Vietnamese adoptions face scrutiny

September 21, 2009 / Irish Times.com

MINISTER FOR Children Barry Andrews told the Dáil last week that he would be failing in his duty to protect children if he did not carefully consider the content of two reports before deciding on the next steps with regard to Vietnamese adoptions. writes CAROL COULTER 

Vietnam is the country from which most children are at present adopted into Ireland.

In 2008, of the 498 declarations of eligibility issued by the Adoption Board, 286 were for Vietnam, followed by 125 for Russia, according to the board.

Intercountry adoptions are regulated internationally by the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions. However, neither Ireland nor Vietnam have yet signed up to it, although Ireland will when the Adoption Bill, which has gone through the Seanad, is passed by the Dáil, probably in this session. Vietnam has indicated it wishes to sign up to the convention in 2010.

Adoptions between the two countries were regulated by a bilateral agreement, which lapsed in May of this year.

A report from the US embassy in April last year raised a number of disturbing issues, at the heart of which was the question of the informed consent of the parent of the child being adopted and whether money changed hands during the process. The problems stem from the autonomy of the local people’s committees which run the institutions.

Most foreign adoption agencies operating in the country offer “humanitarian aid” to the institutions from which the children come. There seems to be no accountability, either to the Vietnamese government or to the governments of the adopting countries, about this money.

Following the publication of the US report, two further reports were prepared, both as part of Vietnam preparing to sign the Hague Convention. One was the report from the Vietnamese ministry of labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs (Molisa), prepared with the assistance of UNICEF, which is available on the website of the Adoption Board.

The second report was prepared by UNICEF’s International Social Service (ISS), and is as yet unpublished and in draft form. It has been seen by The Irish Times.

It describes the “complex and dysfunctional nature” of the adoption system in Vietnam, and highlights its main concerns. These include that intercountry adoptions from Vietnam are essentially demand-driven, meaning that the availability of children who are “adoptable” corresponds more to the existence of foreign adopters than to the actual needs of “abandoned” or orphaned children.

It adds that the circumstances under which babies become “adoptable” are invariably unclear and disturbing. It criticises “a remarkably unhealthy relationship between agencies and specific residential facilities”. Receiving countries have been sending out mixed messages, it states, thereby undermining Vietnam’s efforts to sign up to the Hague Convention. It describes the country’s commitment to doing so as “a highly positive perspective”.

The Molisa report does not go into detail about the humanitarian aid aspect of adoption, but identifies as a serious problem the fact that authority for intercountry adoptions has been dispersed to commune level committees.

It also criticises the fact that there is no clear statement in law that international adoption shall be used only as a last resort, once all options for placement within the country have been considered, and that there are no systematic procedures for finding a suitable domestic family. It is also critical of the absence of any requirement that birth parents be given counselling and be clearly informed of the consequences of adoption before giving consent.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

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