The Adoption of Children from Sri Lanka in the Canton of St Gallen 1973-2002

Berthet, Danielle; Falk, Francesca (2022). The Adoption of Children from Sri Lanka in the Canton of St Gallen 1973-2002 Bern: Universität Bern

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On behalf of the Canton of St Gallen’s Department of the Interior (Departements des Innern, Kanton St. Gallen) the research team analyzed the legality of all 85 available cases in which children from Sri Lanka were initially accepted for fostering by married couples living in the canton between 1973 and 2002, and subsequently adopted after two years. For this purpose, a digital dossier was created for each adopted child using sources provided by municipal and cantonal authorities. In addition to the dossiers a catalogue was set-up containing all legal regulations applicable at the time, on the basis of which each case was verified. The evaluation shows that throughout the entire period of the study the involved municipal and cantonal authorities largely failed to implement the legal provisions in force at the time. Not a single analyzed procedure has been handed over where all of the prevailing legal provisions were complied with. Not only did the authorities involved, in numerous cases, ignore obvious features of commercial adoption processes in Sri Lanka (which had already been made public at the time via media reports and information from the federal authorities), they also violated their duty of care in numerous proceedings. This violation is documented in detail, with the help of various case studies at different levels; for example by not providing the children with legal representation, inadequately monitoring the foster relationship or awarding children to married couples without first sufficiently clarifying the existing conditions. Various issues were also identified at the structural level, many of which were of an extremely problematic nature. It was highly questionable, for example, that private adoption agencies - whose entire livelihood was based on the placement of children - approved the suitability of future adoptive parents. The work of the adoption agent Alice Honegger was already criticized by many at the time, however her involvement was only suspended for a short time. Based on sources that have been made accessible for the first time, this report is able to show that Alice Honegger must have been aware that she was involved in commercial adoptions. At the same time, it becomes clear that even those placements that took place without her were very often inadequate or flawed. The study also includes postcolonial approaches and points out, for example, that colonial views influenced the perception of those “South-North” adoptions and were therefore one of the reasons why the cases were not examined with the necessary care. This study proves that the errors and shortcomings presented not ‘only’ arose from events in Sri Lanka, but – particularly when it comes to the many cases of poorly implemented supervision – essentially also go back to procedural errors on the part of the involved municipal and cantonal authorities. The disclosed grievances are an expression of the fact that the “welfare of the child” (Kindeswohl) was often quoted, but in concrete cases it often amounted to an empty phrase. The files consulted as part of this study reflect the perspective of the authorities involved, and to a lesser extent that of the foster or adoptive parents. Oral surveys using an oral historical approach in Switzerland and Sri Lanka would be urgently needed to make the voices of the adoptees and birth parents heard. It would also be appropriate to conduct a further study of all adoptions of foreign children in Switzerland and a comparative study of domestic and foreign adoptions.

Item Type:

Report (Report)


School of Social Work > Institute for Childhood, Youth and Family
School of Social Work


Berthet, Danielle;
Falk, Francesca;
Abraham, Andrea0000-0003-3116-465X;
Germann, Urs;
Minder, Liliane and
Rutishauser, Lena


Universität Bern




Andrea Abraham

Date Deposited:

18 Oct 2023 12:18

Last Modified:

18 Oct 2023 12:18

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