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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sar Kheng blames Kerry for adoption deal

Sar Kheng blames Kerry for adoption deal

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said he was pressured by US Senator John Kerry to

lift an official suspension on foreign adoptions to allow 16 Cambodian children to

be adopted by American families.

The US Embassy has confirmed that it issued visas to the 16 children on Dec 13 despite

a June 13 order by Prime Minister Hun Sen forbidding all foreign adoptions until

a new adoption law is passed.

A US Embassy spokesperson told the Post that although the Embassy understood that

the suspension was still in place, the American adopting families had official authorization

from the Cambodian government allowing the children to leave.

Sar Kheng said he provided that authorization after receiving a direct appeal by

Kerry to allow the adoptions to go ahead.

"There are some special cases. The US parents were anxious for Cambodian babies.

Recently US Senator John Kerry wrote a letter asking me to approve the adoption of

[those] 16 babies," the Deputy Prime Minister said.

But a spokesperson for Kerry refutes Sar Kheng's assertion, saying Kerry's involvement

in Cambodia has been entirely focused on the genocide tribunal and he did not intervene

in Cambodia's adoption process.

Although Hun Sen's June 15 suspension specified that foreign adoptions could not

resume until a new adoption law - still in the drafting stage - was passed, Sar Kheng

insisted that he had the power to authorize adoptions. "I have the right to

decide on this matter, but sometimes I have difficulty in making such decisions because

I would be criticized if I did not give consent," he said.

Official ambiguity about the interpretation of Hun Sen's suspension of foreign adoptions

was echoed by Khieu Kanharith, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Information.

According to Kanharith, adoptions from Cambodia were never completely suspended.

"[The suspension] was on a case by case basis," he said. "The Government

considered proposals from foreigners who really wanted to adopt Cambodian babies."

In spite of official assurances that the adoption of the 16 children was legal, an

air of secrecy and deceit surrounds the matter and one adopting parent said they

were told by their agency not to talk about the process.

Officials at the ministries of Social Affairs and Foreign Affairs told the Post that

contrary to normal procedure prior to the June 15 suspension, they not inspect the

dossiers and applications of the 16 adopting families. The ministries were simply

ordered by the Council of Ministers to approve the applications.

Sum Manith, Secretary of State for the Council of Ministers, told the Post that it

was the Government's prerogative to decide on whether or not to allow adoptions and

he said Sar Kheng's assertion that Senator Kerry pressured the Government to allow

the adoptions to proceed was incorrect.

Manith said the Americans applying to adopt handled the paperwork themselves without

assistance from adoption agencies or facilitators.

But the Post had learned that the adoption of these 16 children was in fact arranged

by Lauryn Galindo, an American facilitator who works for a number of American adoption

agencies including Seattle International Adoptions (SIA) which is headed by her sister

Lynn Devin.

And according to sources, Nancy Hendrie of the US-based The Sharing Foundation (TSF)

assisted Galindo with the arrangements. TSF has been providing funding for the Women's

Orphan's Vocational Association (WOVA), the adoption center where most of these 16

children were obtained.

TSF primary mission is to provide humanitarian aid to orphanages. In a December 19

email to the Post Hendrie stated: "I am not now, nor have I ever been an adoption

facilitator."

But in an October 31 letter Hendrie wrote: "I earned last year $13,000 thru

[sic] the proceeds of the few adoptions I arranged: having worked in the US for 30

years, I fortunately have a pension as my 'wages' from adoptions would not support

me even minimally in the USA."

Galindo told the Post that though the adoption suspension had not been lifted, the

Cambodian Government had given her clients special approval.

Galindo refused to answer further questions so it remains unclear for which agency

she acted.

Government officials contacted by the Post would not say what orphanages provided

the children, but Post sources said 15 of the children came from the WOVA orphanage

located near Pochentong Airport

Investigations by the Post and human rights workers have found repeated evidence

of child trafficking linked to WOVA and its international adoption business.

Impoverished Cambodian families have told the Post that they have sold their children

to WOVA for prices ranging from $25 to $100.

In each of these cases the families were told by WOVA staff that the "rich"

Americans who adopted their child were likely send money back to Cambodia to help

support their remaining children. (See Posts May 26- June 8, August 18-31)

In one case a widowed mother from Battambang, Kim Sophoan, entrusted the care of

her two daughters to her friend Chhim Naly - the Director of WOVA. Naly said

she would care for the girls while Sophoan sold vegetables between Poipet and Battambang.

(See Post October 13 - 26)

When Sophoan returned to Phnom Penh to visit, she discovered that her daughters had

been adopted by an American family from Washington State - without her permission.

The family now raising the two girls said SIA facilitated their adoption.

Chhim Naly denied any wrongdoing and told the Post that she has quit the adoption

business and she maintains that WOVA did not provide any of the 16 children for Galindo's

clients.

The Post has learned that one of these Cambodian children was picked up from the

Australia CambodiaFoundation Orphanage(ACFO) run by Geraldine Cox, an Australian

who co-founded the orphanage in 1993.

Cox told the Post that the child had been taken in by the orphanage over a year ago

as a favor for another institution and as a means of giving her "registered"

orphans some exposure to younger children.

"We did it in good faith twelve months ago," said Cox, noting that on occassion

she had accepted babies to help "fatten them up". However, she stressed

that ACFO was not involved in adoptions and that not one of her over 70 charges was

up for nor will be up for adoption.

"Perhaps it was bad judgement on our part," said Cox.

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