Tristan and real mother are reunited
IN a quiet city park in Jakarta, on a sunny day late last month,
Tristan Dowse was reunited with his natural mother.
The four-year-old boy, who has been living in an Indonesian orphanage
since being abandoned there two years ago by his adoptive Irish
father, met his mother for the first time since his birth.
Tristan and his birth mother, Suranyi, have spent the past three weeks
re-establishing their relationship after they were brought together by
an RTE documentary team.
The emotional reunion will be shown in an hour-long programme on Tuesday night.
Although Tristan is still living in the Jakarta orphanage — where he
has been renamed Irwin by orphanage staff — Suranyi has been visiting
regularly to build up a rapport with him and there is a chance that
the authorities will allow him to be returned to her.
Because he was born in Indonesia but has Irish citizenship, and there
are doubts over the legality of his adoption, the toddler has been in
a legal limbo ever since Joe Dowse, a wealthy Wicklow man now living
in Azerbaijan, left him in an orphanage saying the adoption was simply
"not working out".
While the authorities in Ireland and Indonesia have been working to
untangle the legal dilemma, Ann McElhinney, an investigative
journalist who first wrote about Tristan's story, tracked down Suranyi
to a remote part of Indonesia and told her what had happened to her
"I said: 'He's beautiful and very healthy' and I asked her, 'What do
you want to do?'," said McElhinney. "She said: 'I have to see him'."
So McElhinney organised the transport and brought her to be reunited
with her son.
"They're together now in Jakarta. We brought her back from Tegal (in
central Java) to the orphanage."
The RTE documentary, entitled The Search for Tristan's Mum, charts
McElhinney's quest to find Suranyi. It began in Jakarta where the
paperwork in the adoption file showed Suryani's last known address,
when she gave birth to Tristan in 2001.
McElhinney headed there and handed out fliers in the area, asking for
information about the woman. "Somebody said 'I know her' and
eventually we got an address in central Java," said McElhinney.
"I went on a train the next day and it turned out to be her mother's
address, where I met her extended family."
At the time, McElhinney later discovered, Suranyi was living in
Jakarta working in a food stall near a bus station.
Keeping the reason she was trying to contact Suryani secret from her
family, McElhinney wrote her a letter and left it at the house in
Tegal for her. In it she wrote the date of Tristan's birth and said if
the date meant anything to get in touch with her.
On a previous visit to the country, McElhinney had secretly recorded a
meeting with a woman called Rosdianah, who organised the adoption of
Tristan by Dowse and whom Suranyi claims tricked her into giving her
The young mother said she had never meant for him to be adopted but
rather taken into care because she could not afford to look after him.
In the documentary McElhinney meets the head of social services in
Indonesia to see if they can help, but during the interview police
seize the tapes of her meeting with Rosdianah.
As a result, a sting operation — also featured in the documentary —
was launched in which undercover agents bought a baby from Rosdianah.
She was subsequently arrested, along with her son and daughter, and
they remain in custody facing charges of child trafficking.
The Indonesian authorities held a press conference saying they had
broken up the baby brokering ring and Suryani's name was made public.
"She got scared and went home, and when she went home she got the
letter," said McElhinney. "She contacted me and I flew out the next
day and drove for six hours, straight to the house."
Many of the agencies who have been working on Tristan's case believe
it is in his best interests to return to his natural mother. "We think
the best outcome at this stage would be to reunite Tristan with his
mother on a permanent basis," said Anton Sweeney of Adoption Ireland.
"We are delighted that she was tracked down."
The Department of Foreign Affairs said: "We are aware that the child
has met the mother and is spending more and more time with her. Our
concern has always been the welfare of the child and anything that
helps the welfare of the child is good."
Even though his natural mother has turned up to reclaim him, there is
still a lot of legal wrangling to be sorted as Tristan holds an Irish
In the meantime, the Attorney General has lodged a case in the High
Court against the Dowses, in a bid to clarify the legal position. In
order for the Indonesian authorities to allow Tristan to be re-adopted
or returned to his mother, Tristan's name has to be removed from the
Irish register of foreign adoptions.
John Collins, of the Adoption Board, the central adoption authority
appointed by the government, welcomed the fact that Tristan had been
reunited with his natural mother. A social worker from the board has
made several visits to the orphanage in the past couple of months.
Collins said the Indonesian authorities will have to in- vestigate
Suranyi's capacity to look after her son and the Adoption Board would
be kept informed.
The Search for Tristan's Mum, will be broadcast on RTE One on Tuesday at 9.30pm.