The tragedy behind a shady adoption

The tragedy behind a shady adoption

Source: Friesch Dagblad

Mirjam searches for her identity all her life 

In the Netherlands, adoptions from abroad are no longer permitted. At the beginning of February last year, the government decided to halt this possibility because of the many stories about abuses. Mirjam (49) knows exactly how devastating it is when an adoption procedure is not crystal clear and legal. All her life, she has been searching for her true identity. 

Mirjam (49) was brought to the Netherlands illegally from Chile in 1972. (Image by Rens Hooyenga)

Mirjam was adopted as a baby from Chile in 1972 by a Christian couple from Lunteren. Later on, the family was extended with a boy from Peru. Mirjam grew up as an ordinary Dutch girl and considered her adoptive parents as her real parents. They told her nothing about her origins. One day in the schoolyard, she finds out that things are different. I remember coming home from school as an eight or nine-year-old girl, screaming: other children had said that I did not have real parents. I had never realised that they were not my real parents. I had never noticed the difference in skin colour. I sometimes wrote to my grandmother from Chile, but I didn’t know how that connection really worked. 

This ‘grandmother’ is a Dutch woman who married a German man and lives in Chile. She is in contact with convents and networks of lawyers and social workers and regularly writes letters to young Mirjam about life in Chile. 

When Mirjam is thirteen years old, her adoptive father dies of lung cancer. She is not very sad about this, because she did not really like the man. Afterwards she becomes a recalcitrant teenager. She asks critical questions and wants to know from her adoptive mother what is going on with her ‘grandmother’ in Chile. But instead of answering, she receives a dismissive response. Do you want me to go to jail? Be grateful. Stop whining,’ she is often told. 

A distance grows between Mirjam and her adoptive mother, who remarries after a while, and she starts looking for clues about her origins. At some point, she finds an adoption file somewhere in the house and secretly copies some papers from it. Among other things, she discovers that her date of birth, 10 May 1972, is made up and that she must have been brought out of Chile illegally during the Pinochet dictatorship. I felt betrayed. My adoptive parents had always lied to me. I then chose a date to celebrate my birthday myself, because I thought it was ridiculous that it said 10 May in my passport, even though it wasn’t my date of birth at all.” 

“Vanished” (Spoorloos) 

When she is in her early twenties, Mirjam contacts the Dutch TV programme “Spoorloos”. She hopes that with the help of the Dutch public channel “KRO” she can find out who her parents are and where she comes from, but her summary file makes that too complicated. It looks like illegal adoption, but we can’t help you’, she is told. It is a disappointment. She then decides to focus on her new love. She marries and at twenty-two becomes a mother. Later on, she has two more children. But the unrest in me remained. I had wild horses in me that had to be tamed. I wanted to know where I came from. 

So Mirjam resumed the search for her origins and at the end of the nineties she contacted the Red Cross. She then came into contact with a woman from a village on the Dutch Wadden coast. She has a sister in Chile who runs a children’s home as a nun and who, for a fee, would be willing to investigate. Mirjam has to hand over a folder with photos of her first ten years and pay an entry fee of 400 Dutch guilders. 

At the end of the year 2000, she received a message: her family had been traced. Her mother was no longer alive, but two brothers, a sister and an uncle were. 

With her partner, her adoptive mother and her step-adoptive father, Mirjam goes to Chile for three and a half weeks in March 2001. At first, my adoptive mother did not want to go, but I begged her to go with me. It was important to me that she went along. Even though our relationship wasn’t too good,” Mirjam explains. The trip, in which the nun acts as interpreter, is an expensive one, but she is willing to pay a lot to find out where she comes from. 

I had been longing for this all my life. My anxiety was gone in one go 

At Santiago airport, I already had a feeling of coming home. The atmosphere of the city, the sounds, the smells, the people. It was really like coming home”, she remembers. But I was afraid of being rejected by my Chilean family. I did not speak Spanish. When we drove to them in the inlands of Chile, it was as if we had arrived in the Middle Ages. No electricity, simple houses with sand as a floor. But when we arrived, we were so welcome. Meeting my brothers and sister in Chile was a euphoric moment. I had been longing for this all my life. My restlessness was gone at once. My uncle told me that I resembled his sister, my mother Bertha. I had long hair just like her. I had the same eyes and curves, he said. I felt so at home.” 

Grave gone 

A few days later the first blemish on the impressive and emotional journey arrives. Mirjam wants to lay flowers on her biological mother’s grave, but when they arrive at the cemetery, the grave turns out to be empty. At Mirjam’s insistence, they ask at the cemetery for the records and discover that her mother died by suicide. According to the nun’s records, she had died of a heart attack at the age of 42. She lays the red roses she brought with her on the field where the archives say Miriam’s mother lies. I had a very strange feeling at the time. Is this right? When I suggested the nun to do a DNA test, she got angry and said: ‘You don’t believe me. I am a clergyman.’ In retrospect, I was naive. I wanted so much to believe that my mother was lying there. I didn’t want to ask any more questions.” 

At the farewell, Mirjam suggests to keep in touch with the nun, but the director of the children’s home declines; she cannot keep in touch with everyone, she says. She herself cannot write to her brothers and sister and uncle, because they are illiterate. However, she is able to get in touch with their children, her nephews and nieces. 

In the end, the trip does not make Mirjam’s unrest disappear. This was mainly due to the nun’s dismissive behaviour and the uncertainties surrounding her mother’s grave. It turned out she was not buried in the first grave indicated and apparently the death certificate had been tampered with. After all, according to the papers, she would have killed herself, while there was later talk of a heart attack. 

Speed-course Spanish 

To avoid having to depend on an interpreter, Mirjam takes a crash course in Spanish. She maintains contact with her family on the other side of the ocean by means of airmail letters. This is how she finds out that she must have an older sister. At the age of eight, she disappeared without a trace. However, their mother afterword had a “bag of money”. She also learns that her brothers and sister knew nothing of Mirjam’s existence. In itself I didn’t find that strange, because it happened more often than not that when poor women gave birth in hospitals, doctors often let them know that the child had died at birth. It was then sold on. 

In 2013 and 2018, Mirjam went to Chile again. This time alone with her partner and without an interpreter. The welcome is heart-warming again. Her family on the other side now consists of 35 people. She has no hard evidence of illegal child trafficking, but there are suspicious items. 

Back in the Netherlands, she looked for help via a Chilean organisation, Chilean Adoptees Worldwide (CAW), which counsels adoptees in their traumas and search for biological family members. Meanwhile, the social media have improved the possibilities of tracing. Thanks to Facebook, she managed to track down her missing sister in Italy. She is in contact with her through Messenger. She is not happy to see Mirjam, but is angry that her family has never sought contact. She doesn’t want contact. Mirjam informs her family in Chile. They are relieved to hear that their disappeared sister is still alive, and they regret that she doesn’t want contact. 

Through CAW, she also learns more about the nun who brought her into contact with her supposed biological family. Through the nun’s orphanage, at least 125 children were brought to the Netherlands, without having the right papers. Among them was Alejandro Quezada, the founder of CAW. He later found out that his biological mother was still alive. Because of his story, I started to focus on the nun’s life like a detective,” says Mirjam. 

But now I still don’t know who my parents are’. 

And then it was 2020. After three strokes, Mirjam’s 85-year-old adoptive mother is deteriorating rapidly. Mirjam, who is a care worker, helps her. That is my Christian duty”, says Mirjam. She has had a solid Christian upbringing and has kept her faith in spite of everything. She always helped her mother, but during the last three months of her life she was there almost day and night. These were the most beautiful months with her,” says Mirjam. We had good conversations. On her deathbed, her adoptive mother repeatedly asked Miriam to forgive her. She has not always been a good mother, she says. In the end Mirjam says: “Mom, just go to the other side. It is all right. I have forgiven you. She says goodbye to her mother with her adoptive brother from Peru. 

While corona makes its appearance and the Netherlands goes into lockdown, Mirjam cleans up her adoptive mother’s house in Lunteren. Then she finds adoption papers she has never seen before. When she looks into the Chilean passport that she must have had with her as a baby, there is the Dutch name of her adoptive parents. She also finds out that her Chilean names have been destroyed, at her adoptive parents’ request of course. When Mirjam goes through these papers, the penny suddenly drops: this was the reason why her adoptive mother repeatedly asked for forgiveness on her deathbed. I cried out, ‘Why? Why?’ I understand the desire of couples to have children, but you don’t fulfil that desire through illegal practices, do you? In the Weerribben nature reserve where we have lived since last year, I have cried out to God. Why in His name so much suffering was caused. I felt like a Job. Why did I have to experience this suffering? 

At the municipality and the Immigration Office they ask for new papers. With these, Mirjam starts looking for her identity again. She contacted the World Children’s Foundation (Wereldkinderen), which has been taking care of inter-country adoptions since 1971, but her files appeared to be missing. She does discover a file about herself at the Child Protection Authority, from which it appears that her parents were not considered suitable for adoption. How could she have been adopted anyway? That they have put some money on the table”, Mirjam suspects. 

DNA test 

On the basis of her unease and the new adoption details, at the beginning of this year Mirjam had a DNA test done via MyHeritage in Houston, USA. She asked her family in Chile to cooperate and they did. Just before Easter she received the shocking news that they were not related.

I have had contact with supposed relatives for twenty years. With people I have come to love. 

I cried my eyes out. I was so exhausted. I was puking in front of the toilet. I was sick of being lied to for so long. I have had contact with supposed family for twenty years. With people I have come to love, but now I don’t know who my parents are. When I was born. I know that I am loved and known by my Father in Heaven. That is what I hold on to, but in the meantime I also want to know who and where my biological parents are. Is my mother still alive? Is she perhaps looking for her child? 

Mirjam tries to make contact with the nun, the former director of the Chilean children’s home, by whom she feels so betrayed. And with the nun’s sister, who made the contact at the time. The sisters are now 87 and 89 years old and both have moved away. The nun stays in a convent in the Netherlands and doesn’t want any contact, not even after a registered letter from Mirjam’s lawyer. It’s not about money, but about why. I want answers to so many questions, from the nun but also from semi-government employees, airline employees, municipalities. They all worked with forged papers and documents. Why?” 

Fiom Netherlands, which is part of a large network to search internationally for parentage information and biological family and which mediates in cross-border adoptions, is now familiar with Mirjam’s story. It is one of many stories, says a spokeswoman, a very sad story. 

Mirjam finds it difficult to explain how contact is now with the people in Chile she considered her family until recently. We have contact, but since the results of the DNA test something has broken down. They are also deceived and angry. 


In early 2021, the outgoing Dutch cabinet apologised for the way in which the government had for years looked away from abuses surrounding adoptions. Adoptees should not count on money, the Ministry of Justice and Security has already announced, after a liability claim by lawyer Dewi Deijle. She had done so on behalf of a group of Dutch people adopted from Indonesia. 

The Joustra Commission concluded in February 2021 after an investigation that the Dutch government had not intervened in the adoption process in the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties, despite abuses such as child trafficking and child theft. According to Minister Sander Dekker of Legal Protection, the government has a “moral responsibility” to support adoptees in their search for their origins. That is why a national “expertise centre” is being set up to offer them legal and psychosocial support, among other things. Adoptees can also get access to adoption files and parentage information. 

In Chilean media, there has been a lot of attention for illegal child trafficking lately. The Chilean Investigation Police (PDI) is currently conducting a large-scale investigation into these practices in the past. 

On YouTube you can see a report by a Chilean television channel about illegal child trafficking, with Dutch and English subtitles.

Source: Friesch Dagblad

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