Illegal adoptions

Already in 1999, in its Dispatch on Switzerland’s Ratification of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, the Federal Council referred to the abuses that had been reported for many years and in many parts of the world. The children adopted between the 1980s and the 1990s from abroad are now adults. Some have gone in search of their origins, uncovering illicit practices that affected their adoption. All countries receiving adopted children are now confronted with these issues.

Report on illegal adoptions from Sri Lanka

The Federal Council adopted its report in response to the Postulate 17.4181 on 11 December 2020. The report is based on a commissioned study by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) that was published on 27 February 2020. The study exposes serious irregularities in some cases in child adoptions from Sri Lanka between 1973 and 1997. The Federal Council has acknowledged the misconduct of the federal and cantonal authorities in this regard and expressed its regret to the adoptees and their families.

On Switzerland’s initiative a group of European states and Sri Lanka have agreed on a cooperation protocol for the processing of adoptee requests to search for their origins in Sri Lanka. Adoptees wishing to send an application to Sri Lanka should contact the Information Service in their canton of residence.

As part of a 3-year pilot project, the Confederation and the cantons are providing financial support to adoptees from Sri Lanka in their search for their origins. To this end, an agreement was signed in Bern on 16 May 2022.

Report concerning ten other countries of origin

Following the report on Sri Lanka, the Federal Council has commissioned additional research into the following ten countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, India, Colombia, South Korea, Lebanon, Peru and Romania: Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, India, Colombia, South Korea, Lebanon, Peru and Romania. The research mandate was limited to an analysis of files held in the Federal Archives with the aim of facilitating subsequent research by the scientific community.

On 8 December 2023, the Federal Council took note of the ZHAW report entitled "Hinweise auf illegale Adoptionen von Kindern aus zehn Herkunftsländern in der Schweiz, 1970er bis 1990er-Jahre; Bestandesaufnahme zu Unterlagen im Schweizerischen Bundesarchiv" of November 2023. The report shows that irregular or even illegal practices were not limited to Sri Lanka, but that all the countries analysed were affected to varying degrees, and that the Swiss authorities were aware of this. The Federal Council expressed its regret to the adoptees and their families concerning the shortcomings of the Swiss authorities in the context of international adoption procedures.

Reform of the international adoption system

In its report of 11 December 2020, the Federal Council also noted certain weaknesses in the current legislation and practice in the area of international adoptions. An Experts’ Group was charged with analysing the concrete need for action and will propose the necessary changes to legislation and practice.

On 8 December 2023, the Federal Council took note of the expert group's intermediary report and instructed the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) to submit the expert group's final report and a proposal for further work by the end of 2024.

Search of origins

Pursuant to art. 268d of the Swiss Civil Code, responsibility for supporting adoptees in the search for their origins rests with the cantons. Contact details for cantonal information and counselling services and for private organizations offering support and assistance in the search for origins can be found under "Information about biological parents, their direct descendants and adopted children".

On behalf of the committee of the Conference of Cantonal Justice and Police Directors (CCJPD), an interdisciplinary working group has formulated recommendations in a report on how those affected can be better supported in the search for their origins. These recommendations are not limited to adoptions from Sri Lanka.

Commitment to combat illegal adoptions

Switzerland is an active member of the Hague Conference's Working Group on preventing and addressing illicit practices in intercountry adoption as well as the Working Group on the Financial Aspects of Intercountry Adoption.


For the complete documentation see the pages in German, French or Italian.


(These documents are not available in English)

Last modification 25.03.2024

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