriousness of the Commission’s findings and the social implications of the questionable adoptions and the Government’s determination that no such adoptions be allowed in the future, the Government has mandated the Sierra Leone Police to re-open the matter of the so-called adoptions for investigation. The Police, using their professionalism will now be at liberty to proffer criminal charges against any person responsible for the plight of the children, especially their movement from Sierra Leone to a foreign territory.
The Government has also given the Police the mandate to access all documents used by the Commission during the Commission’s deliberations and the Commission’s Report could be made available to the Police to help them conclude their investigations within a six week period.
The White-Paper has also highlighted the pivotal roles of the Ministries of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs and Finance and Economic Development which have been directed to immediately suspend the activities of HANCI-MAPS in Sierra Leone, while at the same time Government has instructed that an independent audit be set up to examine the books of the NGO, HANCI-MAPS. HANCI-MAPS shall pay for the cost of the audit.
The adoption of the 29 minors which compelled the Government to place a temporary ban on adoption in Sierra Leone while awaiting the enactment of the new adoption law is now rescinded taking into consideration the imminent passing into law of a new adoption policy.
Government insists that notwithstanding the fact that the children would have grown into adults, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will undertake bi-lateral contacts with the relevant authorities and Governments of the countries in which the children currently reside with the hope of facilitating the necessary contact in an effort to establish a relationship between the adopted children and their biological parents.
The President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma in thanking the Commissioners has reiterated his commitment to the welfare of the Children of Sierra Leone in his determination to ensure that child trafficking and other anomalies that are likely to affect the welfare of children are brought to an end, even if it means the promulgation of new laws to strengthen the law enforcement agencies and the Ministries responsible for child welfare.
Office of the Government Spokesman
GOVERNMENT WHITE PAPER ON THE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE JUSTICE SHOWERS COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON THE HANCI – MAPS ADOPTION
Source: Deputy Minister of Information & Communications
His Excellency, The President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, by Constitutional Instrument issued in 2010, established the Commission of Inquiry to examine cases of the purported adoption of some 29 minors reportedly facilitated/undertaken by HANCI-MAPS in 1997.
2. The terms of reference of the Commission were:-
(a) To inquire into the cases of the HANCI-MAPS adoptions;
(b) To establish whether the parents or guardians had full knowledge and understanding of the adoption process and whether they willingly gave up their children for adoption;
(c) Whether the whole adoption process was transparent and fully explained to the parents by HANCI prior to their approval;
(d) Whether the whole adoption process meets international standards on inter-country adoptions and if not, how the situation can be rectified;
(e) Make further recommendations to Government on how to prevent recurrence of cases of such nature while taking into account measures already in place by Government; and
(f) Ensure that all adoptions occur strictly in accordance with the laws of Sierra Leone and to meet the standards of the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption.
3. The Commission, during its investigations made some factual and legal findings.
The factual findings include the following –
(a) That the parents (of the adopted children) did not have full knowledge and understanding of the adoption process, that is, they did not understand the legal concept of adoption where a parent gives up permanently the legal relationship between the parent and the child;
(b) The parents believed that they still had their parental rights even after the adoption. Thus they expected the children to be returned to them after being educated or at a minimum, to maintain links with them after the adoption and education;
(c) The parents, from evidence adduced, willingly gave up their children for adoption. However, they were not informed that their children would be sent to the U.S.A for further adoption.
(d) That HANCI’s main objective for the establishment of the Child Survival Centre was to find American families to adopt orphans and homeless children and that this objective was never disclosed to the parents;
(e) That the parents cannot be said to have genuinely consented to the adoption of their children in the light of the fact that they did not fully understand that the effect of such consent would result in the termination of the legal relationship between them and their children;
(f) That if the parents had fully understood the nature and legal effect of adoption, they may have refrained from giving up their children for adoption.
4. The Commission also made some legal findings which include –
(a) that adoption process was fundamentally flawed in many respects and was therefore not transparent because the practice of the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, interviewing parents in accordance with the law to ensure that they understood the nature and effect of adoption, prior to the parents giving their consent for adoption of their children was not done;
(b) that the High Court gave approval for the adoption of some of the children in the mistaken belief that the requirement mentioned in paragraph (a) was followed;
© that HANCI’s intention of sending the children abroad for the purpose of transferring them to American citizens for further adoption was not disclosed to their Solicitors and the court when they applied for and were granted leave to take the children out of Sierra Leone;
(d) that the written consent alleged to have been obtained by HANCI from the parents, the majority of whom are illiterate, had their thumbprints but did not contain the statutory requirement that the contents be read to them and that they understood the same before affixing their thumbprints thereon, a situation which contravenes section 2 of the Protection of Illiterates Act (Cap 104);
(e) that the inter-country adoptions undertaken through HANCI were not done in the best interest of the children having regard to the evidence adduced before it.
5. In the light of the above, Government accepts the following recommendations of the Commission –
(a) that appropriate measures be taken by the Government to further review the Adoption Act and provide for the following in the review
(i) that application for leave to take an adopted child out of Sierra Leone made to the High Court is to be granted only on cause shown to the satisfaction of the Court;
(ii) that adequate provision be made to ensure that the safeguards provided in the Adoption Act are respected and honoured in cases where inter-country adoption applications are made and also to conform with the procedural requirements provided for in the Hague Convention of 1993, for inter-country Adoption;
(iii) that the Government be obliged to enter into bi-lateral or multi-lateral arrangements with other Governments who are signatories to the Convention to enhance collaboration with the competent authorities of those States;
(iv) that Government takes all appropriate measures through public bodies to provide adequate information on the law regulating adoption in Sierra Leone, to the various Communities in the country;
(v) that adequate preventive provision is made in the new Adoption Bill to act as deterrent for those likely who shall contravene the adoption law;
(vi) that adequate steps be taken by Government or other public bodies to promote the development of adoption counseling and post-adoption services or measures.
(vii) that provision should be made in the Adoption Bill for a social worker or, in the case of adoptees living outside Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Embassy, to monitor adoptees to ensure that their welfare is being catered for;
(viii) that the persons whose consent is necessary for any adoption are sufficiently counseled and informed of the effect of their consent and in particular that the adoption will result in the termination of any legal relationship between them or their relatives as applicable and the children;
(ix) that all adoptions are to be done in the best interest of the children;
(x) that penalties for contravention of a provision of the Bill be strengthened to serve as a deterrent;
(xi) that in the event that placement agreement provided for in the Bill is entered into with Sierra Leoneans not habitually resident in Sierra Leone, provision should be made for the supervision of the placement of the child involved, in the applicant’s country.
(xii) that the Bill should provide for the preparation of a report on the adopted child to establish his/her adoptability and also the background, social environment, family history, medical history and any special needs of the child prior to the application for the adoption of the child;
(xiii) that a central authority (or regulatory or supervisory body) be established by the Bill in accordance with Part IV of the Hague Convention of 1993.
In view of the seriousness of the issues raised in the report and the need to forestall any recurrence, Government directs that the police reopen the matter for investigation, with a view to preferring criminal charges against any person or persons responsible for the actions complained of.
All documentation utilized by the Commission during its deliberations, as well as the report are to be made available to the police who should complete the investigation within six (6) weeks of the issuance of this report.
In the interim the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development are directed to immediately suspend the certificate and operations of HANCI and to institute an audit of its books to be carried out by an independent firm of Auditors (to be approved by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice) at cost to HANCI.
The moratorium on adoptions imposed by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs pending the enactment of the new Adoption Law is hereby rescinded in view of the imminent enactment of the new legislation.
Government is mindful of the fact that all the children would by now have attained majority. That notwithstanding, and subject to respect for their wishes, Government through the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will initiate bilateral contacts with the authorities and governments of countries in which children currently reside, with the hope of facilitating contact between them and their natural parents.
Government expresses its profound thanks and appreciation to the Commissioners and support staff for answering to this call of national duty.ISSUED this 13th day of April 2012 FRANKLYN B. KARGBO Attorney-General and Minister of Justice
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