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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Adoptions to US put on hold

Adoptions to US put on hold

Adoptions by US citizens have been temporarily suspended after a spokesman for the

US Embassy said October 25 they had uncovered "credible evidence of systematic

fraud" in the process.

"Whether that's corrupt government officials, bad facilitators or unethical

orphanages, we have to act," he said. "We have to uphold the law."

All visa appointments for US citizens wishing to adopt have been canceled during

the investigation period. The halt could put up to two hundred adoptions on hold.

"We've received some disturbing information so we've decided to slow the process

down." the official said.

Prospective parents in the US have posted emails on adoption lists in the past week

following the cancellation of their October and November embassy appointments.

"A lot of US citizens are interested in adoption in Cambodia and a lot of [Cambodian]

mothers give up children for legitimate reasons, so we are very hopeful that we won't

have to impose a moratorium on adoption here," the official said.

US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers arrived in Phnom Penh October

15 to examine allegations against the Cambodian adoption process. The embassy official

said the investigation was "not an indefinite process".

Earlier this month the US Embassy instituted new policies to thoroughly examine each

case of international adoption following accusations of fraud and baby trafficking.

Initially the embassy continued to grant appointments to some parents, but seven

families associated with the Asian Orphans Association (AOA) have been refused visas

for their children.

The embassy website now carries a warning to families to expect lengthy delays in

Cambodian adoption and advises prospective parents to delay their trip by one to

two months.

The website statement is critical of adoption practices saying that "there are

strong indications that there has been little, if any, improvement, in addressing

fraudulent practices in Cambodia since the new [March] sub-decree".

Both the municipal court prosecutor and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) are investigating

the AOA case when twelve 'orphans' were seized during a raid September 3 and placed

in the care of an international NGO. Women claiming to be the mothers of two infants

have since come forward seeking the return of their children.

Prosecutor Sok Roeun of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court re-opened the case more than

six weeks after he released the four suspects arrested during the raid. On October

16 charges of human trafficking were laid against two carers and two other workers

at a clinic linked to AOA. The following day Judge Ham Meng Se received the documents

requiring him to investigate the case against the four.

Chit Boravuth, lawyer for AOA, said that the re-opening of the case was probably

the result of pressure being placed on the court. Nonetheless he said it was the

"right thing to do" and he would defend the four.

Meanwhile, the custody case surrounding the children seized in raid was settled October

15 when the judge awarded temporary custody to AOA. The ten infants and two children

were handed back by local human rights NGO Licadho at Tuol Kork police station October

17.

Jeannene Smith, founder of US-based adoption agency Reaching Out Through International

Adoptions, had forshadowed the judgement a day earlier. Smith posted a detailed message

on the adoption crisis October 14 assuring prospective parents that "a letter

will...be issued by the court in Cambodia also attesting to Serey's [AOA president

Puth Serey] exoneration".

Smith did not reply to Post emails seeking clarification on how she was aware of

the court's judgment in advance of its reading.

According to Smith's posting the Ministry of Social Affairs notified the US Embassy

that Puth Serey had been "exonerated" and urged the embassy to issue visas

for children adopted from AOA.

Naly Pilorge, acting director of Licadho, said they were surprised custody had been

decided since the investigation had not yet been completed. She said Licadho would

appeal the custody case and file a complaint with the court requesting that the 11-year-old

girl, allegedly working as a full time carer at the clinic, be placed in school.

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