Saturday, July 9, 2011

Governmental lack of urgency condemns a half-million Cambodians to life as orphans

NEW YORK, July 7, 2011 — The Cambodian ratification of The Hague Treaty which came about after much urging from UNICEF and the United States, was widely seen as the trigger that would lift the five-year ban on adoption. But that hasn’t happened.

Why not?

The Ministry of Social Affairs in Cambodia is in the process of drafting new intercountry adoption regulations that will bring the regulations into line with the goals of The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, an international agreement between participating countries on best adoption practices, but so far the U.S government has deemed the efforts insufficient. The Department of State (DoS) has zeroed in on Cambodia’s relinquishment process, the system whereby a birth mother signs over her rights to her child, as particularly problematic.

According to the DoS website: “The Special Advisor for Children's Issues, Ambassador Susan Jacobs met with Cambodian officials in March 2011, and explained what protections must be in place from the U.S. perspective before we will be able to resume adoptions between our two countries. She also encouraged the Cambodian Government to finalize and implement procedures that will enable Cambodia to operate as a Hague Convention partner country.”

The United States isn’t alone in its current opposition to intercountry adoption in Cambodia. UNICEF has also publicly stated that the organization does not believe Cambodia has an adequate system by which to determine orphan status. This comes after the United National Children’s Fund raised public concerns about whether children living in these orphanages were in fact orphans.

Explaining the nature of the concerns, Richard Bridle, a representative for UNICEF claims that research indicates that only 28-per cent of children in orphanages have lost both parents and that the vast majority of children living in orphanages have at least one surviving parent.

Cambodian street child sitting on the railroad tracks

Cambodian street child sitting on the railroad tracks

What he doesn’t say is why he believes that because a parent is alive that s/he is in necessarily in a position to raise a child. No parent easily relinquishes a child to custodial care; they do it because of dire circumstances. UNICEF’s own data reveals that more than one-third of Cambodians live below the poverty line and that the country has the highest infant and under-five mortality rate in South East Asia.

In response to the outcry from the UN and U.S., the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation recently announced to all embassies with diplomatic and consular missions that the Cambodian government will delay the date that it will begin receiving adoption petitions until April 1, 2012.

The official statement attributes the need for additional time to finalize regulations, complete staffing and training, and complete formal visits to the country’s 269 orphanages to assess conditions.

A total of 2,355 Cambodian children were adopted by families in the United States between 1999 and 2006. About 200 adoptions were later processed as “pipeline” cases after the U.S. suspension of adoptions from Cambodia. This year marks the fifth year that no child was adopted from Cambodia by families outside that country. That means this is the fifth year that children have been warehoused in orphanages awaiting the resolution of intergovernmental agreements.

As the United States and Cambodian governments, along with UNICEF, hash out a system they deem appropriate, the 570,000 orphans that UNICEF estimates are in Cambodia wait to become part of families. And wait. And wait.

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