The death of four-year-old Eric, a Czech boy who was given to adoptive parents in Sweden less than a year ago, has shocked people in both countries. When he died there were signs that he had been neglected and physically abused, and this has called into question the whole practice of overseas adoptions. Could this tragedy have been prevented by the Czech or Swedish authorities? Do applicants from abroad undergo thorough screening before a child's adoption is approved and is there someone who monitors their welfare once they reach their new home? Those are all questions which Czechs are now asking themselves.
Since the year 2000 when the Czech Republic first started arranging overseas adoptions 200 Czech orphans and unwanted babies have found new homes abroad. They have gone to countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Austria and Germany and, to all accounts, most are leading happy lives there.
When four year old Eric was sent to a Swedish family in the town of Jonkopping last year, the head of the Brno orphanage was convinced that he was one of her luckier charges. Less than a year later, he died of untreated pneumonia and blood poisoning. His body was covered with bruises and festering wounds. His Swedish adoptive parents now face charges of psychological and physical abuse, resulting in death.
Sweden has placed an embargo on all information relating to the case until the matter has been resolved. But, the Brno Office for International Legal Protection of Children, which is directly involved in arranging overseas adoptions, was willing to answer some of our questions. It has been considering putting further adoptions on hold until this case is resolved, although the head of the office Rostislav Zalesky says he does not believe that the Swedish partner organization - Children Above All - is to blame. When I spoke to him earlier today, Mr. Zalesky assured me that Eric's adoptive parents had undergone thorough screening:
"The applicants were very well checked in Sweden. We received documents such as a home-study report, a clean criminal record, income certificates, a marriage certificate, a health report, a mental health report, photographs, a questionnaire and many other documents proving that the applicants were eligible to adopt a child from the Czech Republic."
So you would say that applicants from abroad are screened very thoroughly indeed? As well as Czech applicants are?
"Yes, I would say at least as well as Czech applicants."
What kind of feedback do you get regarding the child's welfare once it is in its new home?
"We receive so called follow-up reports, at least five in the course of the first three years."
And in Eric's case were they satisfactory?
"Yes, they were, especially the last report from December 14th, 2005 compiled by two local social workers in Sweden."
So as you see it - who do you think is to blame in this case? Is it the local social worker for not finding out what was happening?
"Yes, indeed. I think the local social workers failed in their duty."
Has anything like the Eric case happened before - for instance in the Scandinavian states?
"No, this was the first such case. It came as a big surprise to us because we have not heard of a similar case in the past - neither in Sweden nor in any other country."
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