Archive for August, 2008

31 August 2008

A joint United Nations report has called on Nepal to tighten laws and procedures in its inter-country adoption scheme, which it says has been open to abuses by orphanages and child centers. As Ron Corben reports, the new government has welcomed the recommendations that highlight children’s rights as well as providing more support to local Nepalese families.

The joint report by the United Nations Children Fund and the Swiss-based Terre des Hommes followed widespread reports of abuses in Nepal’s procedures for inter-country or foreign adoptions of Nepalese children in recent years.

The 62-page report, entitled Adopting – The Rights of the Child (pdf), highlighted widespread weaknesses in the existing scheme, where only four from every 100 adopted children being taken up by Nepalese families and where the government influence has often been limited.

Across Nepal there are some 15,000 children in orphanages or children’s homes. And while many are there because of the loss of parents the report points to a significant number of admissions in the homes due to fraud, coercion and malpractice.

Joanne Doucet, a UNICEF representative in Nepal, says the report’s main theme is the on-going shortfalls in the inter-country adoption scheme, suspended in June 2007 due to reports of widespread corruption.

“The process of inter-country adoption in Nepal has a lot of problems and loopholes and in many cases we can talk about some malpractices. The best interest of the child is not the center piece of the current process and an important shift should be encouraged,” said Doucet.

The study said the standard of care and protection in many of the orphanages also failed to respect the rights of the child.

“The standards in the homes are really not up to minimum acceptable standards. The majority have many, many problems. There’s no professional people working in these centers; the physical organization – the fact that the children cannot leave the home, they cannot freely move,” continued Doucet.

Doucet says the failure of the government to exert control over the adoption programs has left the way open to abuses.

“The centers have the full control of the system. The centers are the one who decide who are the abandoned, who should leave for adoption, for inter-country adoption. So where they make their money is through inter-country adoption because parents in the outside are so eager to have children so people are ready to pay any amount. An adoption law should absolutely stop this business,” added Doucet.

Demand for Nepalese children has increased in recent years as countries such as India have improved or tightened legal access to children for adoption or have placed greater emphasis in adoptions within their own country. European countries such as Spain, France and Italy, as well as the United States, have also been among the main sources of demand.

The study also revealed instances of abduction of children and babies being adopted without their parents consent.

Marlene Hofstetter, from the Swiss based Terre des hommes (Tdh), says authorities need to have more control over the adoption process, to avoid such abuse and exploitation by the adoption centers.

“Once they have seen the child most families – they are hooked. And the home has power over these parents because they want to have this child. They can ask for more money. How much is demanded is difficult to say – $20, 25, 30,000,” said Hofstetter. “But nobody will really say how much it pays because they know it’s not really [ethically] correct.”

The report also warns while there have been improvements over earlier laws they still fail to provide sufficient guarantees to uphold children’s rights. It also found that families were often divided, with siblings, including twins, being separated to increase their chances of adoption.

There were also calls for less emphasis institutionalization and that alternatives to inter-country adoptions are explored.

Punya Prasad Neupan, secretary with the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, welcomed the report, saying it highlighted the need for reform.

“No I’m not surprised. Actually, the contents of the report are not that surprising. Of course the report has revealed many things that need immediate improvement,” said Neupan. “It will help us reform the inter-country adoption process and there to make good provisions regarding the rights of the child.”

UNICEF and Terre Des Hommes backed moves by the Nepalese Government to ratify the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children but added that ratification and enactment of domestic legislation needed to take place before the resumption of inter-country adoption procedures.

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By now, the “family medical history moment” is so common and expected that it’s barely worth mentioning anymore.  You know, it’s that moment when the nurse or doctor asks an adoptee if there’s any history in the family of diabetes, breast cancer, etc.  The unfortunate adoptee who has very little or no information about their birth family has to deal with the inevitable, “I was adopted.  I don’t know.”

It use to be a serious source of stress for me, but I guess I just got use to it.  It’s gotten to the point where I say it or write it down without thinking much about it – or maybe I’ve just resigned myself to the idea that there’s nothing I can do about it.

My last doctor appointment, however, brought it all back.

As expected, the nurse starts going down the usual list of questions:

“Are you allergic to any medications?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Any serious injuries in the past that we should know about?”

“Nothing more serious than a broken arm when I was three.”

“Any history of cancer, diabetes, etc?”

“I have no idea.  I was adopted.”

*laughs “Well!  That makes it simple, doesn’t it?”


I wish someone had been there to record of my facial expression.  It must have been as indescribable as my feelings at the time.  I think I actually debated with myself for a few seconds on whether or not to point out how dismissive, insensitive and ignorant-seeming her statement was.  It might have saved the next adoptee she encountered some grief, but sometimes you have to pick your battles.  The only justification I have is that I just wanted to do what needed to be done and get out of there.

“I wish,” was about all I could get out of my mouth.

What I really wanted to say would have turned into an hour long lecture of why it did anything but make things simple.

My mind immediately went to Julia and so many like her who might have benefited from knowledge of their family medical histories and access to genetically related family members.   All those “what if” questions came flooding back along with all the anger.

They are questions that most of us will never have answers to because someone didn’t think our lives prior to our adoptions meant anything.  Adoptees who have no access to information that most people take for granted are left to wonder and hope that the day they need it to save their lives never comes.

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VietNamNet Bridge – Speaking to correspondents on the sideline of a meeting reviewing the implementation of the bilateral agreement on adoption between Vietnam and the US, Head of the Ministry of Justice’s International Adoption Agency Vu Duc Long said the management of adoption will be centralised.

The case in Nam Dinh revealed that state agencies, including the International Adoption Agency, respond too slowly and ineffectively, didn’t it?

Our difficulties were shortages of information and power.

What is the direction of this case?

There will be no change for the children who were adopted. The violators in Vietnam will be penalised, the adopted children will not be brought back to Vietnam.

Provincial Departments of Justice are in charge of checking and approving adoption files, so what is their responsibility if violations are detected?

It depends on the seriousness of violations. But it is very difficult to verify adoption documents if they are sophisticated counterfeits, because criminals begin forging documents when children enter orphanages.

So who will be sued by families who lose their children?

If their children are kidnapped, they have to sue the kidnappers or those who lend a hand to the kidnappers. We have the Law on Human Trafficking Prevention. In the case in Nam Dinh, it is very difficult to prove kidnapping.

What do you think about provinces permitting the establishment of orphanages which are very poor in facilities?

The orphanage in Nam Dinh is a district-level unit, while district-level management is very poor. This is a lesson. Some provinces have inspected local orphanages and closed down some units, for example the Viet Lam orphanage in Phu Tho province.

Some orphanages in southern provinces are being inspected. If district-level orphanages don’t have good facilities and are not managed well, they will be closed.

The recent US report on adoption in Vietnam said that some officials of the International Adoption Agency received money under the table or accepted overseas tours. What is your opinion about it?

They overstated officials demanding overseas tours or going shopping. The information is inaccurate. It is necessary and normal for officials to be invited to visit adopted children abroad to check and exchange information between related sides. They were voluntarily invited and Vietnam seriously observes regulations.

They said Vietnamese officials raised difficulties to seek profit. That’s not good. We have asked the US side to send us financial reports of Vietnamese delegations. If they overspent, they will be punished.

As an expert in adoption, what solutions do you think will help solve problems associated with international adoption?

The strongest solution is the issuance of the Law on Adoption. This law will basically change the management mechanism. Accordingly, the direct relations between orphanages and international adoption agencies will be abolished. Central agencies will directly manage adoption activities and relations with adoptive parents.

In addition, a national unified adoption assistance fund will be set up to diminish financial ambiguity and the ability to seek profit from adoption at grassroots agencies.

The power to make decisions currently belongs to orphanages and locations where the orphanages are located. This power will be centralised.

What about the experience of other countries in adoption?

One of the principles of the La Haye Convention asks member countries to control adoption activities, so centralisation is the best solution.

Vietnam should follow the model of China. They centralised everything and none of the power is given to local agencies.

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Child’s short life has run from abandonment in the forests of Vietnam to the caring arms of an adoptive family

Watching 2-year-old Phung Thien Nhan scoot merrily around an examination room at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, making excited conversation with strangers and burning through toys with a toddler’s fickle taste, one would never know that he’d been rescued not once, but twice from life-threatening situations.

The first rescue came when villagers found the newborn Nhan abandoned by his teenage mother in a forest in central Vietnam, still alive despite 72 hours in the wilderness and severe injuries from an animal mauling. Doctors were forced to remove his right leg, but they saved his life, prompting a group of Buddhist monks to give him a name that means “angelic child.”

But Nhan also needed a second rescue when Vietnamese journalist Tran Mai Anh found the boy living in poor conditions with his grandparents.

Worried for the boy’s safety and health, Anh fought a five-month battle to adopt Nhan with her husband, Phung Quang Nghinh, and began to raise money for the boy’s medical care. Their efforts led Nhan to the Rehabilitation Institute, the second medical stop on a cross-country tour of the United States.

“He has been very happy, very active and cheerful,” Anh said as she watched Nhan place stickers on her husband’s face. “He’s been singing a lot of songs, and he didn’t sing before.”

On Tuesday, Nhan was evaluated at the institute by prosthetic specialists, who said that with modifications to his prosthetic leg and physical therapy, he should be able to walk normally in a matter of years. The good news followed successful surgery in New Hampshire on groin injuries the boy suffered during his abandonment, his parents said, and accompanied an upwelling of support from Vietnamese and American organizations and citizens.

“It gives the parents a lot of hope to see a lot of love out there for them and their child,” said Son Michael Pham, founder of Seattle-based non-profit Kids Without Borders, which is helping pay for the trip. “And it gives them a lot more energy and will to make sure we can do whatever is best so he will have a normal life.”

Nhan’s discovery was a popular news story in Vietnam in 2006, Pham said, a rare case of child abandonment in a country that prides itself on family values. But after the country’s attention drifted, Nhan was sent from to live with his mother’s family, who neglected him further.

When Anh found him in 2007, he was eating nothing but bananas and cold rice and sleeping in a corner of the family’s hut. Alarmed, she started the lengthy process of formally adopting the child, earning guardianship in March and bringing him to her family’s Hanoi home to live with her husband and two sons.

Not used to the comforts of modern living, Nhan struggled at first with simple behaviors like sleeping in a bed and eating new foods.

“Everything we gave him to eat, he threw away. I think he was scared of it,” Mai Anh said. “After a few days, he began to eat a lot, and we had to hide the food.”

Nhan’s celebrity has also regrown in Vietnam, where his second birthday in July was celebrated by more than 100 people who have followed the boy’s progress on a Web site started by supporters, Anh said.

That celebrity has spread to Vietnamese-American communities in the United States, said Greig Craft, president of Vietnam-based Asia Injury Prevention Foundation and an organizer of the family’s trip. When the family ate at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown on Monday night, the owner paid their bill—and threw in a $100 donation, Craft said.

Donations can be made at www.kidswithnoborders.org, the family said.

Related: Bellevue group helps ‘Miracle Baby’ begin road to his recovery

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Ethnically Perplexed by Sume

Years ago my father sent me a folder containing a family tree that stretched back to 1776, an old newspaper article about one of his ancestors and a picture of the family crest.  He is a proud Southerner, and his pride naturally extends to his European ancestry that he’d traced all the way back to Wales.  Throughout my childhood, he’d never failed to impress upon me the importance of heritage.

Even as a little girl, I remember him taking my brother and I to an old family graveyard in Louisiana.  Many of the graves had deteriorated to little more than piles of stones, and the names were no longer readable.  None of this mattered to my father.  He told my brother and I to stand next to them so that he could record our pilgrimage to the old family plot.

He often boasted about his grandmother’s strength of character which he attributed to her French-Canadian/Cajun roots.  During our visits, his ears would perk up as he heard her and his father speaking Cajun, a language he never learned to speak.

I vaguely remember him urging me to ask my great-grandmother to see a sword she supposedly owned that had been passed down from the Civil War. Being a proud Southerner, he impressed the significance of the Confederate flag upon me at an early age.  As a teenager, I proudly displayed it in the corner my room.

Rebel Yelling by Sume

I don’t remember my father ever associating the flag with racism.  For him, it symbolized his Southern roots and nothing more.  I might have had no problem with that except for the fact that my father was racist.  He still is – and this is the part where I get really uncomfortable.

Writing about my family’s racism is always painful for many reasons.  I am ashamed and ashamed of being ashamed.  He is my father, the only one I’ve ever known.  Some part of my conscience kicks me in the back of the head every time I mention my father’s racial prejudice.  I feel the urge to apologize for him and even cover it up, but I’m tired of covering for my family, exhausted from carrying the burden of their deceptions.  No matter how good their intentions, it’s not mine to carry.  Furthermore, as I slowly re-align my perspective to one of a woman of color rather than a white woman, my brain must reject much of my father’s view of the world as unacceptable.

He has mellowed out some over the years, but it’s still there and manifests itself in more – and still occasionally less – subtle ways.  He’s not the only one, but most of my family is less obvious about it.   It always surprised and filled me with such shame and anger when I’d hear members of my family say “nigger” as if there were nothing wrong with it – even more so when I’d confront them about it.  Sometimes I’d get arguments and excuses.  Sometimes, they’d just look at me as if I were crazy.  Except for my father, I’ve since learned to avoid those particular family members.

There was a time when I tried to compartmentalize Dad from his racism just as he seemed to compartmentalize racism from the Confederate South.   Yes, I’ve read the debates, but cannot escape the fact that the South and part of its history included slavery.  It’s not that I buy into the idea that the North was absent of racism and exploitation of people of color, but just as with my father, there are things to be proud of and things of which to be terribly ashamed.

Ironically, the only photo he seemed to be able to find of one of his early ancestors was that of a Union soldier (see first photo).  On it, he’d written: Don’t claim no kin to this one.

On the inside of the folder, my father wrote:

My Dearest:
Forget not from Whence
The lineage in your Vein
Was born of Suffering and Pain
In abeyance of Life’s Penance!

The infuriating thing is that all the while he was impressing upon me the importance of his heritage, he was contributing to the erasure of mine with his lies.  Well intentions be damned.  One does NOT compensate for another.  One does NOT trump the other.  Because there were so many pieces missing, the few remaining fragments became all the more valuable – and irreplaceable.

Despite any wish he might have had to ensure I felt a part of the family, a true sense of belonging is only true when you don’t have to work too hard at it.  The burden of proof felt more put upon me than upon him.  All he had to do was lie, but the responsibility for maintaining the illusion was mostly mine.

And I refuse.

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Ethnically Perplexed by Sume

Years ago my father sent me a folder containing a family tree that stretched back to 1776, an old newspaper article about one of his ancestors and a picture of the family crest.  He is a proud Southerner, and his pride naturally extends to his European ancestry that he’d traced all the way back to Wales.  Throughout my childhood, he’d never failed to impress upon me the importance of heritage.

continue reading

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