A fundamental rupture was preventing Christiane
from moving forward in life, even though she did not really know why.
Until one day, during a somewhat drunken night out, her best friend told
her she had been adopted: “Your whole life is demolished within
seconds. All your foundations have been a lie. Your identity,
everything,” stammers the thirty-something year old woman in a café in
the Lebanese capital, Beirut, where she came back to live three years
ago to find her biological family.
Christiane is one of the 10,000 children who were illegally adopted during the conflict that tore Lebanon apart between 1975 and 1990.
During that period, everything could be bought and sold: weapons,
drugs, toxic waste, prominent and less prominent hostages… and children. For Zeina Allouche, co-founder of the NGO Badael Alternatives,
which supports adopted adults in their quest for their origins, one
thing is certain: “They were not adoptions, it was trafficking, a
business. The children were sold for prices as high as €10,000
Badael is fighting for a law to protect the right of these stolen children to know their origins.
“We have already gathered the testimonies of 3000 adoptees. But our
bill has not yet been submitted to parliament. As long as the
confessional system remains in place, with the same men in power,
nothing will change,” she sighs.
On 26 August 1991, after the conflict came to an end, a general amnesty law
pardoned all the criminals and warlords, who went on to become members
of parliament or ministers, with little interest in reopening files from
“I have spent a lot of time looking for my mother, but I think that
even the name on the declaration of abandonment is not hers. All the
police has to say is that she left me in front of a convent and ran
away. I’m totally disheartened. I’m trying to write a book about my
life, but I don’t know the ending!” confides Christiane.
As the war raged in Lebanon, adoptive parents opened their arms in France, Switzerland, the United States and the Netherlands.
Not all of them covered up the truth about the adoption: many were
full of good intentions and were oblivious to the fate of the biological
mothers. But the adoptees who, after reaching adulthood, decided to
look for their origins in Lebanon, came up against a wall built of
taboos and secrets of war.
Daniel Ibn Zayd
recalls, with dismay, how the nuns reacted at the crèche where he had
been placed, when he returned there. “They threatened to burn the files.
The nurse told me that certain men could not put their reputation or
their lineage at risk.”
In Lebanon, children who are not recognised by their fathers are born
orphans and are placed in a religious institution. During the war,
children were born out of wedlock and their mothers fell prey to the
trafficking orchestrated by a network of nuns, nurses and doctors within
crèches and hospitals.
It took Marie Andonian 37 years to find her daughter. The orphanage
where she had placed her, for want of means, gave her up for adoption
one morning in the autumn of 1979, without consulting her. “I went to
visit my daughter once, twice and a third time. Then she was no longer
there. And when I asked about her, they finally told me to forget about
her because she had been taken to France and she was better off there.”
Marie never forgot and finally found her daughter in France. But none of
the other biological mothers that she knows have tried to find their
From her house on the high slopes of Mount Lebanon, Marie explains
the reasons behind this denial: “During the troubles, there was
fighting, drugs…The young people didn’t get married during that period.
They would leave their children on the doorstep of a church or
hospital...The mothers who went on to marry have no interest in
recognising these illegitimate children. But in the meantime, who
suffers? The child.”
According to the Hague Convention of 1993
on the protection of children and cooperation in respect of
international adoption, ratified by 85 states but of which Lebanon is
not a signatory, all adoptions must take place “in the best interests of
the child”, ensuring “that the persons, institutions and authorities
whose consent is necessary for adoption, have been counselled as may be
necessary and duly informed of the effects of their consent” and “that
the consents have not been induced by payment or compensation of any
The mother of Dida Guigan was deemed to have given her consent on
signing a paper without knowing it was a declaration of abandonment.
That was in 1984.
A young Swiss jazz singer, Dida spent twelve years of her life
looking for her biological mother. The tracks had been obscured: her
birth certificate had been falsified, stating that her adoptive parents
were her biological parents. Her quest to find her identity finally paid
off, but she almost lost her mind in the process.
Her brothers and sisters, also adopted, have struggled to cope. “As
an adopted child, you can react in different ways. You can submerge
yourself into the search for your biological roots, or go into denial.
And sometimes, if you don’t have the necessary support, you sink…for my
three brothers and sisters, it has been prison, drugs, psychiatry.”
After having cofounded Badael Alternatives in Lebanon, she founded the Born in Lebanon
association, based in Switzerland, to assist adults adopted from
Lebanon in their quest for identity and to raise awareness among
politicians of the urgent need for cooperation on the issue.
The Hague Convention is not sufficient to wipe out the phenomenon of
illegal adoption in the world, as highlighted by Hervé Boéchat, the
author of a report on the grey areas of international adoption:
“The paradox is that although regulated in theory by the Hague
Convention, two thirds of intercountry adoptions are not currently
governed by the treaty.”
In Lebanon today, it is Syrian children who risk being the victims of
illegal adoption. They represent half of the 1.2 million Syrian
refugees in the country, where 71 per cent of them are living below the poverty line.
Zeina Allouche is in no doubt: “We are seeing the model of the
Lebanese war being replicated with the Syrian refugee crisis. Child
trafficking networks have been dismantled, but I don’t want to talk
about it, for security reasons.”