Best interests

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am

The Ruc hill tribe lived in caves along the Laos border until just half a century ago - and when floods swept through their villages last October, some families sought refuge back in the caves.

Numbering a few hundred, the primitive mountain homes of the Ruc (above) are a million miles from the suburban comforts of Naples, Rome and the other Italian cities where 13 of their children now live. So should the youngsters - some in their late teens - be returned to their parents if the new investigation by Vietnamese authorities concludes they were, indeed, sold for adoption without their families' consent?

Anthropologist Peter Bille Larsen learnt of the disappearance of the children while working in the border area and first drew attention to their families' plight in reports he submitted to the Italian and United States embassies in Hanoi, three years ago. The reports seem to have been largely overlooked but Larsen says the case has been reopened in Italy and the response from officials to new information he has given them has been 'very encouraging'.

Larsen initially argued that however poor their backgrounds were and however long the separation was, the children should be returned. But, with five years passed since the adoptions, he concedes the situation has become more complex.

'I believe in the basic principles of the rights of the child as well as seeking the best solution possible for the child and the families concerned,' he says. 'I also believe in the importance of recognising the voice and rights of birthparents in cases where informed parental consent has not taken place.

'Whether or how the Ruc children return or are otherwise reconnected with their families is ultimately a decision to be taken by the receiving country and Vietnamese authorities, under professional guidance.

'Adoptive families and authorities need to carefully review how to proceed in the short and long term. There is no doubt that there are complicated matters, yet such wounds need to be healed and further wounds prevented.'

Larsen says that despite their refusal to respond to questions about the families' complaints, authorities in Italy and Vietnam are reinvestigating the case. He says he does not know if the adoptive parents are yet aware of the controversy surrounding the children.

'I'm convinced that however painful it will be, they would want the case properly investigated and dealt with,' he says. 'Most adoptive parents invest a lot of time, resources and energy in building a new family. They want the best for their children, even if it entails dealing with such controversial issues.'