Few babies 'abandoned' since moratorium: orphanages
Written by Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara
Orphanage directors in Phnom Penh have reported a sharp drop in the number of abandoned babies since adoptions to the US were suspended late last year. Directors contacted by the Post said they had not received any babies at all this year.
Accurate annual figures on the number of abandoned babies and children are not maintained by the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSALVY) since many institutions that accept children are not registered with the government.
Mao Sovadei, director of MoSALVY's child welfare department, said 31 babies had entered state-run orphanages in January and February, which was the last month for which figures were compiled.
The signature of Phou Phorn, village chief of Cheng Meng on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, appears on numerous abandonment documents for babies taken to the nearby Asian Orphans' Association (AOA) during 2001.
He said that last year around "two or three babies every month" were abandoned in his village. He was unable to recall where or how the babies were abandoned, or who found them in the village, but confirmed that abandonment has ceased since late last year.
It was a similar story at Koh Prik village, which is adjacent to AOA's orphanage. Village chief Yan Yon said couples abandoned babies in his village because they knew an orphanage was close by. However he was at a loss to explain why the couples had stopped coming.
Licadho founder Dr Kek Galabru emphasized that the human rights NGO did not have accurate figures on abandonment, but indicated that "if true" the decrease was likely to be as a result of the drop in demand caused by the suspension of adoptions last December.
"We question whether the high number of babies and children arriving in orphanages is the result of active recruitment of babies and children by persons involved in the lucrative business of adoptions.
"Information collected in the past has revealed networks of persons offering money, and misleading impoverished and vulnerable mothers and parents into giving up babies and children to orphanages," she said.
Figures displayed at AOA show that the orphanage still has 14 boys and 40 girls under the age of one. The orphanage has a total of 145 children in its care.
AOA deputy director Yim Sokun said 30 orphans were adopted from the orphanage to the US and other countries during 2002. He said no new orphans had arrived this year.
Other orphanages have also taken in few new orphans. Meas Sopheap manages the state-owned Kien Khleang Orphanage, with infants at the institution separately managed by an organization associated with US adoption facilitator Harriet Brener-Sam. Sopheap said fewer than ten babies had been accepted by the orphanage this year.
And Sea Visoth, director of the Khmer American Orphans' Association, said his orphanage currently has 50 children in its care. He said only 10 children already matched with parents before the suspension had been adopted to the US in 2002 under the humanitarian parole initiative of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
"I have taken on no orphans at all this year because I don't have the funds," he said. KAOA has a child trafficking case pending against three of its staff members following the reuniting of two women with their babies last December. At least one of those children had already been matched with a US couple for adoption.
The INS suspended issuing US visas for Cambodian orphans on December 21, 2001. Shortly afterwards, the immigration agency began a case-by-case examination of around 130 cases where prospective adoptive parents from the US had already been officially matched with a Cambodian child.
A toddler at the Asian Orphans' Association orphanage.