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Adoptee wins right to know mother's identity

A court decision has reopened the debate over the rights of adoptees to know their biological parents Keystone Archive

A precedent-setting court decision means that adopted children have won the right to know the identity of their biological parents.

This content was published on March 19, 2002 - 15:17

Switzerland's Federal Court on Tuesday ruled that a 34-year-old man had an "absolute right" to know the name of his biological mother, even though she feared it would damage her emotionally.

The case looks set to reopen an emotional debate about the rights of adopted adults versus those of their biological parents.

The case first started in 1998, when the man sought his mother's identity from the civil registry of canton Lucerne.

Born out of rape

She had tried to prevent her identity becoming known to him, arguing that he had been born as a result of a rape.

She insisted that the adoption had caused her enormous stress, and that revealing her identity would endanger her health and emotional stability.

However, the court found in the son's favour, basing its judgement on the International Convention on the Rights of the Child - which gives every child the right to know its parents.

But Martin Jäger, head of the Federal Office of Civil Status, warned that the judgement did not mean adoptees were guaranteed details of their natural parents.

He said that in many cases involving children adopted from abroad the biological parents were not known. Also, parental records of orphaned children were often incomplete or non-existent, he said.

Eliane Dürrenmatt, of the International Social Service in Geneva, told swissinfo the court's decision was unlikely to have much influence on other cases in Switzerland.

"If we look at the numbers of children given for adoption in Switzerland, there are not so many," Dürrenmatt commented.

More foreign adoptions

The issue is set to become increasingly difficult, as the proportion of children adopted from abroad continues to rise in Switzerland.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, in 1987 nearly half of the 1,431 adoptions that year involved Swiss-born children. In 2000, only 198 of the 808 adoptions were Swiss.

The decision is also expected to have ramifications for children born through artificial insemination. The decision means they too will have the same rights as adopted adults.

The court's decision only applies to adoptees over 18, and comes ahead of new laws due to take force from summer enshrining adults' rights to demand their parents' identity.

Canton Lucerne now has the responsibility of providing the man with his mother's identity.

swissinfo with agencies

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