Italy has signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia to allow its citizens to adopt Cambodian children, making it the first country to do so since a 2009 ban on foreign adoptions was lifted last month, the Ministry of Social Affairs said on Wednesday.
“Until now, we have one country who signed an agreement with Cambodia to process intercountry adoptions, and that is Italy,” Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng said on the sidelines of a workshop in Phnom Penh dealing with children’s rights.
Mr. Sam Heng said that Italy had already started to set up agencies to process paperwork for potential adoptive parents. “But so far, we haven’t given any agency a license yet,” he said, adding that Italy would prioritize adoptions of disabled children.
According to The Hague Adoption Convention, member states must have an accredited adoption agency with high levels of transparency before the adoption process can commence. A central authority must also be established in the country capable of proving that the child could not be adopted in its country of origin.
After mounting reports of baby-selling, corruption and fraud in Cambodia’s adoption system, the government banned all adoptions in 2009 to properly implement a new law on international adoptions, which the U.N.’s children’s fund said was not properly in place yet.
Unicef’s country representative in Cambodia on Wednesday warned that adoptions should only go ahead if orphans cannot be adopted by family members or foster parents living in Cambodia.
Adoptions can be considered “only when the systems are in place and operating effectively in order to ensure that the child is indeed an orphan, to check on the proposed adopting parents and guarantee that they have no record of abuse or exploitation of children,” said Unicef’s Cambodia representative Rana Flowers in an email.
A Unicef spokesperson added: “Foreign governments should not put pressure on the Cambodian government and [the Ministry of Social Affairs] out of self-interest. Decisions about the entire life of a Cambodian child are not to be taken lightly and should not be influenced by money, but only through careful review of what is in the child’s best interests.”
The Italian Embassy in Bangkok did not reply to a request for comment.
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