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Foreign adoptions by 2011

CAMBODIA plans to reopen the door to foreign adoptions by the end of March 2011, officials said Monday, meaning the Kingdom has one year to meet strict international guidelines put in place to prevent child trafficking.

The announcement comes after the National Assembly passed a law aimed at governing international adoptions last December. Observers say the law is crucial to ending the allegedly widespread practice of “baby-buying”, but some have raised questions about the government’s ability to enforce it.

At a workshop Monday, Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng said authorities want to finalise a system for foreign adoptions of Cambodian children by the end of March 2011.

“The government will start to receive adoption proposals from ... other countries who want to adopt Cambodian children,” Ith Sam Heng said.
“We have one year – 12 months – to implement and enforce the inter-country adoption law.”

Despite the proposed timeline, it remains to be seen whether the law will be stringent enough to ensure compliance with the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption, which sets strict terms on who should be eligible for international adoptions and how those adoptions should be regulated.

Though Cambodia has ratified the convention, countries including the US, Australia, France and Canada have effectively placed moratoriums on adopting children from Cambodia, citing concerns about the Kingdom’s ability to comply with the guidelines.

Rights groups have long raised allegations that adoptions in Cambodia have fuelled child trafficking.

A 2002 briefing by rights group Licadho raised alarms over what it said were “clear patterns and networks” aimed at purchasing babies and young children for adoption. Licadho alleged that impoverished women were coerced into giving up their children and said that some orphanages and adoption facilitators profited from the exchanges, often with the help of corrupt local officials.

Problems persist despite the government’s attempt at reforms, said Licadho President Pung Chhiv Kek.

“The fact remains that illegal adoptions are still an issue,” said Pung Chhiv Kek, who wondered whether authorities will be equipped to enforce the Hague Convention – and whether other jurisdictions will determine that Cambodia has sufficiently met its obligations to lift their moratoriums.

“It is to be seen that this convention is strictly enforced,” Pung Chhiv Kek said, linking the issue to corruption. “Adoption will always remain a concern as long as birth certificates and other documents can be forged or purchased easily.”

Organisations that work with children have also expressed concern. In a briefing submitted to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in December, the NGO Friends International urged countries to “refrain from lifting their respective moratorium until Cambodia fully complies with the requirements set forth by the Hague Convention”.

“Private orphanages continue to exist without proper monitoring in the country, and so does the commerce of children,” the NGO said in its briefing.

December’s law provides a framework for how children can be adopted, but authorities still must flesh out the tools that will allow its implementation.

Authorities have proposed capping the number of adoption agencies allowed to operate in the Kingdom and are debating whether to charge prospective parents a US$5,000 fee, Ith Sam Heng said Monday.

From 1998 until 2009, more than 3,500 orphan children were adopted by foreign parents, he said.

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