Denmark: Woman under investigation for being behind illegal adoptions

Denmark: Woman under investigation for being behind illegal adoptions

9. nov. 2022, 11:46

In the late 1970s, the first children from Chile started coming to Denmark.

Demand was high from childless Danish couples queuing up to have an adopted child. And the couples were prepared to pay large sums in so-called “Chile fees” to have their dream of a nuclear family fulfilled.

At the same time, there was a romantic notion that as adoptive parents you were doing a good deed by giving some orphaned and poor children a safe home.

But in recent years it has emerged that a large proportion of the 20,000 or so Chilean children adopted into Western countries have in fact been stolen from or robbed of their parents.

In Denmark, a total of 111 children came here in the years 1978-1995, and according to a report from the Ankestyrelsen in 2021, it cannot be denied that adoption brokering has been linked to “illegal behaviour” in Chile.

A new TV 2 documentary ‘The Stolen Children’ attempts to uncover what happened when the Chilean children came to Denmark and what preceded their journey here.

Interest centres on one woman in particular – social worker Ruth Chia Barrios.

She acted as a contact person for the Danish adoption agency AC Børnehjælp, but is now under investigation by the Chilean authorities. They suspect her of playing a role in the illegal adoptions.

That the woman was central to the work of bringing Chilean children to Denmark is clear from documents from the AC Children’s Aid archive, to which TV 2 has been given access, and from photos taken in 1979 at Copenhagen Airport.

TV 2’s research shows that Ruth Chia was involved in the majority of Danish adoptions.

A profitable business

In Chile, “child harvesting” and child trafficking is an issue that has been reported in the media as far back as the 1960s.

Under General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, it even became official state policy to try to eradicate poverty by adopting poor children for wealthy foreigners.

Four ways to steal children for adoption

Around 20,000 children were adopted from Chile to Western countries during Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship from 1973-1990. It is estimated that up to half of the adoptions were done illegally.

The child adopters, who were mainly civil servants, typically used these four methods:

  • The social authorities summarily declared the parents unfit and forcibly removed their children, after which the children disappeared or were declared dead.
  • Authorities or the church lured or blackmailed poor parents into signing papers they did not understand.
  • Children were lied dead after births or hospitalizations.
  • Outright kidnapping of children.

One method was for the social authorities to simply declare the parents unfit and forcibly remove their children, who then disappeared or were declared dead. Or the parents were manipulated into signing papers of which they knew nothing.

Child harvesting apparently became a very profitable business for the organisations involved, which for long periods exploited the lack of legislation to carry out adoptions abroad.

In 2018, the Chilean parliament set up a commission of inquiry to look into thousands of reported cases of stolen children.

It found that a large proportion of the illegal adoptions had been brokered through the state orphanage Casa Nacional del Niño.

It was this orphanage that the Danish adoption agency AC Børnehjælp worked with in the 1970s, and social worker Ruth Chia was the contact person.

Negotiated fees for children

In connection with the documentary series ‘The Stolen Children’, TV 2 has sought access to correspondence between the Casa Nacional del Niño orphanage in Santiago, Chile, and AC Børnehjælp in Denmark.

These are among the highest fees we pay anywhere

Folmer Lund Nielsen, director of AC Børnehjælpnone

Here it appears that Ruth Chia personally handled all communication with the director of AC Børnehjælp, Folmer Lund Nielsen. This included negotiating fees for adoptions.

“Please pay $1,200 per child to cover the costs,” Ruth Chia wrote in a letter to the late Folmer Lund Nielsen.

His reply about the price read: 

“We already have many applicants who want to adopt a child from Chile. We will pay $1200 for two babies.”

Overall, the Danish director was very pleased with the cooperation with the state-owned orphanage in Santiago del Chile.

But along the way, negotiations with the orphanage’s contact person became more strained.

Illegal adoption

“Adoption cannot be granted if anyone who is to consent to the adoption provides or receives remuneration or any other form of consideration, including payment for lost earnings.”

Adoption Act §15, 

provision introduced in 1997

This was especially true after Ruth Chia began brokering her own private adoptions from 1980, bypassing the official ones from the orphanage and often involving nearly newborn infants.

For now, the price was raised to $2,500 per child, prompting Folmer Lund Nielsen to respond in the following terms:

“Dear Mrs. Chia, you must remember that this is among the highest fees we pay anywhere.”

Nevertheless, on behalf of AC Børnehjælp, he accepted all of Ruth Chia’s conditions, which included that payment be made in cash and that private adoptions be kept secret from the authorities in Chile.

“We welcome the eight new cases,” he concludes in the letter.

Investigation under way

The reason why people like Ruth Chia managed to make a lucrative business out of the adoption of Chilean children was that Chile, during the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, was marked by corruption and lawlessness.

When the Chilean government set up the commission of inquiry in 2018 to look into the more than 40-year-old cases, it simultaneously launched a criminal investigation in a Chilean court.

Ruth is mentioned in connection with several cases, but I would be breaking the law if I commented on specific cases

Jaime Balmaceda, Judge of the Court of Appeal

The work is led by two judges, appointed by the Chilean Supreme Court, and is carried out in cooperation with the Chilean Investigation Police, PDI.

The investigation, which is still ongoing, encourages people to come forward to tell their stories, and in return they are given access to their files and help in searching for missing family members.

– The number of cases being investigated is growing daily. Day by day. Week by week, says Appeal Court Judge Jaime Balmaceda in the documentary ‘The Stolen Children’.

The Complaints Board in Chile estimates that there are at least 8000 suspicious cases of children who have gone missing. However, NGOs estimate the figure to be considerably higher.

An association of mothers looking for their stolen children is now seeking criminal proceedings against Ruth Chia and other perpetrators of the illegal adoptions.

– Ruth is named in several cases, but I would be breaking the law if I said anything about specific cases, so I can’t,” says Appeal Court Judge Jaime Balmaceda.

Photographed at the airport

It is not just in documents and in the ongoing investigation that Ruth Chia appears in connection with Danish adoptions.

She also appears in photos taken at Copenhagen Airport, or Kastrup Airport as it was then known. Here she and her husband, Dr Santos Barrios, appear among the happy Danish adoptive parents who arrived to collect their long-awaited child or children from Chile.

In some cases, the couple also turned up for check-ups one or two years after the children had arrived in the country.

It was only in the early years, however, that Ruth Chia herself accompanied the children on the plane. Later, it was mainly health workers or young students who were assigned to escort the children out of the country.

In some cases, they also had to accept cash payments and act as couriers for Ruth Chia and others.

TV 2 has tried several times to get Ruth Chia to appear in the documentary ‘The Stolen Children’, but without success.

Today, Ruth Chia is over 90 years old and lives in a villa in one of the more affluent neighbourhoods of Santiago. Her husband is long dead.

Whether she and the other suspected key players in the organised trafficking of children will ever be held to account for their actions is therefore highly doubtful.

Watch the first episode of ‘The Stolen Children’ on TV 2 PLAY right now – or on Wednesday at 20.50 on TV 2


Translate »
error: Content is protected !!