Vietnam baby smugglers jailed

Friday, 21 January, 2000, 07:48 GMT

The case has highlighted Vietnam's lax laws

A court in Vietnam has sentenced nine people, including government and hospital officials, to up to 20 years in jail for their part in selling nearly 200 babies for illegal adoption abroad.

Prosecutors said most of the infants, aged under one year, were bought from poor farming families and provincial hospitals.

They said the children were then sold for up to $2000 each to foreigners who believed they were paying for adoption procedures.

On the increase

The principal defendants, Le Quoc Binh, who brokered the adoptions between 1995 to 1997, and Bui Van Khanh, population registrar in the southern province of An Giang, received 20 years each.

Khanh had accepted a total of $14,000 in bribes to legalize adoptions, while any nurse who "successfully collected" a child received up to $15 per child, according to the Vietnam News Agency

Other sentences passed by the court in the southern province of An Giang varied between one and eight years.

Pham Thanh Hai, director of an orphanage from which many of the babies were taken, was given an eight-year jail term.

The trial was the first in Vietnam involving alleged child traffickers.

Orphanage scam

Correspondents say it comes at a time when the illegal trade in babies has been on the increase in Vietnam - with many sold to Europeans or Australians.

They say poverty and mounting social problems in Vietnam are making it easier than ever for unscrupulous brokers to persuade poor parents to part with their offspring.

Adoption brokers would approach poor families and young mothers who had just given birth offering their babies a home at a local orphanage.

The parents subsequently discovered that their children were surreptitiously offered for adoption abroad in countries that included France, the United States and Canada.

Lax laws

An earlier trial in May, in which 11 people were accused, was halted to allow prosecutors to gather more evidence.

The case has raised international concern about lax laws and dishonest brokers who dupe both natural and adoptive foreign parents seeking to adopt children from Vietnam.

France, which has seen an average of 1,200 Vietnamese children adopted each year, suspended all new adoption applications in May to allow judicial authorities from both countries to establish a convention clarifying adoption procedures.

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