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Young boys crowd around a television at Lighthouse Orphanage in Phnom Penh
Young boys crowd around a television at Lighthouse Orphanage in Phnom Penh. Sovan Philong

Gov’t looks to 2014 for adoptions

The long-awaited resumption of international adoptions may finally occur in the new year, officials from the ministries of Justice and Social Affairs said yesterday, though no time table is yet in place.

While the freeze on adoptions – put in place in 2009 with the passage of the Inter-Country Adoption Law – was lifted in January of this year, the country still has yet to begin accepting or processing applications for adoptions.

Speaking at the start of a two-day workshop in the capital yesterday, Ministry of Social Affairs Secretary of State Nim Thout expressed hope that the current moratorium would soon come to an end, but could not offer a definitive timeline.

“We need recommendations from other countries and embassies to put forth a strong and effective [system],” Thout said. “I can’t say exactly when the Ministry of Social Affairs will reopen national adoption, but it won’t be until 2014.”

In a nation where just 38 per cent of residents have a birth certificate, attendees agreed that adoptions could not commence without appropriate regulations and enforcement mechanisms in place.

“Essential safeguards to ensure the proper case management of adoptions needs to be in place before the resumption of [national] adoptions,” Anselmo Reyes, representative for The Hague Conference Asia Pacific Regional Office, said.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vattana spoke with cautious optimism but said the long delay had been necessary.

“We have delayed [international adoptions] for many years, because we’re concerned about children being trafficked abroad and [the use of] fraudulent documentation. Some children have been lucky and some not lucky,” Vong Vattana said.

Stakeholders at the conference emphasised the need for Cambodia to implement the 1993 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption, though Sunah Kim, deputy representative of UNICEF, reiterated the importance of a gradual introduction of the law.

Kim also noted regulation efforts are further complicated by the country’s limited number of trained social workers.

“Receiving states are urged to co-operate with and support Cambodia in this important milestone by taking steps to ensure that the number of applications for adoption and authorisation requests from foreign accredited bodies remain manageable by Cambodian authorities,” Kim said.

Ahead of the ban’s lifting last January, Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo announced a quota of 100 to 200 adoptions per year would be enforced, with only children under eight eligible.

The US is among a group of countries, including France, Australia and the United Kingdom, that placed their own bans on the adoption of Cambodian children in 2001, citing the scant regulations in place.

In the weeks following Cambodia’s lifting of its ban in January, the US embassy placed an ad in a local newspaper seeking an “InterCountry Adoption Assistant”, prompting speculation that the US would follow suit and lift its own ban.

An embassy spokesman at the time swatted down the idea but said the US would “continue working with” Cambodia towards the eventual resumption of the process.

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John McCollum's picture

As an organization that provides family-style residential care for orphaned children in Cambodia (and also in India and Thailand), Asia’s Hope feels that international adoption in general – and Cambodian adoption specifically – comes with ethical, economic and practical baggage that would introduce the potential for multiple negative outcomes for our organization and few if any benefits.

The introduction of the profit motive into our funding model undermines our commitment to financial stability, accountability and transparency. We do not want to incentivize anyone working in or with our organization to take ethical shortcuts, especially in the identification and intake of children into our homes.

Because we work so hard to foster a real family environment for each child in our care, we’re extremely hesitant to introduce factors into our organization that would threaten family cohesion. We do not wish to create multiple classes of children within our homes: those who are likely to be adopted and those who are not. This erodes existing (biological) and newly established sibling bonds that are essential for each child’s current and future wellbeing.

Most importantly, we believe that by opening Asia’s Hope to international adoptions, we would forever enshrine a negative perception among our kids that we’re working so actively to dispel – that ‘escape’ to the West is the ultimate goal for a Cambodian kid. Fundamental to our model is the fervent believe that we are preparing our children to thrive – in Cambodia – as adults, and that they represent the hope for Cambodia’s future.

We urge other orphan care providers to move with caution as Cambodia transitions itself back into the world of international adoptions.

John McCollum, Executive Director, Asia’s Hopewww.asiashope.org

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