THE Cambodian government has ceased processing all US adoption paperwork until
further notice, according to the US State Department website. The January 30
notice states that on January 25 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs verbally
notified the State Department that "in acknowledgment of trafficking concerns"
the Cambodian government would "suspend the issuance of adoption documentation
to American families".
The US Immigration and Naturalization Service
(INS) ceased issuing visas to children adopted from Cambodia on December 21. The
move by the Cambodian government will prevent a backlog of adoption cases from
The State Department said it was working to confirm that
these instructions were being implemented. However officials from the Adoption
Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Council of Ministers - the
three bodies that process foreign adoptions - told the Post that they were
unaware of any change in policy.
INS personnel met with Cambodian
government ministers earlier this month to discuss the suspension. The INS plans
to investigate each orphan's background before an adoption is
The suspension followed more than three months of controversy
which resulted in seven people from two separate organizations being charged
with adoption related trafficking. The INS informed two groups of prospective
parents in letters dated November 30 that it intended to deny visas for their
twelve adoptive children. The letters, two of which were obtained by the Post,
contain details of the INS investigations in early November last
Officials visited the Asian Orphans' Association (AOA) November 7
seeking to verify the authenticity of the adoptees' status. Deputy director
Sakhan Yo had a litany of contradictory stories for investigators.
first told the investigators that AOA director Puth Serey had taken all adoption
records with him on an overseas trip. He later told the INS that the holding of
records was a recent innovation. Later he again changed tack and said records
had been kept but were destroyed because the book in which they were kept was
One INS letter noted that these statements were "inconsistent with
required practices under Cambodian law" and added that it was "not credible that
the director ... would carry the orphanage records on his person when he
Describing Yo's statements as "implausible and incredible" the
letter concluded that it was "virtually impossible to establish the eligibility
of the beneficiary as an orphan".
The INS discovered similar
inconsistencies in paperwork relating to adoptions from the Cambodian French
Hungarian Friendship orphanage.
On December 20, US Senator Landrieu
pilloried the INS's conclusions, claiming the investigation was based on flawed
investigative work and inaccurate translations. The following day 'humanitarian
parole' visas were granted for the twelve children, allowing them to be taken to
Local human rights NGO Licadho released a briefing paper February
1 calling on the US, as the largest market for Cambodian orphans, to take action
in combating adoption related trafficking.
The paper alleged a range of
abuses, including baby buying and document forging, fueled by demand from the
US. Over the past two years the NGO has investigated 15 cases of trafficking for
adoption but concluded that most cases were probably not reported to authorities
The paper cited the December 4 case in which staff at the Khmer
American Orphans Association were charged after returning two infants to their
birth mothers. At the time orphanage director Visoth Sea denied any involvement
in foreign adoptions. However it was revealed in the Licadho paper that one of
the children had already been earmarked for adoption to the US.
to the paper the US Embassy confirmed that one of the children was "the subject
of a pending application for adoption to the US [and falsely identified] as
being an abandoned child, whose parents were unknown".
families and adoption industry figures have begun a concerted campaign of
political lobbying to lift the INS suspension and are fundraising for several
orphanages suffering revenue loss over the halt in issuing of
Meanwhile France, the second most common destination for Cambodian
adoptees, may revamp its adoptions system. This could increase the number of
Cambodian children being adopted by French parents.
In January France's
family minister, Segolene Royal, presented a plan to the French cabinet which
would cut waiting times for international adoptions. It currently takes around
two years to conclude an international adoption under the complex French system.