York Statewide Adoption Reform's
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---- UPDATE 7/9/19 ----
Contact Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to "please sign the Adoptee Rights bill, A5494/S3419 as it is with no changes."
Honorable Andrew Cuomo
Governor of the State of New York
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
(Please mention if you live in New York State)
Assembly Passes Bill to Let Adoptees Access Birth Certificates
Press Release from the office of Richard Gottfried
On Thursday, June 20, Speaker Carl Heastie, Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried and Assembly Member David Weprin announced that the New York State Assembly had passed legislation that would allow adoptees to obtain a certified copy of their birth certificate (A5494, sponsored by Weprin).
"Knowing who we are and where we came from is critical not only to understanding our heritage, but for knowing our health history and any risks it might pose," said Speaker Heastie. "This legislation would ensure all New York adoptees have access to the information they need and deserve."
"Access to your personal information - who you are and where you come from - is a human right," said Assembly Member Gottfried. "New Yorkers need their own medical histories in order to make better health care choices. And connecting adoptees and birth parents works; in the overwhelming majority of cases, these reunions are cherished by both parties. I am proud we passed this bill today and look forward to the governor signing it into law."
"For too long New York's archaic laws have denied adult adoptees access to background information and a complete health history that nearly everyone has a legal right to, including those who 'age-out' of foster care," said Assembly Member Weprin. "Our outdated laws are designed to protect the anonymity of birth parents that may not have even requested it, with no regard for the needs of the adoptee. Today's legislation will deliver equality for all New York adoptees."
Under the bill, adult adoptees 18 years and older would be able to receive a certified copy of their original long form birth certificate. If the adoptee is deceased, the adopted person's direct line of descendants, the lawful representative of such adopted person or lawful representatives of such deceased adopted person's direct line of descendants would be able to receive the birth certificate of the adoptee.
Under current law, original birth certificates are placed under seal and cannot be accessed without a judicial proceeding, which does not guarantee that the adoptee will be given access.
Thanks to everyone who over the years mailed, faxed, phoned, emailed, lobbied, marched, demonstrated, shared, in support!
Wall Street Journal online, July 2, 2019: Bill Would Grant New York Adoptees Access to Birth Certificates for First Time in Decades
News 10 Albany: Adoptee rights bill awaits Gov. Cuomo's signature
Lorraine Dusky's op/ed published in the Albany Times Union on June 6th: Commentary: Allow adopted people right to know their true identity
New York Newsday interviews UI members in June 17th article: NY weighs releasing original birth certificates to adoptees
On Thursday 6/20/19, the Assembly voted YES to pass A5494 (140-6). No further action is needed.
WATCH THE VIDEO: NY Assembly 6-20-19 Session Part 2 (skip to 3:39:43) or choose another format to watch or listen here.
The Assembly bill, A5494, had 92 co- and multi-sponsors (including 78 Democrats), in addition to many supporters (out of 150 legislators).
On Monday 6/3/19, the Senate voted YES to pass S3419 (56-6). No further action is needed.
WATCH THE VIDEO: NY State Senate YouTube Channel (skip to 14:30)
CO-SPONSORS: Bailey, Biaggi, Carlucci, Comrie, Gaughran, Gounardes, Harckham, Hoylman, Jackson, Kaplan, Krueger, Lanza, Little, Liu, May, Mayer, Metzger, Myrie, Parker, Ramos, Salazar, Savino, Sepulveda, Serrano, Skoufis, Thomas.
Joyce Bahr's Blog: End 80 year old sealed birth certificate law now!
On Friday, December 29, 2017 Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed but tabled the amended bill. The Health Department, which is a part of the Governor's office, assigned a task force made up of bill sponsors and a diverse group of people. It was the job of this task force to to come up with a bill less cumbersome for adoptees and less costly for the state.
2010 Manhattan City Hall press conference with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblymember David Weprin.
Read the April 30, 2018 Health Department Task Force Adoptee Stakeholder Workgroup Report
Susan Moyer's new book, "The Lonely Child", is now available. She speaks publicly for unsealing birth certificates and will be joining us to lobby in Albany this session. Watch video and read article, "New Yorkers adopted as children, pushing for rights to certified birth certificates" on ABC-Syracuse here.
Read the article in the Democrat and Chronicle
here; read the article in the Albany Times-Union
Manhattan Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright (l.) introduced Joyce Bahr to the Assembly on June 5, 2018 and thanked Joyce for her activism. Ms. Seawright and Joyce Bahr both spoke out in support of direct access bill A9959B at a press conference held at the Capitol and organized by the bill's prime sponsor, Assemblymember David Weprin. We thank Assemblymembers Brabenec, Carroll, Gottfried, Johns, Seawright and Thiele for attending and speaking out for the Right to Know.
Birth Parents terminated their parental rights many years ago. They did not get rights. They should not be allowed to alter or deface an adoptee's birth certificate, which is the record of their birth. The idea of the redaction removing all names from original birth certificates was not well thought out. It is not a good step forward for women or adoptees. It would be a blunder, a stupid or careless mistake that would punish and humiliate adoptees if enacted into law.
Adoptees are being held to a contract they never agreed to, nor can they outgrow or escape from it. As social beliefs have changed and current research bears out, denying adoptees their fundamental human right to understand their biological connections retains the Victorian Era system of keeping adoptees second-class citizens. It is Unsealed Initiative's stand that adoptees deserve their original birth certificates without redaction and that all members of the adoption triad be given the opportunity to heal from the mistakes of the past.
In 2010 our President Joyce Bahr and our Legal Adviser Ellyn Essig, Esq. worked with Senator Velmanette Montgomery's Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel to amend our clean bill of rights. Some of the wording in the bill text was improved, and changes were made in the contact preference form and other sections of the bill to make it less costly for the state.
At the end of the 2017 Albany legislative session, amended bill A5036B (this bill was amended in assembly Codes Committee making it more restrictive) and senate bill S4845B ("same as" bill) passed in both houses.
View several of our Assembly sponsor David Weprin's videos in favor of adoptee rights
here. View Assemblymember Robert C. Carroll (a co-sponsor of clean bill A6821A) speak AGAINST the badly-amended bill
here. View Assemblymember Joe Borelli's assembly floor debate speech
here. View Assemblymember Fred Thiele Jr.'s speech
Even adoptees with life-threatening diseases such as breast cancer are denied rights. Watch an adopted woman speak out at a 2013 Unsealed Initiative protest at Assm. Helene Weinstein's office
Mothers forced to surrender their babies demand an apology.
ctvnews.ca, March 23, 2019
NY State Assemblymember Pam Hunter's childhood inspires her to reform adoption in New York.
syracuse.com, March 19, 2019
Adopted woman seeks access to birth records for her and thousands of New Yorkers.
wnyt.com, March 19, 2019
Assemblyman Out To Overturn 84-Year-Old New York Law That Keeps Adopted Children's Birth Parents Concealed.
newyork.cbslocal.com, March 14, 2019
Adopted Abroad as Infants, Raised in US, and Now - They May Face Deportation.
nbcbayarea.com, February 3, 2019
Following News10NBC investigation, lawmakers introduce legislation to update 80-year-old state law.
WHEC.com, January 29, 2019
The maternity homes where 'mind control' was used on teen moms to give up their babies.
The Washington Post, November 19, 2018
Why won't the U.S. ratify the U.N.'s child rights treaty?.
The Washington Post, November 21, 2014
The Irish Government has approved the forensic excavation of the site of the former mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.
RTE.ie, October 23, 2018
The New York Times special report on Tuam.
nytimes.com, October 28, 2017
The Latest: Pope denounces Ireland's forced adoptions.
Fox News, August 26, 2018
Adopted and Undocumented: He Grew Up Thinking He Was American - Until He Was Deported. A judge finalized his adoption at age 6.
The Intercept, August 12, 2018
Tug-of-Love: Immigrant Mom Loses Effort to Regain Son Given to US Parents after being arrested in Missouri for working without documentation.
abcnews.go.com, July 18, 2018
An adoptee Chuck Sweeny: Vietnam vet served the U.S. but can't get a passport because he doesn't know his birth mother's name.
rrstar.com, July 25, 2018
'The shame is ours':
Senate report chronicles forced adoptions in post-war Canada.
globalnews.com, July 19, 2018
MPs to demand apology for forced adoptions in UK. Commons debate to recognise suffering caused by practice from 1960s onwards.
The Guardian (U.S. Online Edition), July 7, 2018
Arkansas Blog: Adoption files will open to adult children on Aug. 1; birth parents may redact information.
Arkansas Times (arktimes.com), May 4, 2018
Iowa State Rep. Marti Anderson and daughter DNA-matched and reunited by Ancestry.com
Our good clean legislation, which we have fought for so long,
was amended at the end of the 2015 legislative session.
Adoptees Bob Gordon, Jennie Seymour and Jim Clevo:
They lobbied Albany but died without medical history
that could have saved them.
Even if only one adoptee needed medical history,
adoptees should have it. Serious health conditions might be revealed.
US News & World Report article on this subject
Senator Joseph Robach asks a Good Question: Why can't adopted children access their birth parent's medical history? (2016) https://youtu.be/skv8lFqs0W0
Transcript from June 18 Assembly debate on A2901A available here, courtesy of Jennifer Sarro.
Archived Video - Thursday June 18, 2015 Part 1 - http://assembly.state.ny.us/av/session/
Three Identical Strangers (trailer), a new documentary opening Friday, June 29, 2018.
Read the Variety Review, "Tim Wardle's gripping group portrait of triplets reunited at 19 breaks fresh ground in uncovering why they were separated in the first place," here.
Adoption information Registry: New York State Department of Health
Birth parents can consent to release information to the adoptee on DOH4455 form
Arkansas joins the list of states giving adoptees rights
Dateline NBC: Saturday 1/28/17
Who is Sean Michael? An Adoption Mystery (4-part series)
Watch the video
Public Hearing to Allow Adoptees to Access their Original Birth Certificates, Lower Manhattan, January 31, 2014.
Lobbyers in Albany with Assm. Scott Stringer (center), 2004.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Cardinal for England and Wales, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, apologizes to mothers for the Catholic Church's role in 'forced' adoptions. ITV documentary airing in England on November 9, 2016:
Britain's Catholic Herald article
America: The National Catholic Review article
Watch testimony on YouTube for the Adoptee Bill of Rights A909 from our NY State Assembly Health Committee hearing, held in Manhattan on January 31, 2014:
Joyce Bahr, UI President and Founder, Manhattan Birth Parents Support Group
Kathleen Rice, Nassau County District Attorney & Ellen Mohr, her aunt and an adoptee
Joe Soll, Psychotherapist, Author and Adoptee
Rod Shinners, Father in Search
Nancy Horgan, Reunited Mother from Rhode Island
Michael Schoer, UI Coordinator for Brooklyn and Staten Island
Joe Pessalano, UI Lobby Team member
Lorraine Dusky, First Mother Forum website
James Lane, NYC Green Party
Dana Stallard, Spence Chapin Services to Children and Adoptive Families
Leanne Jaffe, Adoption Consultant, Adapting to Adoption, Psychotherapist
Pat O'Brien, President, New York State Citizens Committee for Children
Doris Bertocci, Clinical Social Worker, Psychotherapist
Professor Elizabeth Samuels, Baltimore School of Law
Adam Pertman, Director, The National Center on Adoption and Permanency (NCAP)
Judy Kelly, PhD, LMHC, Manhattan Birth Parents Support Group, birth mother and facilitator
Michele Wadowski, Manhattan Birth Parents Support Group, birth mother and facilitator
Two surrogate judges speaking AGAINST the Adoptee Rights bill:
Judge Cyzgier cites The Matter of Linda F.M. saying the court found blackmail. The matter of Linda F.M. was heard by the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State. The judges conjectured and speculated blackmail, a slur against the motives of adoptees and Linda F.M. was denied on February 24, 1981.
John Cyzgier, Surrogate Court Judge of Suffolk County
Assemblymember Helene Weinstein also made the slur of blackmail in her debate speech at the assembly floor debate on June 18, 2015.
Peter Kelly, Surrogate Court Judge of Queens County and Executive Chair of The NY State Surrogates Association
Visit http://assembly.state.ny.us/av/ and look under Archived Videos for the complete video and audio recordings of the proceedings.
Join us to lobby our legislature and/or volunteer!
Email us at email@example.com
There were never any written promises of confidentiality for mothers who surrendered to adoption from anywhere in the country. Indeed, surrender papers that unwed mothers signed terminating their parental rights contained no mention of privacy or confidentiality for them. Many of them never heard the word. Anonymity was imposed on them, but confidentiality was not given. The word "promise" was not spoken by either social workers or adoption attorneys. Court decisions in the Tennessee Supreme Court (1997), the Oregon Court of Appeals (1999), and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (1997) held that open records legislation in Tennessee and Oregon violated no rights of birth parents under respective state constitutions or the federal constitution. Opponents of the new laws failed to produce any written promises of confidentiality.
New York Assemblymember David Weprin was quickly able to see there was no legal confidentiality for birth mothers but, according to the Speaker's Counsel Jim Yates, there was intent in New York's 1938 sealed birth certificate law to give unwed mothers confidentiality. Yates commented, in a meeting with advocates in Albany at the end of the 2014 legislative session, "We don't care about adult adoptee constitutional rights." Possibly Mr. Yates is wrong and should care, because studies conclude the intent was for confidentiality of the adoptive home — so the child could grow up without intrusion from the birth/natural mother (who was considered to be a lowlife).
Adoptee Filmmaker Jean Sacconaghi Strauss (seen here with Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.) has announced her candidacy for State Representative to the Massachusetts General Court (2/24/2018).
Her videos can be viewed on Vimeo here.
Professor Elizabeth J. Samuels study, "The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry into the History of Adult Adoptee Access to Birth Records" concludes laws were enacted to protect the confidentiality of adoptive families, not birth or natural families.
She has reviewed surrender papers and finds no evidence women were given legal confidentiality.
Link to her testimony at the NY State Assembly January 31, 2014 hearing:
Link to her website:
Rod Shinners is a member of our Albany lobby team and a father in search of a 49-year-old born on Long Island. The natural mother will not divulge the gender of the relinquished person. All he knows is the person was relinquished for adoption. Rod's search is difficult — if you know anyone 49 years old who resembles Rod, let us know!
U.S. States that never sealed birth certificates: Alaska, Kansas
States giving adoptees the right to a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate with a contact preference option for birth parents: Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island (note: theses states along with Alaska and Kansas give all adult adoptees rights)
States with contact veto laws (limited access): Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington
News Articles and Letters to the Editor
"Adoptees fight for view into past" by Leigh Hornbeck, July 13, 2015, The Albany Times Union
"A Son Given Up for Adoption Is Found After Half a Century, and Then Lost Again" by Gabrielle Glaser, July 10, 2015, The New York Times
"Law Would Permit Adoptees to Find Birth Parents" by Eric Levitz, January 29, 2015, citylimits.org
Ohio to unseal 400,000 adoption records - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV
Joyce Bahr's letter to The Albany Times-Union:
ADULT ADOPTEES NEED RIGHT TO BIRTH RECORDS
Sunday, June 8, 2014 Section: Perspective Page D3
'Gertie's Babies,' Sold at Birth, Use DNA to Unlock Secret Past, The New York Times (front page) Sunday, April 5, 2015
Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea, The New York Times (Sunday magazine cover story) Sunday, January 18, 2015
WNYC Leonard Lopate segment: Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea, January 15, 2015
New York Adoptees Fight for Access to Birth Certificates, The New York Times, June 15, 2014
Lebanese Adoptee, Searching for His Roots, Finds Islam, The New York Times, August 1, 2014
When Children Are Traded, by Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, November 20, 2013
The Child Exchange: Inside America's underground market for adopted children, Reuters Investigates (5-part series), September 9, 2013
Mirah Riben's Adoption Reform articles in the Huffington Post
David Weprin, our Assembly bill sponsor, held a press conference for A909 in Albany on Tuesday March 18, 2014.
JOIN US TO LOBBY IN ALBANY
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Adoptee Rights filmmaker Jean Strauss and President Obama.
Her videos can be viewed on Vimeo here.
Most of the world is looking down on Ireland and many U.S. states for failure to keep up with the times, to recognize badly needed human rights for adoptees and natural parents and to apologize to the victims. Scotland changed its sealed record law in 1930 and England in 1975. Kudos to the British for making the film Philomena.
Ireland to allow adopted people to get their birth records for first time
Profile of Philomena Lee in The New York Times, November 11, 2013:
A Forced Adoption, a Lifetime Quest and a Longing That Never Waned
Philomena Lee Meets Claire McCaskill, U.S. Senator for Missouri to Discuss Adoption
Real-Life Woman Behind 'Philomena' Gets an Audience With Pope Francis
Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Ireland
Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith on film portrayal
Meet the Real-Life Philomena Lee
The Real Philomena and her daughter, Jane
"How Ireland Turned 'Fallen Women' Into Slaves", a History Channel story by Erin Blakemore, March 12, 2018.
"Broadcaster Niall Boylan praised for his 'courageous' and 'extraordinary' story of Mother and Baby Home", Irish Times, March 23, 2018.
Irish Times article (12-4-17) on Adoption Authority of Ireland Conference: Adopted children must have right to contact with their birth families
Disturbing news of medical research conducted on babies in the Irish Mother and Baby Homes. Bodies of dead babies were sent to the anatomy department of medical schools.
Award-winning writer, adoptee and foundling Jeanette Winterson is interviewed on NPR about her life and latest work.
The Fallen Woman exhibition at London's Foundling Museum presents stories of women who surrendered their babies to the Foundling Hospital in their forthcoming autumn exhibition: Sept 25, 2015 through January 3, 2016. Help support the show: The Fallen Woman and read more at larahentz.wordpress.com
are a Pro Adoption Reform Organization
Adoptees must be free from a law legalizing the
falsification of permanent records. A bill signed by Governor Lehman in 1935 and enacted in 1938 which nullifies the inalienable
and civil right of a person to know the actual facts of their birth and obtain a copy of
Governor Lehman signed the closed record law in July 1935.
We are committed and dedicated to the cause of removing this outdated, unfair and
Adoptee David Phelps speaks out against discrimination against adoptees who deserve the inalienable right to know -- anything less is unacceptable.
A new law recently signed by Governor Cuomo extends participation in the adoption registry to include adult adoptees born in other states but adopted in New York.
At last they can obtain non-identifying information from the registry the same as adult adoptees born in the state.
Secrecy and confidentiality were one and the same and not legally defined because they were social mores and not laws.
Shame, secrecy and denial were social mores from the Victorian era that brought about the stigma of illegitimacy for both adoptees and for their mothers who were all too often manipulated into signing a surrender paper relinquishing their child for adoption.
Confidentiality was for the adoptive parents and not for the adoptee who professionals and everyone else knew would never search.
Social workers never developed programs to help women cope with the stigma of
illegitimacy because they felt these women deserved such stigma. Neither were
they informed that relinquishing their children would cause them lifelong grief
and anguish. Women were not presented with options. They were not considered
upright, competent nor deserving enough to raise their own children. Many women
signed a surrender paper stating that they would not interfere with the custody,
control and management of said child. The word confidentiality was not in any
surrender paper including mine. We were told over and over not to disrupt the
adoptive home and to get on with our lives and forget our own children.
Professor Samuel's research findings are correct: sealing adoption records was
meant to protect the adoptive parents, not birth or natural parents who were
treated without basic human dignity during this period and even today sadly
still are in many states. Adoptees fared no better. Torn from their natural families, their social and genetic histories, they had their native identities made secret by the state and were given new identities and expected to adapt as best they could.
This forced relinquishment and adoption has brought with it a host of problems for adoptees. By the 1970s, many sought to begin to address the realities of their lives by searching, but were dissuaded by the negative stereo type of the birth mother as prostitute, low-life or gutter dweller who would take the adoptee down with her.
However the truth eventually showed itself and adoptees found their mothers were, quite often, the girl next door.
-- Joyce Bahr, President
Australia's PM Julia Gilliard's Apology, March 2013
Here is the transcript:
Rosie Fuller's story of embarrassment and humiliation in her struggle to learn her identity. She ends up with two families and the answers she needs to heal her life.
your birth parent forthcoming with pertinent medical history? See our Articles page and read the Surgeon
General's Family History Initiative and Adam Pertman's article,
"Adoptees Deserve Access to Family Histories".
Adam Pertman, former Director of
The Donaldson Institute, the foremost think tank on adoption issues, is now the Director of The National Center on Adoption and Permanency (NCAP).
2007 Report by the Foremost Think Tank on Adoption Issues:
Restoring A legal Right for Adult Adoptees
Adopted Children Should Be Able to View Adoption Records,
Says Recent Survey by FindLaw:
1997 Cornell University Study Indicates Adoptive Parents
Are In Favor Of Open Records:
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Studies Finding for Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates
2012 - 50 pages - Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute: "Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections"
2010 - 46 pages - Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute: "For the Records II: An Examination of the History and Impact of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates" is based on a years-long examination of relevant judicial and legislative documents; on decades of research and other scholarly writing; and on the concrete experiences of states and countries that have either changed their laws to provide these documents or never sealed them at all (Entire study published on Institute's website).
2009 - 112 pages - Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute: "Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation for Adoptees." The broadest, most extensive examination of adult adoptive identity to date. (Entire study published on Institute's website).
2007 - 50 pages - Professor E. Wayne Carp: "Does Opening Adoption Records Have an Adverse Social Impact? Some Lessons from the U.S., Great Britain, and Australia 1953 to 2007." (Study available from www.informaworld.com or from Unsealed Initiative).
2007 - 31 pages - Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute: "For the Record: Restoring a Legal Right for Adult Adoptees." (Entire study published on Institute's website).
2008 - 33 pages - Cleveland State Law Review: "The Only Americans Legally Prohibited from Knowing Who Their Birth Parents Are; A rejection of Privacy Rights as a Bar to Adult Adoptee Access to Birth and Adoption Records." (Online copy available from Unsealed Initiative). Cleveland State Law Review. Volume 55 issue 3.
2001 - 59 pages - Professor Elizabeth J. Samuels: "The Idea of Adoption: an Inquiry into The History of Adult Adoptee Access to Birth Records." Study concludes confidentiality was for adoptive parents. Some birth parents signed surrender papers agreeing to stay away from the custody of the adoptee and adoptive family. But no birth parent was given confidentiality or a right to privacy. This study is published in the Rutgers law review #367, 2001. (3-page conclusion available from Unsealed Initiative).
1997 - Cornell University study sponsored by the New York State Citizens Coalition Children: "Adoptive Parents Are Overwhelmingly in Favor of Opening Sealed Adoption Records." (Available at www.news. cornell.edu/release/jan97/adoption.record.ssl.ht).
1973 - New York Law Forum study concludes adults adoptees should have access to identity and birth records for psychological health reasons. (Available from Unsealed Initiative).
Survey Finding for Access
2003 - Survey conducted by FindLaw finds an overwhelming majority of Americans believe adopted children should be granted full access to their adoption records when they become adults. (Survey findings published on http://www.findlaw.com).
Convention on the Rights of the Child
1989 - UN Resolution (44/25 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 8). Section 1 states parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference. Section 2 states where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, state parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view of re-establishing speedily his or her identity.
1970's protest; recent David Weprin press conference; David Hancock's First NY State Legislature Lobby