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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia suspends all US adoptions

Cambodia suspends all US adoptions

THE Cambodian government has ceased processing all US adoption paperwork until

further notice, according to the US State Department website. The January 30

notice states that on January 25 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs verbally

notified the State Department that "in acknowledgment of trafficking concerns"

the Cambodian government would "suspend the issuance of adoption documentation

to American families".

The US Immigration and Naturalization Service

(INS) ceased issuing visas to children adopted from Cambodia on December 21. The

move by the Cambodian government will prevent a backlog of adoption cases from

developing.

The State Department said it was working to confirm that

these instructions were being implemented. However officials from the Adoption

Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Council of Ministers - the

three bodies that process foreign adoptions - told the Post that they were

unaware of any change in policy.

INS personnel met with Cambodian

government ministers earlier this month to discuss the suspension. The INS plans

to investigate each orphan's background before an adoption is

completed.

The suspension followed more than three months of controversy

which resulted in seven people from two separate organizations being charged

with adoption related trafficking. The INS informed two groups of prospective

parents in letters dated November 30 that it intended to deny visas for their

twelve adoptive children. The letters, two of which were obtained by the Post,

contain details of the INS investigations in early November last

year.

Officials visited the Asian Orphans' Association (AOA) November 7

seeking to verify the authenticity of the adoptees' status. Deputy director

Sakhan Yo had a litany of contradictory stories for investigators.

Yo

first told the investigators that AOA director Puth Serey had taken all adoption

records with him on an overseas trip. He later told the INS that the holding of

records was a recent innovation. Later he again changed tack and said records

had been kept but were destroyed because the book in which they were kept was

old.

One INS letter noted that these statements were "inconsistent with

required practices under Cambodian law" and added that it was "not credible that

the director ... would carry the orphanage records on his person when he

travels".

Describing Yo's statements as "implausible and incredible" the

letter concluded that it was "virtually impossible to establish the eligibility

of the beneficiary as an orphan".

The INS discovered similar

inconsistencies in paperwork relating to adoptions from the Cambodian French

Hungarian Friendship orphanage.

On December 20, US Senator Landrieu

pilloried the INS's conclusions, claiming the investigation was based on flawed

investigative work and inaccurate translations. The following day 'humanitarian

parole' visas were granted for the twelve children, allowing them to be taken to

the US.

Local human rights NGO Licadho released a briefing paper February

1 calling on the US, as the largest market for Cambodian orphans, to take action

in combating adoption related trafficking.

The paper alleged a range of

abuses, including baby buying and document forging, fueled by demand from the

US. Over the past two years the NGO has investigated 15 cases of trafficking for

adoption but concluded that most cases were probably not reported to authorities

or NGOs.

The paper cited the December 4 case in which staff at the Khmer

American Orphans Association were charged after returning two infants to their

birth mothers. At the time orphanage director Visoth Sea denied any involvement

in foreign adoptions. However it was revealed in the Licadho paper that one of

the children had already been earmarked for adoption to the US.

According

to the paper the US Embassy confirmed that one of the children was "the subject

of a pending application for adoption to the US [and falsely identified] as

being an abandoned child, whose parents were unknown".

US-based adoptive

families and adoption industry figures have begun a concerted campaign of

political lobbying to lift the INS suspension and are fundraising for several

orphanages suffering revenue loss over the halt in issuing of

visas.

Meanwhile France, the second most common destination for Cambodian

adoptees, may revamp its adoptions system. This could increase the number of

Cambodian children being adopted by French parents.

In January France's

family minister, Segolene Royal, presented a plan to the French cabinet which

would cut waiting times for international adoptions. It currently takes around

two years to conclude an international adoption under the complex French system.

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