Cambodia suspends all US adoptions

Date: 2002-02-01
Source: PPP

Written by Bill Bainbridge

THE Cambodian government has ceased processing all US adoption paperwork until further notice, according to the US State Department website. The January 30 notice states that on January 25 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs verbally notified the State Department that "in acknowledgment of trafficking concerns" the Cambodian government would "suspend the issuance of adoption documentation to American families".

The US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ceased issuing visas to children adopted from Cambodia on December 21. The move by the Cambodian government will prevent a backlog of adoption cases from developing.

The State Department said it was working to confirm that these instructions were being implemented. However officials from the Adoption Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Council of Ministers - the three bodies that process foreign adoptions - told the Post that they were unaware of any change in policy.

INS personnel met with Cambodian government ministers earlier this month to discuss the suspension. The INS plans to investigate each orphan's background before an adoption is completed.

The suspension followed more than three months of controversy which resulted in seven people from two separate organizations being charged with adoption related trafficking. The INS informed two groups of prospective parents in letters dated November 30 that it intended to deny visas for their twelve adoptive children. The letters, two of which were obtained by the Post, contain details of the INS investigations in early November last year.

Officials visited the Asian Orphans' Association (AOA) November 7 seeking to verify the authenticity of the adoptees' status. Deputy director Sakhan Yo had a litany of contradictory stories for investigators.

Yo first told the investigators that AOA director Puth Serey had taken all adoption records with him on an overseas trip. He later told the INS that the holding of records was a recent innovation. Later he again changed tack and said records had been kept but were destroyed because the book in which they were kept was old.

One INS letter noted that these statements were "inconsistent with required practices under Cambodian law" and added that it was "not credible that the director ... would carry the orphanage records on his person when he travels".

Describing Yo's statements as "implausible and incredible" the letter concluded that it was "virtually impossible to establish the eligibility of the beneficiary as an orphan".

The INS discovered similar inconsistencies in paperwork relating to adoptions from the Cambodian French Hungarian Friendship orphanage.

On December 20, US Senator Landrieu pilloried the INS's conclusions, claiming the investigation was based on flawed investigative work and inaccurate translations. The following day 'humanitarian parole' visas were granted for the twelve children, allowing them to be taken to the US.

Local human rights NGO Licadho released a briefing paper February 1 calling on the US, as the largest market for Cambodian orphans, to take action in combating adoption related trafficking.

The paper alleged a range of abuses, including baby buying and document forging, fueled by demand from the US. Over the past two years the NGO has investigated 15 cases of trafficking for adoption but concluded that most cases were probably not reported to authorities or NGOs.

The paper cited the December 4 case in which staff at the Khmer American Orphans Association were charged after returning two infants to their birth mothers. At the time orphanage director Visoth Sea denied any involvement in foreign adoptions. However it was revealed in the Licadho paper that one of the children had already been earmarked for adoption to the US.

According to the paper the US Embassy confirmed that one of the children was "the subject of a pending application for adoption to the US [and falsely identified] as being an abandoned child, whose parents were unknown".

US-based adoptive families and adoption industry figures have begun a concerted campaign of political lobbying to lift the INS suspension and are fundraising for several orphanages suffering revenue loss over the halt in issuing of visas.

Meanwhile France, the second most common destination for Cambodian adoptees, may revamp its adoptions system. This could increase the number of Cambodian children being adopted by French parents.

In January France's family minister, Segolene Royal, presented a plan to the French cabinet which would cut waiting times for international adoptions. It currently takes around two years to conclude an international adoption under the complex French system.

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