Upheaval in Nepal slows adoptions

Date: 2008-04-28
Source: Seattle Times

Seattle Times, The (WA)

Area families waiting for kids to be released
Political turmoil results in touchy negotiations

Author: Nancy BartleySeattle Times staff reporter
Dateline: Lacey, Thurston County

LACEY, Thurston County — He climbs, he runs, he makes truck noises and for the first time in his life, Ashok Tanner is discovering what it's like to play outside in the grass.

After 14 months, Holly Tanner finally brought her adopted son home from Nepal in February, joining a number of families who had been waiting for the children they had been matched with to be released by the Nepalese government.

For months, Tanner and other parents awaiting word on their adopted children in Nepal faced frustration as upheaval in the country's government literally closed the door on adoptions. Finally, in January, many parents like Tanner were suddenly granted the OK to make a second trip to Nepal and pick up the children they had come to love.

Now adoptions are closed again and countless other abandoned children are filling Nepal's orphanages as the Maoist party, which came to power only weeks ago in the country's first democratic elections, decides how it will handle international adoptions, as well as writing its constitution.

In April 2007, the Maoists obtained seats in Nepal's Parliament but were a minority party. After being given control over the ministry of women and children, one of the first things they did was to stop international adoptions, citing allegations of children being given up for financial incentives and through false documentation.

Then Nepal had its first democratic election, putting an end to the monarchy and placing the Maoists, which had led a bloody insurgency in the mountains for 10 years, in control of the government.

Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, is nestled between India and China. The U.S. considers the Maoist leaders to be terrorists and U.S. diplomats refuse to meet with them.

But in order to smooth the way for adoption, John Meske, executive director of the Tacoma-based Faith International, met with Maoist leader Prachanda — whose rebel nom du guerre means "the fierce one" — at his home.

Negotiations can be touchy when the U.S. continues to call the Maoists "a terrorist organization when they've won more than 50 percent of the vote" in an election that United Nations observers said went fairly well, Meske said.

Last week, he talked with Pampha Bhusal, the Maoist party member who controls the ministry of children, and was told adoptions would resume as early as May.

Meske is optimistic but said change is always possible. "This is Nepal," he said.

It's progress as far as many of the 20 or so waiting families are concerned.

Leif and Marlynn Haslund, of Tacoma, are waiting to be matched with a child even though they've long ago paid the money and had hoped to have brought a daughter home last year.

For the Haslunds, like many others, Nepali adoption was attractive because, unlike two-year-long adoptions in China, Nepali adoption took six months. Plus, it was possible to adopt an infant.

Leif, 40, has three children from a previous marriage. Marlynn, 45, can't have children. In 2007, they sent out a New Year's letter to family and friends telling them they expected to have a new baby that year. Then adoptions were halted.

The little red horse and the soft book they'd collected were reluctantly put away.

"These kids really need homes. It's just been so long," Marlynn said. "My parents are getting older and this needs to get going fast so [the girl they hope to adopt] can know them."

Typically, children who are placed in the 100 orphanages in the Katmandu region have been abandoned by their families.

Tanner's son, Ashok, was left at a police station as an infant. Little else is known about his life before he came to Nepal Children's Home.

Like Ashok, who is almost 2, Ajaya King, 15 months, also spent his earliest months in the orphanage until his mother, Margaret King, of Seattle, was able to bring him home.

King, a social worker, speaks about the radical change in her life since she brought Ajaya home in February after waiting a year.

Sometimes King and Tanner get their sons together to play. Both boys seem to love the outdoors and running through the grass, babbling toddler words in Hindi that their mothers don't understand but know will be part of the fading landscape of their children's past.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com

Caption:
Thomas James Hurst / The Seattle Times : Ashok Tanner, recently adopted from Nepal, plays with his mother, Holly Tanner. Because of political turmoil, it took Hunter 14 months to bring Ashok here.

Thomas James Hurst / The Seattle Times : Ashok Tanner, nearly 2, in his Lacey home with mother Holly. Ashok was left at a police station as an infant; little else is known about his life before he arrived at Nepal Children's Home.

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