Nothing upsets us as much as maltreatment of children.
In an article in the Phnom Penh Post June 28, Jason Barber looks into foreign adoptions
in Cambodia and into the fate of Cambodian children and abandoned children.
It could have been interesting to see how the lack of a proper law on adoptions creates
problems for all the places from where children are adopted.
Instead the problem is turned upside-down.
By the help of "NGO workers" - whoever they are - it is proved that the
"adoption problems reflect mismanagement of the Nutrition Center...". Then
follow several examples, though it is now and then difficult to know if we are still
talking about the Center or the examples are from somewhere else.
The director of the Center is attacked for mismanagement and anarchy, and as a left
over from colonial time called Fejto's designated manager. (The director is appointed
and employed by the government). Therefore the director of ASPECA is criticized for
lack of control.
People who have adopted with permission of the government are exposed to public contempt
by name, occupation and almost by address, while the informer can hide in the pleasant
shadow of anonymity.
When an article come up in saying: "They can come, pay money and have a child"
followed by examples of mismanagement of the Nutrition Center, your heart starts
Has it really been so, that people who wanted to adopt a child could go to the Nutrition
Center, place $1,500 on the desk and after a certain period walk away with a child?
Does the Nutrition Center treat the innocent babies without responsibility until
the moment they can earn money on them?
No! Of course not!
It is to hope that readers digging deeper in the article have been able to ask questions
to people who know the Nutrition Center. Maybe they are able to find a more shaded
picture of the situation. It is also to hope that the ministry will investigate the
During more than three years until a month ago I was employed by the Center as a
volunteer social worker and know the place and people who work there quite well.
Therefore I have to reply and balance the picture of the Center.
It is true that there are several things that need to be done and changed there,
especially when we look at the Center from a Western point of view.
It could be nice to have a magic stick and conjure up skills, knowledge and strength
into the care assistants. You would like to spirit away diseases and disabilities,
especially AIDS, TB, handicaps, arrested development. And maybe you could materialize
money to pay more staff a better salary.
But who has a magic stick?
It is certainly not difficult to take a quick walk through the Center and pick out
all the faults. So it is in most institutions in Cambodia, sorry to say.
It looks like a small armada of NGOs have done this trip and then been able and willing
to witness it.
They can judge about food, which is traditional Khmer food with a lot of vegetables
of good nutritional value. They are sure that the children are sedated (by drugs?).
Could it be children with AIDs in outbreak, late developed children or a lack of
stimulation? New children are often in a state of shock after being abandoned too.
Maybe the same NGO worker saw the children locked up during the Khmer New Year. Did
this imprisonment last for three days? Or did it happen in the middle of the day
and last for how long? Or around bedtime after the bath? Where were the assistants?
At the toilet? In the kitchen to pick up some food? Or had they left for the countryside?
Several sources know about the care and medical treatment. A medical assistant and
a nurse are employed at the Center and a doctor comes once a week. There are always
some children in the hospital.
Another source can tell about the spread of HIV through a razor blade! (But she didn't
call the medical staff or the director, nor did she instruct the assistant what to
do. I know, because I was there!). Yes, further education is needed.
In fact the director and her staff are working extremely hard and do not deserve
the ice-cold criticism. Not at all! The director has managed to run the Center under
very difficult economic circumstances.
The Center has been criticized for receiving money from the parents-to-be and friends
of the Center, but without this help the children would have faced starvation.
ASPECA, which funds the Center, and the director Charles Fejto, has always respected
the director knowing that development has to go step by step.
Magic sticks don't work.
I welcome the closure of the gate even if it was a little bombastic. It is just far
too late. We asked for that when the adoptions were stopped in January.
The anarchy in the Center has nothing to do with food, medicine, poor conditions
and so on. The anarchy is there, when foreigners do not respect Cambodians, when
they take over the command by making decisions on their child-to-be without collaborating
with the staff.
The same disrespect appears when parents accept to pay bribes. Bribes need two partners.
Those who ask and those who pay. Who are the strongest?
Who has the magic stick?
- Bodil Moller Jorgensen, Phnom Penh.