Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Adoptive parents tell of agency's deception

Adoptive parents tell of agency's deception

Adoptive parents tell of agency's deception

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adopt.jpg

Dale Edmonds and Jimmy Yap thought carefully about the ethics of adoption before

choosing to adopt from Cambodia. The Singapore-based couple decided to adopt older

children in part because they understood that infants are often trafficked for adoption.

A toddler at the "baby villa" in Phnom Penh, February12.

"We were very, very wrong," Edmonds wrote in an emailed interview with

the Post. "We remain extremely angry with [American adoption facilitator] Harriet

Brener-Sam and the rest of the adoption industry in Cambodia. They operate in secrecy,

they charge exorbitantly high fees in a poverty-stricken country and they treat children

as commodities."

The couple's anger hinges on a range of unethical practices that they claim they

encountered when adopting in Cambodia.

In November 2000, after struggling to conceive a child of their own, the couple investigated

the possibility of an international adoption. After posting to several email lists

about their desire to adopt two or three siblings below the age of six, they were

contacted by an American adoption attorney and forwarded a photograph of two children.

"They were dressed in rags and extremely thin. Neither smiled, the little boy

[was] crying," wrote Edmonds. They were quoted $18,000-to-$20,000 "for

a fully facilitated adoption for the two siblings".

Despite the fact that a moratorium on international adoptions was in place at the

time, the Brener-Sam and Associates agency began the process by forwarding medical

records and telling the couple the children's mother had died and their father had

voluntarily relinquished the children to an orphanage in Pursat.

"She assured us that they had been ethically placed at her orphanage in Pursat,"

Edmonds wrote.

The couple was told that the children's father was a fisherman whose wife had died

in 1999 and that they had no siblings. The agency said they had been brought starving

to an orphanage by their father because he thought they might die if they stayed

with him.

Only after adopting the children did Edmonds conclude that the story was: "Pretty

much entirely a lie, except that the father was a fisherman."

Edmonds alleges in the email that Brener-Sam was not operating through an orphanage

but using a house in a Phnom Penh suburb.

"There were several dozen infants and toddlers at the 'baby villa' as it was

referred to by Ms Brener-Sam," Edmonds wrote. Despite the large number of infants,

Edmonds saw fewer than ten nannies on her visits to the "baby villa".

The Street 95 villa now sports a "Branch Office of Pursat Infant Center"

sign, although Edmonds claims that there was no sign at the time of her adoption.

The director of the center, Chea Kheng, was unavailable for comment and Brener-Sam

and Associates did not respond to emailed queries by the Post.

At least a dozen infants and toddlers were present when the Post visited the center

February 12. Staff at the center said they were continuing to receive visits from

adoptive parents.

After opting to take over the process herself, Edmonds paid the adoption facilitator

$3,000 and the children were delivered to her hotel room.

It was then that serious doubts were raised. The older of the two children, "Emma",

claimed to have other sisters, that her mother was in fact alive and told Edmonds

that she wanted to see her family.

The distressed Edmonds sought Brener-Sam's assistance but was told that tracing the

birth family would be impossible.

However after taking the children home the couple began to learn more about the children's

background and the care they had received at the "baby-villa".

"Emma told us that she had spent her time at the orphanage working as a child

nanny. She said she had often been hungry," Edmonds wrote. "She was not

allowed a toothbrush, although she asked for one. She went to the doctor once for

her medical examination, but not again, even when [she was] ill.

"She did not attend school during her entire time in Ms Brener-Sam's orphanages

or foster homes. As a child nanny, she was made to clean, feed and quiet the babies

in care at the 'baby villa' that Ms Brener-Sam runs."

Edmonds returned to Cambodia and, with her adopted daughter's help, quickly located

the birth family, not in Pursat but in a Phnom Penh street.

According to the birth-father the children had not been placed at an orphanage but

had been taken by a woman acting as a conduit. When the family later sought to find

the two children they were first told the children had been taken to Poipet to work

as beggars, then that they had been placed with a wealthy Khmer family who did not

want contact with the birth-family.

Edmonds reunited the children with their parents and older sisters.

"Their reunion, with children that [the birth mother] thought had been lost

forever, was extremely emotional," she wrote.

"The mother is not in a situation where she can take care of the children, even

with financial aid. She asked that we consider adopting Helen [a third sibling],

and after much discussion, we decided to do so. Helen is doing wonderfully at home

with us now," wrote Edmonds in the email to the Post.

The couple are now providing a home for the three children as well as keeping them

in regular contact with their Cambodian family. But she remains bitter about the

experience and determined to warn others of the dangers in Cambodia's murky adoption

business.

Edmonds is skeptical about how much of the high fees charged go towards the care

of children in orphanages. She concedes that she paid another facilitator $4,000

to "move our paperwork through the Cambodian bureaucracy", but says the

children were not well cared for.

"My daughter came to me with broken flipflops, two changes of raggedy clothes,

one book and a tube of lipstick she'd been given," she wrote.

Edmonds journey has ended where it began, on the internet. She has now developed

a website and email list to share information with other prospective parents.

The website can be found at www.oggham.com/cambodia.

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