Friday, May 2, 2008

Adoptions in Vietnam – Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

The original report on adoption irregularities in Vietnam did not get a lot of play in the press, but the subsequent reports of the Vietnamese Government's non-renewal of its 2005 child adoption agreement with the United States did. You can read the original AP exclusive here, the subsequent reports from NYT here and the WaPo coverage here. You can also read the Vietnamese perspective from Vietnam Net here.

I am posting a few excerpts below but if you are interested in reading the entire report - it is available online and can be accessed at the U.S. Embassy Hanoi page here. The report was posted on April 25th, the day after the AP exclusive came out.

On the Adoption Process and USCIS

"On October 25, 2007 in response to “growing concerns about irregularities in the methods used to identify children for adoption in Vietnam and the resulting difficulties in classifying those children as orphans,” USCIS required that I-600 petitions be filed in Ho Chi Minh City, with the processing of these petitions to be completed before prospective adoptive parents travel to Vietnam. These procedures enable USCIS to determine whether a child qualifies as an orphan, as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act. In the six months since this program was instituted, US officials in Vietnam have investigated over 300 I-600 petitions."

On Adoption Service Providers

"Vietnamese law requires that an Adoption Service Provider (ASP) sign a donation agreement with an orphanage before the ASP can arrange adoptions from the orphanage. These agreements are generally not released to the public. Several orphanage directors have told the Embassy that they actively bargain with multiple ASPs, and choose to work with the ASP that offers the highest donation per child referred. While these donations can be a mechanism to assist in the care of the children at the orphanage, they can also have a distorting effect on the adoption system."

On Maximizing Children Available for Adoptions

"Orphanage directors in four provinces have reported to the Embassy that there is a strong financial incentive to maximize the number of children available for foreign adoption in their centers. The donation provided per child (available for intercountry adoption) can be up to 10 times the standard government funding. Hospital and social workers have reported that orphanage directors offer them financial incentives for each child sent to their orphanage.

On Deserted Children

"Throughout Vietnam, officials at orphanages connected with intercountry adoptions report a sharp increase in the number of deserted children has since 2005, the year that the adoption agreement with the United States was signed. Orphanages in 7 provinces report a 17 fold or greater increase in desertions. Officials at orphanages not connected with intercountry adoption, however, have not seen an increase in desertions. A statistical review of child desertions reveals a series of facilities that have an unexplained high rate of child desertions."

"In one province in 2007 there were 77 cases of child desertion. Of these, 76 occurred at one particular orphanage. The director of this orphanage told the Embassy that before he signed an agreement with an ASP, the orphanage was home to 10 children, most of whom had been relinquished. By January 2007, the orphanage was home to 23 children, of whom fifty percent had been deserted. By January 2008, the orphanage was home to 70 infants, with over 90% of them having been deserted. The orphanage director attributed the growth in the number of children and the number of desertions to the fact that the orphanage was receiving funds from the American ASP."

On Birth Mothers

"In several of these facilities, there is a policy that the birth mother cannot see her child after delivery, in order to prevent bonding. Women in these facilities report receiving up to 6 million Vietnam Dong as payment for their children. While the source of funding for these facilities is unclear, they appear to have close connections with nearby orphanages."

"When the Embassy visited these facilities, we saw up to 20 women living in a single home. These women reported that orphanage officials came to the house in order to have them sign paperwork relinquishing their children. The women would then receive the promised payments. Often, the child is then taken to a nearby hospital or orphanage where a second set of paperwork is produced stating that the child was deserted. This is the paperwork that is submitted to the DIA and to the Embassy to support the claim that the child is an orphan."

On Payment and Promised Remittances

"75% of birth parents who were interviewed by a consular officer stated that in addition to payments for food, medical care and administrative expenses, they received payment from the orphanage in exchange for placing their child in the orphanage. On average this payment was six million Vietnamese Dong (DS: that’s $372.20 USD in today’s exchange rate), which is the equivalent of 11 months salary at minimum wage in Vietnam. Many of these families cited these payments as the primary reason for placing their child in an orphanage. The majority of these parents also state that they had not considered placing their child in an orphanage until a health care worker or orphanage official suggested to them that they should do so and informed them that they would receive a payment for doing so. Many of these parents also report that orphanage officials told them that the child will visit home frequently, will return home after they reach a certain age (often 11 or 12), or will send remittance payments from the United States."

On the "Humanitarian" Excuse for Inaction

"The Embassy has informed the DIA of cases of potential fraud and illegal activity. However, the DIA has acknowledged that it has not taken any action, criminal or administrative, against any individual or organization for any violation of Vietnamese law or regulation concerning adoption. They have also stated that they have taken no action to address concerns or allegations of wrongdoing submitted to them by individuals, ASPs or the U.S. Embassy. Instead, DIA has stated that it is in the "humanitarian" interest of the Government of Vietnam to ensure that every proposed adoption is completed as quickly as possible. They note that the ASPs have made a donation for the child, and thus, even if they had the authority to revoke a referral or an adoption, they would not do so because they could not break their contract with the ASP."

The Vietnamese Justice Ministry in a separate published report states that “The Vietnamese side will only process applications that it receives before July 1 and meet all requirements. The applications for which no suitable baby is found before the expiration of the agreement on September 1, 2008 will be returned to the US.”

Several people connected with the adoption groups in Vietnam were vocal about these developments and were already quoted in various newspapers. One said: “The (abuse) cases reported by the embassy … are such a very small fraction” of U.S. adoptions in Vietnam.” Another one said: “It is tragic for children that the U.S. government has not been able to find ways to work with the Vietnamese government … “Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children will not have families as a result of this failure of leadership.”

From my perspective, even a "small fraction" deserves our full attention. And what is tragic is if in our desire to move the process like clockwork, a child is taken away from his/her birth mother without her full consent. It is a sign of leadership on the Embassy’s part to release a report such as this even when the timing is bad. With over 40 adoption agencies operating in Vietnam, and many American families waiting in the pipeline, this is bound to generate a lot of attention from Congress and a deluge of Congressional inquiries. I'm concerned that the State Department will once more come out as the "bad guy" here.

This is one instance when I think the State Department should not wait for the other shoe to fall. The Consular Bureau which oversees this part of the process should be over in Congress already briefing our representatives and Congressional staffers about the core issues here – a mother’s right and the protection of a child. Since the host government is not willing or able to do this, then somebody must do the hard part - have hearts of steel and not turn a blind eye.

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