Authorities in the Republic of Congo have suspended the international adoption of children to ensure the interests of such children are protected.
The move comes in the wake of the 25 October arrest in neighbouring Chad of members of a French NGO who were subsequently charged with abducting 103 children destined for new families in Europe.
L’Arche de Zoé (Zoe’s Ark) says it was trying to rescue Sudanese orphans from "certain death" in the Darfur region, on the border with Chad.
"I have taken this decision as a precautionary measure," Aimé Emmanuel Yoka, the Congolese minister in charge of justice and human rights, said on 1 November.
Yoka noted that crew members of the plane chartered by Zoe’s Ark in Chad were Spanish nationals and that Spanish agents had been involved in the adoption of 17 Congolese children since he became minister in March 2007.
"This doesn't mean I am calling adoption into question; this is an institution fixed by family law in Congo. I have a responsibility to ensure that in any case only the interests of the adoptee are taken into consideration in the adoption procedure," he added.
"There is a lot of bungling and complicity. Adoption procedures are often not followed," said Roger Bouka Owoko, executive director of Congo's human rights watchdog, l’Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH).
A study carried out in 2006 by the government, the justice and peace commission and the UN Children's Fund revealed that there were about 2,000 child victims of cross-border trafficking in Congo during that year.
Most of those children came from West African countries, including Benin, Mali, Senégal and Togo. Others were from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.