Adoptions to US put on hold

Date: 2001-10-26

Volume 10 Issue 22, October 26 - November 8, 2001
By Bill Bainbridge

Adoptions by US citizens have been temporarily suspended after a spokesman for the US Embassy said October 25 they had uncovered "credible evidence of systematic fraud" in the process.

"Whether that's corrupt government officials, bad facilitators or unethical orphanages, we have to act," he said. "We have to uphold the law."

All visa appointments for US citizens wishing to adopt have been canceled during the investigation period. The halt could put up to two hundred adoptions on hold.

"We've received some disturbing information so we've decided to slow the process down." the official said.

Prospective parents in the US have posted emails on adoption lists in the past week following the cancellation of their October and November embassy appointments.

"A lot of US citizens are interested in adoption in Cambodia and a lot of [Cambodian] mothers give up children for legitimate reasons, so we are very hopeful that we won't have to impose a moratorium on adoption here," the official said.

US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers arrived in Phnom Penh October 15 to examine allegations against the Cambodian adoption process. The embassy official said the investigation was "not an indefinite process".

Earlier this month the US Embassy instituted new policies to thoroughly examine each case of international adoption following accusations of fraud and baby trafficking.

Initially the embassy continued to grant appointments to some parents, but seven families associated with the Asian Orphans Association (AOA) have been refused visas for their children.

The embassy website now carries a warning to families to expect lengthy delays in Cambodian adoption and advises prospective parents to delay their trip by one to two months.

The website statement is critical of adoption practices saying that "there are strong indications that there has been little, if any, improvement, in addressing fraudulent practices in Cambodia since the new [March] sub-decree".

Both the municipal court prosecutor and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) are investigating the AOA case when twelve 'orphans' were seized during a raid September 3 and placed in the care of an international NGO. Women claiming to be the mothers of two infants have since come forward seeking the return of their children.

Prosecutor Sok Roeun of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court re-opened the case more than six weeks after he released the four suspects arrested during the raid. On October 16 charges of human trafficking were laid against two carers and two other workers at a clinic linked to AOA. The following day Judge Ham Meng Se received the documents requiring him to investigate the case against the four.

Chit Boravuth, lawyer for AOA, said that the re-opening of the case was probably the result of pressure being placed on the court. Nonetheless he said it was the "right thing to do" and he would defend the four.

Meanwhile, the custody case surrounding the children seized in raid was settled October 15 when the judge awarded temporary custody to AOA. The ten infants and two children were handed back by local human rights NGO Licadho at Tuol Kork police station October 17.

Jeannene Smith, founder of US-based adoption agency Reaching Out Through International Adoptions, had forshadowed the judgement a day earlier. Smith posted a detailed message on the adoption crisis October 14 assuring prospective parents that "a letter will...be issued by the court in Cambodia also attesting to Serey's [AOA president Puth Serey] exoneration".

Smith did not reply to Post emails seeking clarification on how she was aware of the court's judgment in advance of its reading.

According to Smith's posting the Ministry of Social Affairs notified the US Embassy that Puth Serey had been "exonerated" and urged the embassy to issue visas for children adopted from AOA.

Naly Pilorge, acting director of Licadho, said they were surprised custody had been decided since the investigation had not yet been completed. She said Licadho would appeal the custody case and file a complaint with the court requesting that the 11-year-old girl, allegedly working as a full time career at the clinic, be placed in school.

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