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Adoptions "last resort"

Adoptions "last resort"

The Editor,

We welcome the concern and interest in the issue (Phnom Penh Post July 11) on international

adoptions. As your commentary shows, this is a very complex subject and one which

arouses strong responses.

As you mention, our view is that it is vital to strengthen options for care of particularly

vulnerable children within Cambodia, and that inter-country adoption, which uproots

a child completely from his or her culture, extended family and cultural environment,

should only be considered as a last resort.

We are therefore working closely with the Ministry of Social Affairs to support the

introduction of new procedures to clarify the system for inter-country adoption,

and through the placement of a Child Welfare and Protection Adviser working with

the ministry, we hope to help find ways to strengthen in-country systems for adoption,

fostering, and other traditional ways of caring for vulnerable children within the

extended family.

Recent research we have conducted with ministry staff on child-related activities

within Phnom Penh and Kandal had revealed a high number of Government and NGO-run

'centers' for orpphaned or abandoned children who can no longer be supported by their

families. On figures we have have been given it would seem that over half of the

children in these centers are not 'full' orphans, in the sense of having lost both

parents. (The proportion of orphans is higher in Government orphanages established

in 1979/80, and much lower in some of the newer, smaller centers.) Most children

are known to have some close family members, and in many cases children are handed

over to centers because of extreme poverty or stress within the family.

We hope it will be possible to develop alternative options for support to the poorest

families before children are admitted to centers and to encourage efforts to re-establish

contact with the extended family of children in centers wherever possible, believing

that the right of a child to live with his or her own family is paramount except

in cases where this wil actually be detrimental to the child. There are also already

some exciting initiatives underway, such as the development of family-style 'group

homes' for some children who have no family, where they live in small groups of mixed

ages with carefully selected 'house parents'.

We are often shocked by the readiness of some foreigners to adopt Cambodian children

in a rush without proper attempts to trace family members, and we are concerned that

assumptions are being made about life being 'better' outside Cambodia for children

who are not in a postition to understand the enormity of what is happening to them.

While we know that the majority of foreigners wishing to adopt Cambodian children

have the best intentions, the amount of pressure exerted by impatient would-be adoptive

parents on Ministry of Social Affairs personnel is immense and often creates many

problems.

We sincerely hope that all individuals and agencies concerned about the well-being

of the poorest families in Cambodia will work together to strengthen local, family

and community-based options for the support of vulnerable children.
- Joan M. Anderson, Country Representative, Save the Chirdren Fund (UK).

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