International adoptions to be 'a last resort'

Date: 2003-07-04
Source: PPP

Written by Bill Bainbridge

A draft adoption law has suggested that international adoptions be relegated as a final option when dealing with orphaned children. The law, which was developed by UNICEF, was presented at a June 23-24 workshop to discuss the draft.

UNICEF's Sarah Mills said the current regimen did not hold the best interests of the child as the primary consideration.

"[The draft law] looks at local alternatives in the family, the community and province ahead of international adoption," she said, adding that it was difficult to say when the law, which was first drafted more than two years ago, would be presented to the National Assembly.

The long-stalled law aims to regulate international adoptions. Detractors of the current system say it operates as a lucrative business, which fuels the trafficking of infants, and favors international adopters over Cambodians.

A situation report issued in May by the Netherlands Embassy in Bangkok said it appeared that government officials had stymied efforts to implement alternative systems such as foster care and domestic adoption. It concluded that the practice of international adoptions here was "still deeply tainted with unlawful and corrupt practices and ... suffered from a lack of transparency".

It also stated that the precise level of baby trafficking was impossible to assess, but noted that reported trafficking cases probably represent the tip of the iceberg.

Article 7 of the proposed law would outlaw the payments or gifts to induce the consent of the child's natural parents. Its inclusion follows the suspension of adoptions to the US and France after widespread allegations of baby trafficking, document fraud and official corruption.

Families from the US routinely pay between $12,000 and $20,000 to adopt a Cambodian child, but much of that money is unaccounted for. The report stated that "the biggest chunk" was thought to go to the facilitators, rather than ministry officials or orphanages.

Mills said the new law would seek to regulate adoption facilitators more tightly, rather than exclude them altogether.

"The agency would need to be accredited in their home country and in Cambodia, and it would need to be non-profit," she said.

A further provision would see a fee schedule set for government ministries. Adoptions are currently regulated by a vaguely-worded March 2001 sub-decree, which allows for "voluntary donations" to the ministries involved. US-based facilitators quote "government fees" of up to $9,000 on their websites.

Under the new law, the courts would make the final decision on adoptions. The role of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth (MoSALVY) would be reduced to making technical assessments and referring cases to the courts.

The law calls for the establishment of a "technical entity" in MoSALVY, which would include social workers, sociologists, psychologists and people with legal expertise to assess the suitability of prospective parents.

The Dutch report had questioned the suitability of many people who come here to adopt.

"Psychological and social assessments are not always conducted by qualified professionals ... parents that have been rejected elsewhere [take another chance] in Cambodia where the rules are more easily bent," the report said.

The body within MoSALVY would also be responsible for creating and updating a list of children eligible for adoption, in order to guard against children with fraudulent paperwork being presented for adoption.

The Dutch report noted that while only 22 percent of Cambodian children are registered at birth, "amazingly" all children for adoption had a birth certificate.

"Official documents required for adoption are widely known to be doctored," it concluded.

Stephane Rousseau, who authored the Dutch report and works as a special advisor to the Netherlands Embassy, said more work was needed before the draft would be ready to pass into law.

"There is a need to harmonize this draft law with the current drafts of the Civil Code and Penal Code," he said, explaining that those codes contain provisions for trafficking and adoption, but contradict UNICEF's draft adoption law.

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