Vietnam adoptions banned for Americans

Go Vap Orphanage in southern Vietnam. Photo: Kerrilee Barrett

Claims that babies were being unlawfully removed from their natural mothers and sold to agencies in Vietnam have caused a ban on all Vietnamese adoptions to the US from July.

Leaked by The Associated Press last Thursday, the US Embassy document cited cases of fraud, corruption and baby-selling in the Vietnamese adoption system. Days later, the Vietnamese authorities announced that it would be stopping all adoptions to the US from July onwards. The United States has been a major adoptive country, having relocated around 1,200 Vietnamese children in the past 18 months.

“People are sent out to try to find pregnant women in villages”

Sam works for a humanitarian aid NGO that offers services and aid to children in need in Vietnam. He prefers to remain anonymous in fear of persecution from the authorities.

Corruption is endemic in Vietnam and it comes to light primarily in the adoption industry because there’s a whole lot of money around there. Adoptions cost from 10 to 15 thousand dollars [€6,500 – €10,000] so government officials try to get themselves involved in the cash flow. If you’re an agency in Vietnam – there are 100 licensed – then you have to make arrangements with an orphanage to pay them a monthly contribution. It’s what amount this is and where the rest goes that is where the corruption comes in. Not much money goes to the children – that’s for sure.

Adoption agencies also make deals with hospitals. People are then sent out to try to find pregnant women in villages and convince them to come to that particular hospital. A strange thing is that you have to have been doing volunteering work for minimum two years in Vietnam before you apply to be an adoption agency. Then it takes a long time to process the application – without any “encouragement” your papers will just sit there. So when adoption was re-allowed in 2005 [it had been banned in 2003], I don’t know where 100 licensed agencies suddenly sprung up from in a year. Money must have changed hands somewhere. Bribes are the way you do business here. I can’t see the adoption system ever improving.

“We don’t want people to think we bought a baby”

Elaine, from the US, has been through the adoption process in Vietnam. Her son has been home for a month now. She prefers to remain anonymous.

When my husband was in Vietnam [an] embassy employee sat in the airport talking to him and playing with my new son, saying, “This little boy just has no idea how lucky he is to be getting out now. Not many more will get out to the United States.” He told Matt of the fraud and coercion they saw in adoptions from Vietnam. He told him, basically, what was released last week in the summary of irregularities.

When we started hearing rumours we also started asking our agency more questions. We asked about the viability of helping our son stay with his biological mother. Based on the way our agency operates, paperwork we have, and the information about the birth mother that was shared anecdotally with my husband while he was in Vietnam, we feel comfortable that our adoption was ethical. Now, however, since the media attention about suspected corruption in Vietnam adoptions, we find ourselves feeling hesitant to tell others that our son is from Vietnam. We don’t want people to think we bought a baby.


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