ACAMBODIAN mother desperately wants contact with her two daughters, adopted by an
American family without her permission
Kim Sophoan, a 33-year-old mother of three from Battambang, told the Post that the
Director of the Women and Orphans Vocational Association (WOVA), Chhim Naly, tricked
her into giving her daughters away.
WOVA, an adoption center near Phnom Penh, is used as a source of "orphans"
by American adoption agencies, including Seattle International Adoption - the company
which facilitated the adoption of Sophoan's daughters.
And it receives financial support from The Sharing Foundation, a US-based humanitarian
When Sophoan turned to the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affair's (MWVA) Counter
Trafficking Office for help, the Chief of Counter Trafficking, Sun Vanna, simply
brokered financial settlements between the mother and WOVA's Director, Chhim Naly.
A human rights investigator calls this a clear case of child trafficking which implicates
the birth mother, the Ministry, and WOVA's Director.
This case comes in the wake of an increasing number of reports of child trafficking
and Government corruption in connection with international adoptions from Cambodia.
Sophoan told the Post that her daughters, Srey Lieu, 9, and Srey Mom, 12, disappeared
from her life in 1997.
Sophoan's first husband died of disease in 1991. She struggled to provide for her
daughters, but life for her family was difficult.
In 1997 Sophoan came to Phnom Penh with her daughters to visit Naly's step mother.
She knew Naly and her family from the years they spent together during the Khmer
Rouge regime. She spoke to the women about her troubles.
"After the death of my husband, my two children were lonely because I had to
go out all day to make a living and I did not return until late at night. There was
no one to stay with them.
"Then Naly said I could leave the children with her and she would make sure
they received an education."
Sophoan said she gratefully accepted Naly's offer to look after the daughters so
that she could be free to trade vegetables between Poipet and Battambang.
"On that day I left my children with Naly and I went back home. She gave me
80,000 riel ($20). Ten days later I returned to Phnom Penh and went to Naly's house
in Steung Meanchey. She then told me my children had been sent to the States.
"I hadn't signed any papers saying I had abandoned my children. I had considered
Naly like my sister," she said.
Her two children had been adopted by the same family in America just after Khmer
New Year, in 1997.
A year after her daughters were sent abroad, Sophoan returned to Phnom Penh to get
information about them. She learned then that Naly had changed the girls names.
"I told Naly that I wanted to thank the people looking after my children and
I asked her if I could speak to them. When I went to her house I saw many babies
there. I asked her if she was trafficking all those babies."
Naly refused to tell her where her daughters were located. When Sophoan asked to
borrow 50,000 riel for the taxi fare back to Battambang, she said Naly only cursed
Sophoan left Naly's house very upset and a moto driver took her to the Ministry of
Women's and Veterans' Affairs for help.
At MWVA an agreement was soon brokered between Naly and Sophoan by Sun Vanna - Chief
of the Counter Trafficking Bureau.
Sophoan was paid $864, but she was given no information about her daughters. "I
wondered why I wasn't allowed to speak to my children. I am their mother."
The Post obtained a copy of the agreement kept on file by Vanna. The hand-written
document is dated June 3, 1999, but Sophoan insists that it was drafted in mid-1998.
It states: "I, Chhim Naly, handed over a sum of $864 to Kim Sophoan for paying
off the mortgage to get back [her] house and land in Sdao village, Sdao district,
"I, Kim Sophoan, promise that I will stop causing money problems for Chhim Naly.
But regarding my two children, I will keep in touch with them and their adoptive
Vanna said the money was passed to Sophoan at the MWVA building.
This agreement was thumbprinted and signed by a number of witnesses, including Kim
Sophoan ("Money receiver"), Chhim Naly ("Money Handler"), and
MWVA's Sun Vanna ("Money receiver and Handler").
Sophoan told the Post that after she received the $864, she went back to Battambang
to pay off the mortgage on her house and land.
Sophoan said she had her next meeting with Naly in December 1999. "Naly said
I could meet my children. I came, but I did not see them."
She said she complained again to MWVA and Vanna brokered another settlement.
Sophoan said she was asked by MWVA's Chief of Counter Trafficking, Sun Vanna, to
meet her at the Psar Chas market. There, she said she was handed $2,400 in cash.
"I was very frightened to receive that money in the street. I was surrounded
by a mob of moto drivers," said Sophoan.
Sophoan said that according to a document Vanna ordered her to thumbprint, she was
supposed to receive $3,000, but she suspects $600 was held back as a commission fee
by MWVA staff.
"Naly handed this money to Madame Vanna to pass on to me, and asked me not to
sue her. Madame Vanna forced me to take the money at the market, not at MWVA.
"Madame Vanna forced me to put my thumb print on an agreement that for $3,000
I would transfer motherhood to Naly. I don't know when this contract was written.
The dates of the [contracts] are incorrect and I don't know why. I thumbprinted them
because I was forced to do so and Vanna did not allow me to read the contract."
Vanna told the Post the contract was thumbprinted on August 28, 1998, but Sophoan
said it was thumbprinted at the end of the harvest season, in December 1999.
The contract states: "I, Kim Sophoan, 32, live in Sdao village, Sdao district,
Battambang Province. I, the mother of two girls - Dany, 8, and Dana , 6 [not their
real names]- would like to transfer motherhood of my two children to Chhim Naly,
assistant for WOVA in Sangkat Chom Chao, to be their grandmother in order to raise
and find a future for them.
"Because my family's living standard is very difficult, I am not able to provide
a bright future. Chhim Naly will become mother of the two children from the date
of making the contract. Whereas I, the birth mother, will no longer have rights as
their mother. Moreover, I will not come seeking any trouble with Chim Naly.
"I would like to express my profound gratitude to your generosity in adopting
my two children, and for providing me $3,000 to be used as capital for launching
a business and for giving me good advice.
"Following the above description, if I, Kim Sophoan, do not comply with the
contract and still make contact with the two children, I will take responsibility
before the law."
Vanna told the Post that she had nothing to do with the money and said the $3,000
was paid to Sophoan at the WOVA center in Chom Chao. "Chhim Naly gave Sophoan
$3,000 herself," said Vanna.
"[Sophoan] became poor trash [roham ] after her husband's death. I wanted to
uphold her, to give her money to build a new life with her new husband ... Based
on my sympathy for her I gave her $3,000 in order to pay off the mortgage to get
back her land and house. But she is a real ingrate. The $864 and $3,000 were my personal
money," said Naly.
"I sent her children to the United States to be brought up by a tycoon family.
When they are 18 years of age they will show their thanks by giving her money and
feeding her for the rest of her life. She does not worry for the future of her children,"
Naly told the Post that Sophoan is her relative, but Sophoan said they are not related
- they had just been close friends
Sophoan said she still wanted the address of her children and she complained again
to MWVA in September this year.
She told the Post that she doesn't consider the previous payments from Naly adequate
compensation for the loss of her daughters. Sophoan said she didn't know how much
money Naly had received for them, but if she can't have contact with the girls then
she wants $5,000 each for them.
Vanna told the Post that after receiving requests for more information about Sophoan's
daughters' whereabouts, she referred the case to the Phnom Penh Municipality First
Deputy Police Commissioner, Muong Khim, on September 11, 2000.
Muong Khim told the Post his office has no expertise in cases like this, but he felt
it was not a case of trafficking seeing contracts had been signed.
"If [Sophoan] does not agree, she can bring back the children to collect rubbish
in Cambodia....I will exchange my three-year-old daughter with her if [Sophoan] agrees
to run the proper paperwork with me," said Khim
Sophoan said she now fears for her life "Naly is very wealthy. I dare not go
to Steung Meanchey market alone. I'm afraid she'll use a black way to shut me up."
Sophoan said she wants to meet her daughters' adoptive parents. "I don't know
where America is. The police did not say anything, but they gave me a photo with
the address of the parents. Naly said she didn't know their names. I said, 'you don't
even know their name, how can I contact them?'"
But the Post obtained the adoptive parents' names and address in the United States
from the back of photos of the girls on file at MWVA.
"I want to be able to touch my children, but I want them to be able to stay
"I don't want money from [the American family], but I would not refuse to receive
money from them. I heard they are tycoons. I'll be very happy if I can meet with
On October 9 Mu Sochua, Minister of Women's and Veteran Affairs told the Post that
she had just received information about this case from MWVA's Under-Secretary of
State, Chumteav Im Run.
"Acting on complaints of the birth mother, I will order a committee established
to investigate. I am going to fire my officials who were involved in this.
"Kim Sophoan came to our ministry asking for our intervention. But the Ministry
of Women's and Veterans' Affairs will not handle such a problem again in the future
because adoptions are the work of the Ministry of Social Affairs," said Sochua.