Francine Carnley has been waiting six months in Phnom Penh to adopt two children.
t least 200 extra US families are expected to be allowed to adopt Cambodian children
under a new initiative aimed at assisting those caught out by the US government's
decision to ban adoptions from Cambodia.
A taskforce made up of Cambodian and US officials was established in March to review
Cambodian adoptions. A September 11 press release from the US Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS) announced that it would examine a new round of cases.
"Under the 'special humanitarian initiative', adoptions started prior to the
[December 21] suspension will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis," it stated.
The press release added that the taskforce had already reviewed and cleared 152 children
for adoption by 140 families since the suspension. Since then around a dozen more
orphans had been cleared for adoption.
The new set of adoptions are so-called "category 4" cases - families who
had applied but had not received an official referral for a Cambodian child when
adoptions were suspended in December.
Despite the new initiative the ban on any fresh adoptions remains in place. The INS
press statement emphasized that "the suspension of orphan visa petition processing
in Cambodia will remain in effect until the Cambodian adoption process is more transparent
and consistent with international adoption standards".
The US authorities have maintained that adoptions to their country should be halted
until Cambodia conforms to the Hague convention on international adoptions.
"The suspension was undertaken in the face of mounting evidence of baby trafficking,
and the goal of the suspension was to encourage the establishment of a legitimate,
transparent and consistent adoption process in Cambodia," said INS Commissioner
James Ziglar. "I believe we now have a final resolution to this difficult situation."
Adoption legislation was drafted almost two years ago by UNICEF and the Ministry
of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation. However the
government has made no effort to date to adopt the draft as law.
Prospective parents in the US launched an intensive lobbying campaign to allow them
to complete their adoptions following the suspension. That seems to have paid off,
with the additional families now eligible for the 'humanitarian parole'.
Francine Carnley, a 38-year-old dog groomer from Louisiana, typifies many of the
waiting parents frustrated by the case-by-case review. On Valentine's Day this year
she, along with other hopeful parents, marched outside INS offices in Washington
with pictures of their prospective children pinned to their T-shirts.
To their surprise the families were invited to a meeting with INS commissioner Ziglar.
"We were told we would be bringing our children home," said Carnley, who
was expecting both adoptions would have been completed by April.
Instead she is still living in Phnom Penh, paying daily visits to the Child Relief
Center orphanage, and still waiting to hear if she can definitely adopt the two children
she applied for. When Carnley heard that one of them was sick she ignored INS warnings
and flew straight to Phnom Penh.
"I was only going to stay one month, but when I saw my child I couldn't leave,"
she said, adding that her weekly conversations with other waiting parents were "very
"Weeks and months are going by and it's hard," she said. "Parents
are missing out on their kids, but I guess the INS doesn't understand that."
Like other parents Carnley maintains that the INS has held up her adoptions but not
demonstrated any evidence of child trafficking.
"I don't feel like I've had due process. They cannot prove these children have
parents," she said of the 14-month-old boy and three-year-old daughter she plans
There have long been suspicions about the activities of some of those involved in
supplying children for adoptions in Cambodia, with frequent allegations that baby
buying and trickery are used to supply the lucrative US market. But convictions have
so far proved hard to come by.
Two adoption agencies active in Cambodia were recently forced to shut their operations
in neighboring Vietnam because of allegations of impropriety. Tedi Bear adoptions
and A New Arrival both closed their programs after allegations that children put
up for adoption had been switched.