Who Owns You?
Who owns you? Have you ever asked yourself this question?
If you are a non-adopted person then the idea that someone could own you may never have occurred to you.
If you are an adopted person, you may not be aware of the terms of your adoption. Or how current adoption laws resemble sale and purchase agreements.
I had this lesson rammed home last week.
While I have been writing about the Adoption Act 1955, I had no idea about the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 1955.
Each of us has a birth certificate. But Births, Deaths and Marriages also hold two more essential documents. The first is known as the ‘source document’. It details everything factual about you and your parents. Filed first with Births, Deaths and Marriages, many are still completed by hand.
The ‘birth print out’ comes next. That’s an extraction of the source document. This contains all your relevant information in a shorter version. It also includes the name of the informant, the person who reports your birth.
Birth certificates are created from these documents. And that’s you. That’s how society identifies you. That’s your founding document, your social contract with the world. It says: I am.
You can get copies of these documents for $20 each.
Unless you are adopted.
That’s when s s76(3)(d) kicks in. This stealthy little clause in the BDM act says the Registrar-General may permit a person to inspect any document containing information if -
(d) the adopted person concerned, the adoptive parents or the adopted person’s natural parents are all dead; or
(e) that 120 years have passed since the birth of the adopted person.
I’ve edited out the wordy legal language. But here’s the thing. The Judge refused to permit me to inspect my own documents, because (a) I am still alive, (b) one of my adopting parents is still alive, (c) I’m not 120.
The Judge has left me with one option: to apply again under s76(4)(c) and try to prove ‘special grounds.’
But nowhere is special grounds defined. In the files held by the Ministry for Children, my birth date is six months earlier than on my birth certificate. But not knowing when you were born and suspecting your birth certificate is incorrect is not special grounds enough.
Here’s where ownership comes in. My parents are both dead. That leaves my adopting parent holding the key card.
I am 58 (or nearly 59, I’m still not sure), but my information is owned by my adopting parent.
I am in essence still an adopted child. I have no agency of my own, no control over the information held on me, nor any right to see it.
The people I am interacting with inside the system have so normalised this abuse they think it is natural to withhold your identity.
I am forced to enter this arcane labyrinth. On a good day, I am treated with strained politeness. On others, there is a callous disregard. At other times I have faced outright hostility. I am forbidden to speak to the judge in person. I am told over and again that I have no moral or legal right to my information.
Have you noticed so far the one voice missing from this?
The people who adopt.
Aside from the adopting mother of one acquaintance, I’ve not met a single adopter agitating for change. Where are the adopters outraged their child is so disenfranchised? Where are those parents demanding their son or daughter’s most basic human rights?
Instead, I hear them falling back on tired phrases. ‘We didn’t know.’ ‘We did as we were told.’ ‘We did our best.’
I could go on about willful ignorance. Or extrapolate on why an adopter does not want their child to experience the same freedoms they have.
But the phrase that hits home the most is: ‘We loved you as our own.’
Because surely no parent would want this for a person they profess to love. Would they?
Right now, there is no other group of people in New Zealand living under such laws. We have so few advocates in a system stacked against us. There are mothers and adopted people who’ve been fighting for decades against the silence of bureaucracy. Most have all but given up.
I can rant all I like about this. I can scream ‘why’ to the rafters. But all I’ll hear back is an echo of my own voice.
So my options are limited. Keep agitating and writing. To anyone and everyone in power who might want to do the right thing. Or wait until I’m 120.