The US put a ban on Cambodian adoptions in December 2001. Since 2009, Cambodia has been trying to meet international standards for adoption. However, US officials and child protection groups say the country’s policies are not ready.
The US special ambassador for children’s protection, Susan Jacobs, recently toured Cambodia to learn whether its policies protect children well enough to lift an adoption ban.
She met with NGOs, embassies, and government officials. But in an interview with VOA Khmer, the ambassador said the US is not yet ready to allow its citizens to adopt Cambodians. She says the government has more work to do.
“They are definitely working in the right direction,” she said. “They are taking it very seriously, and they are anxious to do the right thing. So that is very, very promising.”
International adoptions can be tricky. Hopeful parents from wealthy countries can accidentally fuel the sale of children by desperate parents. Previously, thousands of Cambodians were adopted by US parents. The US instituted a ban in 2001 after concerns that children were being sold and that the adoption process in Cambodia was seriously flawed. Adoptions continued afterward until at least 2006, US officials say.
Cambodia passed an adoption law in December 2009. The law seeks to create an adoption process that complies with an international convention and ensures legitimate adoption. But so far, implementation of the law has fallen short.
The Ministry of Social Affairs says it is drafting the necessary instruments to make adoption safe. But the government needs international help to ensure they are properly written.
Jacobs said the law is just the beginning. More must be done to ensure adoptions are legitimate. For example, it is currently difficult to discern whether a child is truly an orphan, or a child whose parents are alive.
“So, they need to have a database that will have that information in it,” she said. “Right now, it’s my understanding that in Cambodia there is no system for formal relinquishment and that is something that will have to be in the new law.”
Marc Vergara, a spokesman for Unicef, said Cambodia is not ready.
“We believe that mechanisms in place are not positioned and the system in place is not adequate, and these still are not good enough at this stage to resume international adoption in Cambodia,” he said.
Cambodian officials are still working on improving the system. But for now, the US says it will not allow adoptions to resume. And it says there is no telling when that might happen.