Sweden starts investigations on illegal international adoption activities

Sweden’s government decided to open up investigations into its international adoption activities. Hundreds of children were allegedly illegally removed from their families in Chile between the 70s and the 90s.

Press conference of the minister of Social Affairs
Lena Hallengren, Sweden’s minister of Social Affairs, during the press conference announcing the launch of an investigation on Sweden’s international adoption activities over the past decades. | © Ministry of Health and Social Affairs

On October 27, Sweden’s Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Lena Hallengren, announced the launch of an inquiry on international adoption activities in the country over the past sixty years up until now.

The assignment will try to clarify the existence of any irregularities among national and local authorities, non-profits or private actors that would have acted against legal or ethical manners and against a child’s best interests, the statement said.

The investigation will look at all countries but it will also particularly focus on activities in Chile between the 1970s and 1990s.

In fact, it has been reported for several years that illicit adoptions were conducted at the time when Chile was under Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990.

There were rumors about children disappearing or being stolen during the dictatorship. And in 2018, Chile opened up investigations into human rights violations regarding international adoptions. Inconsistencies were actually identified in official records. Names, addresses and pictures wouldn’t match with the children in several adoption centers. And a lot of them were adopted by Swedish families.

“Sweden doesn’t take the issue seriously”

Swedish and Chilean news media also reported how children may have been adopted without the consent of their mothers during that period. Instead of being abandoned, some children were reportedly kidnapped from their families, had their identities ripped off and given new ones.

And Sweden was at the center of it. In 2018, more than 600 cases of adoptions in Chile were related to Sweden.

But it is only four years after the beginning of the investigations in Chile, which have not come to an end yet, that the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, decided last summer to conduct its own investigations, look at Sweden’s responsibilities and question its activities.

In June 2021, Chile’s Deputy Commissioner of Criminal Police in charge of the investigation of illegal adoptions still considered that Sweden didn’t take the issue seriously. His jurisdictions stop at the Chilean borders and would welcome more cooperation to unfold the international operations.

The decision comes at a time when Swedish adoptions are back in the media’s spotlight again.

Use of adoptions to soften Sweden’s views on the dictatorship

For six decades, international adoption to Sweden has been marred by irregularity alarms” the Swedish national newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported in February 2021.

Suspicions about illicit or unethical activities expanded to adoptions from Colombia, and more recently from China and South Korea. For instance, the newspaper claims Korean pregnant women may be pressured to give their children for adoption before the babies are born.

A day before the official launch of the Swedish state inquiry, DN also reported on letters in which Swedish nazis collaborated with the junta to improve relations between the countries in the 70s. And Chile would have used adoptions as a way to influence Sweden and improve the country’s image.

A non-profit at the center of suspicions of illegal adoptions

The Adoptions centrum, the Swedish Adoption Center, is at the forefront of accusations of irregularities. The Adoption Center is a non-profit founded in 1969 and the largest international adoption organization in Sweden.

Over 25,000 children from over 60 countries got a new family in Sweden via the organization, its website says. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, about 2,000 adoptions were carried out from Chile to Sweden by the organization, accounting for the vast majority of them.

Although the center says it welcomes government investigations into activities during that period, it rejects any wrongdoings.

Out of the 600 cases originally brought up by Chilean justice, “no official charges have been filed against the Adoption center or our former employees in Chile” as of May 2021, the organization points out. About 100 adoptions linked to Sweden are still currently being examined.

Moreover, it mentions that these activities were conducted before the Hague Adoption Convention, and at a time when rogue private actors would have operated in human trafficking. “We can not take responsibility today for the values that applied 50 years ago.

The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in International Adoptions is a regulatory framework to protect children against trafficking, illegal adoption or abuse. It was created in 1993. Both Chile and Sweden ratified it among 100 other countries.

The results of the Swedish investigations should be reported no later than November 7, 2023, the Swedish Ministry said.

Read more about Sweden

Utredning av Sveriges internationella adoptionsverksamhet, Swedish Ministry of Social Affairs, October 2021, Free accessChilean Adoptees Worldwide, 2018, Free accessSverige i centrum för olagliga adoptioner med chilenska barn, Sveriges Television, 2018, Free accessChilensk kritik mot Sverige: “Ser inte det här som allvarligt”, Sveriges Television, June 2021, Free accessUppdrag granskning: De stulna barnen, SVT, June 2021, Free accessDe vill veta sanningen om sina adoptioner, Dagens Nyheter, Febuary 2021, Restricted accessPinochet använde adoptioner för att påverka Sverige, DN, October 2021, Restricted accessOm Chile, Adoptions centrum, Free accessUttalanden, Adoptions Center, June 2021, Free access

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