US and Sweden first to halt adoptions from Vietnam

A new agreement on adoptions with Vietnam should be in keeping with the Hague Convention, writes CAROL COULTER / Irish Times

ALMOST 500 children were adopted from outside Ireland last year, part of the phenomenon of inter-country adoption that has been growing internationally since the beginning of the 1990s.

This gave rise to the 1993 Hague Convention, which entered into force in 1995, and the ratification of which is currently before the Oireachtas.

The convention aims to ensure that inter-country adoptions are made in the best interests, and respecting the rights of the child, and to prevent abductions, sale and trafficking in children.

This involves ensuring that parents are counselled as to the consequences of their consent; and that consent is given freely without any financial inducements or coercion.

A US government report on adoptions in Vietnam, published last year, suggests these principles were not always observed.

The difficulties hinged on the degree of local autonomy enjoyed by the Vietnamese bodies responsible for referring children for adoption, who in many instances delegate this authority to the local orphanage director. He or she in turn entered into agreements with US-based Adoption Service Providers (ASPs), involving donations to the orphanage.

There were over 40 US-based ASPs in Vietnam, and this tended to generate competition among them for adoptable children. Different regimes applied between different agencies. One orphanage, with a donation agreement involving a cash payment to directors per adoptable child, saw an increase of 2,000 per cent in one year in the number in its care.

The report also stated that the donation system led to the reduction of protections for birth parents. To be eligible for adoption children can be “deserted” or “relinquished” by their birth parents to an orphanage.

A US consular official who interviewed such parents reported that 75 per cent of them said they had received payment from the orphanage for relinquishing their child, with the average amount coming close to a year’s salary.

Consequently, the US discontinued adoptions from Vietnam last spring, and Sweden followed in October 2008.

A bilateral agreement between Ireland and Vietnam has lapsed, and the Government is pursuing a new one, but one in keeping with the Hague Convention.

Minister for Children Barry Andrews said many of the abuses identified by the US authorities were unlikely to arise in Irish adoptions, as there was only one mediation agency, not several competing ones, and Irish adoptions are generally of “relinquished” rather than “deserted” children, so the issue of consent can be looked at far more closely.

The chief executive of the Adoption Board, John Collins, said the Irish mediation agency, Helping Hands, did not give money directly to orphanages, but gave money into a pool, some of which went to orphanages and some into community projects, including projects which supported keeping vulnerable children in their communities.


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