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British couples fight Cambodia adoption ban in the High Court

From The Times
April 19, 2005

British couples fight Cambodia adoption ban in the High Court

SIX couples launched a High Court appeal yesterday to challenge the Government’s decision to impose an indefinite ban on adoptions from Cambodia.

Margaret Hodge, the Children’s Minister, introduced the temporary suspension last June amid fears of child- trafficking and, in particular, that mothers were being forced to give up children against their will.

The couples, who were all midway through the adoptive process when the ban was imposed, accuse Mrs Hodge of a “an abuse of ministerial power”. They argue that she acted unfairly and illegally by halting the adoptions mid- way in a move that took no account of the humanitarian crisis in the country. They claim that Mrs Hodge had refused to meet them and, although their cases were in an advanced state, no attempt had been made to investigate their legitimacy.

Malcolm Dixon and his wife Pauline, from East Sussex, were one of 23 couples in Britain in the process of adopting a child from Cambodia. While he accepted that there had been problems with Cambodia’s adoption procedures in the past, Mr Dixon said that Mrs Hodge has been “grossly unfair” to the six adoptive couples, who have all been approved by police checks and local authorities.

“It is possible that Mrs Hodge has the best of intentions, but her response to the humanitarian crisis in Cambodia has been grossly unfair, not only to us but also to the orphaned children we would have adopted had the ban not been imposed,” he said, speaking before the case. Mr Dixon added that with 5 per cent of the population orphaned, largely by the Aids epidemic, the extended family system could no longer cope.

“That is why state orphanages are overflowing,” he said. “That is why Cambodia has thousands of street children. We have all been approved to adopt Cambodian children in need of a family. It is utterly bizarre that Mrs Hodge is refusing to find a way to enable a small number to join us.”

Unicef estimates there are around 670,000 orphaned children in Cambodia. Since 1998, more than 2,300 Cambodian children are believed to have been adopted by Western couples. In 2000, Hun Sen, the Prime Minister, briefly banned all adoptions abroad before lifting the ban, pending regulation.

Several Western countries, including the United States and France, have imposed similar bans to Britain after it emerged that poverty-stricken families were giving up children for cash and that other children were being bought directly from orphanages.

However, while the US and France had allowed those couples halfway through the adoption process to continue after investigating each case, Mrs Hodge has not.

Angelina Jolie, the actress and ambassador for Unicef, is one of the highest-profile parents of an adopted child from Cambodia. She adopted a son, Maddox, in 2002.

Helen Mountfield, the couples’ barrister, said that she was not arguing for the right for British couples to be allowed to “adopt a child at any price”.

She insisted that the Government had tackled the issue the wrong way and could have introduced measures short of a ban so that Cambodian children adopted in the UK were not separated from their birth parents without true consent, or as a result of corruption.

Last night Jan Walters Capp, a harpist and music teacher, who was also approved to adopt before the ban, said: “What has happened has all the hallmarks of an abuse of ministerial power.

“We followed the minister’s own adoption guidelines to the letter, only to be told that she could change the rules overnight.”

The hearing is expected to end tomorrow.

2005 Apr 19