Cambodian National Assembly passes legislation regulating adoptions

October 23, 2009 /

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's National Assembly on Friday unanimously approved legislation that would regulate the adoption of Cambodian children. The passage followed years of allegations of a lucrative and largely unregulated trade in Cambodian children with unscrupulous officials and middlemen pocketing thousands of dollars for each adoption.  

The head of the National Assembly's social affairs committee, Ho Naun, welcomed the legislation, which applies to both foreign and Cambodian nationals wishing to adopt Cambodian children.

"This law is very, very important to protect the human rights of these children and to ensure that they benefit," she said. "In the past, there were crimes committed against some adopted children, like removing their organs or using them as sex slaves."  

Ho Naun said the government would hold a workshop to explain the legislation to interested parties once it had been signed into law after going through the Senate, which she said should happen soon. 

 Allegations of a trade in Cambodian children led the United States in 2001 to ban its nationals from adopting from the kingdom.  

Other nations followed suit, including France (which resumed adoptions in 2006) and the United Kingdom. The latter suspended adoptions in 2004 and, in a review last year, renewed the suspension in part because of "insufficient" Cambodian legislation on adoptions.

Under the legislation passed Friday, prospective parents would undergo a rigorous assessment before being allowed to adopt. They would also have to meet the children they wish to adopt before being granted custody. The bill also outlines measures to ensure Cambodian officials adhere to it.  

Among the legislation's provisions are that children being adopted should be younger than 8 except in cases of disabled children or where the child is the older sibling of a younger adoptee. It also fixes the fees prospective parents must pay to the government.

The introduction of the bill follows numerous and well-substantiated allegations over the years of a corrupt trade in children.  

A number of media reports spoke of "orphaned" children being taken from their impoverished parents, who were told they would be educated and cared for in Phnom Penh. They were then trafficked into the adoption racket. 

 An investigation in 2002 by a prominent Cambodian human rights group, Licadho, found "clear patterns and networks in the process of buying babies or young children for the purposes of adoption." The non-governmental organization said at least four orphanages were involved in the trafficking racket in Cambodia and believed others were involved too.  

Ho Naun said the legislation would bring the country into line with the provisions of the 1993 Hague Adoption Convention, which Cambodia signed in 2007.

At that time, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain objected to Cambodia's accession to the treaty. In the case of the Netherlands, the objection was "because it is still unclear whether the adoption process complies with international norms."


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