Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bringing up another’s baby



Bringing up another’s baby

Factors such as poverty and divorce may drive parents to give their children up for adoption
Factors such as poverty and divorce may drive parents to give their children up for adoption. Charlotte Pert

Bringing up another’s baby

After a day of cheering on fighters at boxing matches in Phnom Penh, Champei* was ready to head home to Takeo province when a woman approached her as she was going back to her car.

Her face was covered to hide her identity. The woman asked Champei if she would hold her baby while she bought milk.

“[She said] she would return quickly,” Champei recalled.

She didn’t.

After waiting for the baby’s mother to return, Champei returned home with the child, but she later returned to the capital and reported the incident to police. Authorities, however, had received no report of a missing infant and could not find the mother.

That night, 11 years ago, was the first time that Champei held the boy she now calls her son.

Adoptions from abroad have long been debated, but while the manner in which Champei came about raising her son may seem unorthodox, the concept of parents giving up their children to be raised by others in Cambodia is not a foreign one, and courts are often left out of the loop.

“They don’t have the ability to care for the kid, so they give them away to be taken care of by someone else on behalf of them,” said Chhan Sokunthea, head of rights group Adhoc’s women and children’s rights section.

Factors such as poverty, divorce and a dysfunctional family life typically drive parents to give up their children, Sokunthea said. In order to legally adopt a child, the new parents must file a petition in court and prove either that it is “difficult or inappropriate for the birth parent[s] to care for the child”, or that a special circumstance exists making the adoption necessary, according to a Ministry of Social Affairs handout on domestic adoption.

But many adoptive parents – largely rural and often poor – sometimes cannot afford the court fees or live too far away to make repeated trips to the courthouse, Sokunthea said. Many of these parents skip the process and simply raise their new children as their own.

Aun Maly*, 29, adopted her daughter from a Phnom Penh hospital after a doctor she had met years earlier told her that a newborn baby’s mother had refused to keep the infant.

“If I did not take her to live with me, she would be abandoned or would be sent to an orphanage,” said Maly, who never met the girl’s biological mother.

This relaxed attitude towards child custody, however, can open the door to child abuse, Sokunthea said.

Adhoc responded to three cases in the first half of 2014 in which children out of their birth parents’ custody suffered abuse at the hands of their guardians.

In June, the NGO responded to a complaint lodged by villagers in Koh Kong who said a woman who shared a house with them chained up her 4-year-old “adopted daughter” inside the house eight hours per day while she worked.

When police found the child – the woman was keeping her as collateral from her mother, who owed money – she recalled being chained up and deprived of water for so long that she drank her own urine.

Two months earlier, the wife of a well-known tycoon was tried in absentia on charges of brutally beating and torturing her two adopted daughters. Both victims, who had been given up by poor rural families, recounted years of abuse in which they were treated as little more than slaves.

“The government should [enforce] the law for adopted children,” said Sokunthea, who believes that the authorities, courts and the Ministry of Social Affairs do not do enough to protect them.

Officials from the Social Affairs Ministry refused to speak with a Post reporter about the issue, saying they required an official letter requesting comment.

The act of taking in someone else’s children when they are unable to raise them is a tradition in Cambodia that grows from the country’s Buddhist roots, said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, who said his father’s friends adopted him in 1954, after his father passed away, leaving only his widowed mother to care for him.

“We are Buddhist, we try to help each other,” Siphan said. “Cambodians are very close with each other.… I don’t think it’s complicated like it is in the West.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants