Adoption agencies charge more than permitted

After raising foreign baby adoption fees by almost 75 percent and later regretting it, adoption agencies, Knesset Law Committee Chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson has now found, are charging families more than permitted by law, according to a letter released Sunday. "Lately, it has come to my attention that the recognized agencies are charging parents who began the adoption process before the new regulations went into effect more than the maximum fee they are allowed to charge," Ben-Sasson wrote. The letter was addressed to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and the legal adviser of his ministry, Batya Artman. Ben-Sasson said the new fee was to apply only when the regulations went into effect on May 29. Families that had applied before that date would be charged the old fee. He wrote that agencies had already started charging the new fee before the regulations went into effect. Furthermore, in some cases the agencies had told parents who had filed their applications before May 29 that they must cancel their original application and apply anew - according to the new fee. "This conduct is not proper and constitutes a violation of the law and the regulations," Ben-Sasson said. On April 15, the Knesset Law Committee agreed to increase the fees that the eight officially recognized adoption agencies for foreign babies may charge clients from $20,000 (NIS 68,400 at the current rate) to €22,000 (NIS 115,720.) In some cases, the fee may go as high as €24,000. The decision was taken at the request of the agencies, who told the committee that the value of the dollar had dropped, there was more demand for babies worldwide and some countries did not put a lid on the amount of money parents could pay for a baby. Their request was backed by the Advisory Council for International Adoption and the Central Adoption Authority. The decision to approve the increase drew heavy criticism. Representatives of families who wanted to adopt babies had not been invited to the meeting. They complained that the committee had not heard their protest that the increase would make it impossible for poor families to adopt children. Two weeks later, the committee held another meeting. This time, parents who wanted to adopt were invited and explained to the committee the consequences of its decision. During the meeting, Ben-Sasson reportedly said he had asked the government to postpone implementing the regulations. The Ynet news site quoted MK Collette Avital (Labor) as saying, "We made a mistake." Several MKs, including Yitzhak Levy (National Union-National Religious Party) and Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) demanded that the government subsidize adoption for poor families. Furthermore, cabinet secretary Ovad Yehezkel agreed to head a committee to discuss the financial issues involved in adopting babies abroad.