Government to Start Small as It Moves to End Adoption Ban

Cambodia is inching closer to lifting a self-imposed ban on inter-country adoptions and believes its efforts to reform will soon meet preconditions for restarting the adoption process with countries that outlawed the practice in response to numerous high-profile child trafficking scandals, the government said Tuesday.

In 2011, the government bowed to international pressure by banning foreigners from adopting Cambodian children amid reports of corruption, child trafficking and non-orphans being sold to orphanages.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Social Affairs said in a statement that a series of reforms had equipped it to properly implement the Adoption Law it enacted in 2009, as well as the Hague Adoption Convention signed two years earlier.

“[The ministry] has now opened for duly registered Adoption Agencies in partner countries to apply…for authorization for them to operate inter-country adoption in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” the statement says, adding that the first steps toward an open adoption system would be tentative.

“Cambodia will start…with a small number of children with special needs and this process will start only after all local adoption options are exhausted,” it says.

In late 2013, the government jumped the gun when an announcement that it was to end its moratorium largely failed to change the position of foreign countries. Only Italy was appeased by the reforms, but both Italy and Cambodia eventually backed away from the resumption.

But according to Roeun Rithyroath, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Social Affairs’ inter-country adoption authority, Italy is already back on board.

“Italy is the first country that signed an agreement with Cambodia at the end of 2014…and their adoption authority is coming to Cambodia in April for further discussions,” he said, adding that other countries could also be confident that problems such as corruption had been fixed, as prospective foreign adopters now needed to pay a flat $5,000 fee per child.

“We banned child adoption so we had better legal regulations. We wanted to stop a culture of money under the table—‘tea money’—and find good parents,” Mr. Rithyroath said. “We will find the real orphans.”

While the government is confident that new safeguards will protect the adoption process from abuse, the cautious tone of the Social Affairs Ministry’s statement anticipated more muted responses than Italy’s.

“Much work remains to be done,” said Denise Shepherd-Johnson, chief of communications for Unicef Cambodia.

She added that Unicef would continue to work with the government to prioritize reuniting children in orphanages with their biological families, and to ensure that the interests of each child are assessed before adoption is considered.

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