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Vietnam- the Sept. 1 deadline and the demand for a new intercountry agreement amidst a landscape of fraud

September first, the bilateral inter-country agreement between Vietnam and the U.S. governing adoptions is set to expire. Barring the unforeseen, American adoptions from Vietnam will once again be suspended.

While this has garnered a great deal of attention from those wishing to adopt from Vietnam, it has gotten surprisingly scant mention from adoptee bloggers. I find this deafening silence stunning in light of the ongoing rising number of arrests and other evidence of corruption and falsified documentation finally coming to light.

While there are genuine differences between domestic adoptions particularly those that took place during what some refer to as the (domestic) “baby scoop era” (Roughly end of WWII through 1972, just prior to Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, and other societal demographic shifts that changed adoption patterns) and more recent international adoptions (what some inter-country adoptees themselves have termed “transracial abductions”) we are all lumped together lingustically under the term “adoptee.”

Understanding and writing about these international adoptions, particularly as this “gold rush” period of intercountry adoptions is now beginning to constrict (for a variety of reasons, stricter regulation, corruption coming to light, economic changes, the Hague inter-country treaty, some countries closing their doors, and adoption industry consolidation) documenting these changes is vital to a strategic assessing the American political landscape ‘adoption’ currently inhabits.

I’ve been blogging the Vietnam adoption mess for some time now, and following it for longer still. While my writings are fairly limited, barely scratching the surface, sadly they represent one of the very few Bastard blogger perspectives on such. Today’s post, unfortunately will continue that trend, barely scratching the surface, compared to how much COULD be said at this important juncture.

What follows then, is another long post (yes, long even for me, be forewarned.) It’s one I’ve been trying to get out for more than a month now. Parts of it were originally written over a month ago, but I’ve added some of the more up to date details throughout. I had originally envisioned this as one of a multi-part series spread across a number of posts, but the timing being what it is, I feel it’s more important to finally get this up tonight rather than to have it in more of a finalized form. Consider it more a stream of consciousness series of related points, rather than a fully fleshed out piece with all the ‘connective tissue’ intact. This is more a mere ’stringing the beads’ sort of post.

***

By way of A starting point let’s look at the current agreement, now mere hours prior to the expiration deadline.

Via this U.S. State Department statement, Vietnam Suspends Acceptance of New Adoption Dossiers, (from July 18th, ‘08) we find the deadlines for finishing out adoptions under the existing inter-country agreement which expires September 1, 2008:

Prospective adoptive parents and adoption service providers should be aware that the Vietnamese Department of International Adoptions (DIA) suspended the acceptance of new adoption dossiers on July 1, 2008. The DIA will continue to process cases received prior to July 1, 2008. The bilateral adoption agreement, required by Vietnamese law to authorize adoptions between the United States and Vietnam, expires on September 1, 2008. Prospective adoptive parents who have been matched with a child (received a formal referral) by September 1 will be allowed to process their adoption to conclusion. Dossiers that have not received a referral by September 1 will be closed and returned to the adoption service provider.

We also find language expressing U.S. commitment to negotiating a new agreement:

The United States is strongly committed to processing legitimate intercountry adoptions from Vietnam. We have indicated to the Vietnamese our interest in negotiating a new agreement. An important goal for the United States is that any new agreement must establish enforceable safeguards and a transparent process which ensures that the children and families involved in the adoption process are protected from exploitation. The Government of Vietnam shares this concern. Both countries acknowledge that more needs to be done to address deficiencies in the current system. It is not possible, at this time, to predict when a new bilateral adoption agreement may be negotiated and signed.

This demand, that a new agreement be negotiated even as the investigation is ongoing is deeply troubling. We are still in a process of trying to determine the scope of the corruption and document falsification, including medical documentation, on up through kidnappings and outright baby-selling. In June alone five children were returned to their Vietnamese families after Embassy investigations. The statement makes the reason clear, “the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam revealed that the birth parents had not consented to their adoption.”

Let’s be clear on that point, Vietnamese children were being placed for adoption without parental consent.

As this process is ongoing, and new revelations are still forthcoming, it seems premature at best to demand adoptions be continued in the current climate. A climate we have yet to even fully understand the scope of.

U.S. field investigations continue to reveal incidents of serious adoption irregularities, including forged or altered documentation, cash payment to birth mothers (for other than reasonable payments for necessary activities such as administrative, court, legal, translation, and/or medical services related to the adoption), coercion or deceit to induce the birth parent(s) to release children to an orphanage, and children being offered for intercountry adoption without the knowledge or consent of their birth parents. During the month of June 2008, five children were reunited with their families after investigations by the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam revealed that the birth parents had not consented to their adoption. In July, Vietnamese media reported that police in the northern province of Nam Dinh arrested three people, including two communal health officials, for alleged child buying and creating fraudulent documentation purporting that these children had been deserted. These children had also been illegally offered for intercountry adoption; the investigation is ongoing. Vietnamese officials have informed the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi that similar investigations are occurring in other provinces.

In the period leading up to the Sept. 1 deadline, the U.S. Embassy had warned prospective adopters not to travel to Vietnam prior to receiving written pre-approval notification from the Embassy, and encourages prospective adoptive couples to contact the Embassy if anyone encourages them to travel without official notification:

The Embassy strongly advises prospective adoptive parents not to travel to Vietnam until they have received notification from the Embassy that their case is ready for final processing and travel is appropriate. Parents should contact the Embassy immediately if anyone, including their adoption service provider, encourages them to travel to Vietnam prior to receiving this notification.

Undeterred by such a landscape of widespread fraud, corruption, coercion and and manipulation (see U.S. alleges baby-selling rackets in Vietnam, Embassy report says lax policing lets adoption fraud flourish AP, April. 24th, ‘08 as but one of many examples), The Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS, a membership trade organization with numerous adoption agencies as members) launched a major campaign attempting to keep adoptions from Vietnam flowing freely.

JCICS claims “child advocacy groups, parent support groups, and medical clinics”, among their members though they are primarily adoption industry centered, (their membership directory makes quite a study.) Thus, they created their campaign, “A Child’s Right Campaign for Vietnam” (utilizing the pretext of speaking on behalf of ‘the children’) under the “End Corruption, Not a Child’s Right to a Family meme.

This JCICS “child’s right” (to a family) language, being utilized in the context of promotion of international adoption as a routine practice, is actually an inversion of, perhaps even a perversion of, the U.N.’s documents defining the Rights of Children, which ultimately are principles at the core of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.

Note the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The ‘rights’ being spelled out for children entail more far more than A family, instead the ‘right’ refers to growing up within their family of origin barring “exceptional circumstances.”

See principle 6, in particular, which states in part:

He shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents, … a child of tender years shall not, save in exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother.

For further elaboration on what a “child’s rights” might entail see the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. (The US has signed the convention but has yet to complete the ratification process.)

The Convention makes it quite clear, one’s name, one’s parents (of origin), and country of origin are the preference whenever possible. Identity preservation is seen as a key “right” and when displaced, the UN sees it as a “right” for the individual to be able to rely upon the State to do what is possible to restore access to the displaced identity information. Removal of a child from original context should be an “exceptional circumstance” see above), one only taking place within a context of “competent authorities” and with “judicial review.”

Articles 7 and 8 have particular relevance to children in relation to international adoption:

Article 7

    1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.2. States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.

Article 8

    1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.

These sections run headlong into common American adoption practices, from the renaming of children, to the cases wherein children are not informed they are adopted, much less international adoptees, to the at times ‘caught between two nations, aspects of adoptees facing being deported later in life due to a lack of being appropriatedly registered in their adoptive country, on through to the fundamental identity erasure common in American adoptions, particularly sealed records based adoptions.

Article 9 would also clearly pertain.

Article 9

    1. States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child’s place of residence.2. In any proceedings pursuant to paragraph 1 of the present article, all interested parties shall be given an opportunity to participate in the proceedings and make their views known.3. States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests. 4. Where such separation results from any action initiated by a State Party, such as the detention, imprisonment, exile, deportation or death (including death arising from any cause while the person is in the custody of the State) of one or both parents or of the child, that State Party shall, upon request, provide the parents, the child or, if appropriate, another member of the family with the essential information concerning the whereabouts of the absent member(s) of the family unless the provision of the information would be detrimental to the well-being of the child. States Parties shall further ensure that the submission of such a request shall of itself entail no adverse consequences for the person(s) concerned.

(Among others.)

I think it’s very clear, in situations where children in ’sending countries’ are being offered for adoption without parental consent or the extended family’s involvement, all within a climate of widespread corruption and culture of corrupt officials, we really have to begin methodically questioning the legitimacy of “legal” determinations being made and the ‘competence’ of the authorities involved.

While the Convention on the Rights of the Child is nonbinding on the US, it does serve as an appropriate amplification on how the international community is beginning to define what a “child’s rights” might be.

More importantly, though, those elaborations upon and definitions of what a “child’s rights” are, laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, then go on to become one of the bedrock principles underlying the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption (to which the U.S. IS a signatory and is now beginning to utilize as the yardstick going forward for how it will conduct intercountry adoptions in the future, going so far as to demand counties such as Vietnam conform to the Hague guidelines.)

So, now that we’ve laid out the definitions of what ‘rights of the child’ are, let me then detail how those “rights” pertain to the Hague Convention and intercountry adoption.

Note these paragraphs from the full text of the Hague Convention:

Recalling that each State should take, as a matter of priority, appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin,

Recognizing that intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found in his or her State of origin,

Convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children,

Desiring to establish common provisions to this effect, taking into account the principles set forth in international instruments, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of 20 November 1989, and the United Nations Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally (General Assembly Resolution 41/85, of 3 December 1986),…

While the U.S. has signed onto the Hague treaty, Vietnam has not (as of yet.) The U.S. in its goals for going forward with Vietnam has stated unequivocally “Our goal for Vietnam and for all countires is an intercountry adoption process solidly based on the standards set by the Hague Adoption Convention” and “We have strongly urged the GVN to accede to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, to promptly draft Hague compliant adoption legislation and implementing regulations, and to develop a child welfare infrastructure that will bring Vietnam into conformity with Hague Standards.”

So let’s recap, the U.S. HAS NOT ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is where the internationally recognized rights of children are defined. But the U.S. HAS ratified and has begun implementing the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption which utilizes the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a set of principles that underlie it. (How that works, or doesn’t apparently remains to be seen. Quick, someone find me an international law lawyer, because I’m certainly not up to the task of untangling that one!)

Now that the U.S. is moving into the Hague based model, it wants other countries it wishes to conduct international adoptions with to also ratify the Hague and move towards the Hague model as well.

Vietnam appears poised to embrace the guidelines and in the aftermath of the expiration of the intercountry agreement and appears likely to restructure into a centralized Hague model.

I’ve already written a post about how implementing Hague standards and restructuring Vietnamese law towards American style adoptions would fundamentally change the legal structure of Vietnamese adoptions. To name but a few of the ways, under current Vietnamese law, a child must be abandoned orphaned to be adopted. Yet the American definition of “orphan” is a very particular legal construct (see below.) Under current Vietnamese law the cut off age for adoption is 16, but under the Hague Convention that would be extended to 18. Perhaps most importantly, current under Vietnamese law those adopted retain certain rights, not the least of which being some inheritance rights. Yet moving to Hague compliance would permanently sever all legal ties between those adopted and their Vietnamese families of origin.

All of which, from an adoptee perspective is pretty damn important. If Vietnam were to move to the American style adoptions, adoptees themselves stand to lose some of the rights they currently enjoy under Vietnamese law, particularly those pertaining to legal ties to their families of origin. It’s important to keep in mind that such family ties would often be permanently severed when the adoptees themselves are too young to speak or act on their own behalf.

(Again where are other Bastard bloggers on this? More importantly, where are Vietnamese-American Bastard Bloggers? Are other adoptees unaware, or uninterested?)

So in light of all the convoluted backdrop to all this, let’s come back to the JCICS campaign.

The campaign advocates preservation of the U.S./Vietnam adoption relationship. This is hardly surprising considering some JCICS member agencies earn income from American adoptions from Vietnam. They are using the “child’s right” meme, speaking ‘on behalf of the children’ to maintain their own income streams.

Out of JCICS’s ongoing campaign, pressure was put on legislators to keep the American foot in the closing door of adoptions from Vietnam. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption (see the membership roster here) has readily jumped into the fray, doing key media appearances, such as this July 1 Newshour with Jim Lehrer piece with Kathleen Strottman of the Congressional Coalition interviewed along with Susan Soon-Keum Cox from Holt International (who is also JCICS’s Vice-Chairperson of their Board of Directors.)

While utilizing UNICEF’s estimate of the number of “orphaned” children in the world (43 million), Strottman looks past the details of UNICEF’s position on International Adoption, which begins, naturally with the assumptions contained within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides UNICEF’s work, clearly states that every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible.

It elaborates that intercountry adoption should be considered when a permanent family setting in their country of origin cannot be found. UNICEF also lays out guidelines for when international adoption should NOT be utilized.

The case of children separated from their parents and communities during war or natural disasters merits special mention. It cannot be assumed that such children have neither living parents nor relatives. Even if both their parents are dead, the chances of finding living relatives, and a community or home to return to after the conflict subsides, continues to exist. Thus, such children should not be considered for inter-country adoption, and family tracing should be the priority. This position is shared by UNICEF, UNHCR, the International Confederation of the Red Cross, and international NGOs such as the Save the Children Alliance.

I strongly urge readers to carefully read the entire position statement and carefully consider what it means to say that all possibilities for a child to find permanence in a family in their country of origin have been exhausted.

Some agencies urged their prospective adoptive clients to write Congress and demand Vietnam remain open (here’s one for example, note the “A Child’s Right” box at the top of the front page). Naturally the net has also been abuzz, websites (here for example, see the left column, under what to do, contact Congress), blogs (see here), and various web based forums (here’s one example) have also promoted the ‘write your congressperson’ campaigns.

Then there are those from an earlier period, who adopted children in Vietnam but had visa difficulties getting the kids back to the states. (This is part of where the ‘don’t travel until you have written confirmation’ advisory came from) They too have been lobbying their representatives, in this case with the kids completely stuck in the middle no man’s land. The earlier mess has in some cases been conflated into the current set of circumstances which are now quite different.

Both the major industry trade groups the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) and the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) have of course, also been lobbying on behalf of their industry and its clients (i.e. prospective adopters) that Vietnam remain a viable childsource.

Ethica has also done their own variation on the ‘write your congressperson’ campaign urging their supporters to push the dual message summed up by one sentence in their sample letter included in the May 1, 2008 post.

“I want Vietnamese adoptions to continue, but I also want them to be ethical and legal.”

While that may ’sound good’ to many on the face of it, one really has to ask what words like “legal” begin to mean in the Vietnamese system wherein officials are often part of the very corruption one is striving to eradicate.

In light of the unfathomable (and often unenforceable) complexities of both “legal” and “ethical” it appears that the primary message Representatives took away from the letters was that which matched the rest of the ongoing campaign:

” …want Vietnamese adoptions to continue…”

Certainly any capital hill aide sorting into the dual piles of want Vietnam to remain open and (who knows if there even are such letters) want Vietnam to close, would add the Ethica letters to the former pile. Which is to say nuance is often wasted upon those rigidly adhering to a system of binaries.

On July 7, 149 Members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, urging her to negotiate a new MOU/MOA (Memorandum of Understanding, Memorandum of Agreement) with Vietnam, and asking an interim agreement with “safeguards” be fashioned as part of moving the entire Vietnam process towards Hague compliance.

While the letter certainly acknowledges “Reported incidents of fraud and corruption within Vietnam’s adoption system” it also calls for Secretary Rice to “address these concerns so that we can continue…” stating flatly

…we ask that you work to resolve these issues and to secure and updated Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam that ensures the integrity of international adoptions between our two countries.

Clearly, the message Ethica and such were promoting got lip service, but little by way of concrete proposals.

“Continuing” in the current climate strikes me as an extremely faulty course of action, certainly as we have yet to even fully understand how deep the corruption goes.

To say nothing of how dealing with the concerns is far “easier said than done.”

Further, even the few “safeguards” recently added to try to handle the objections (widespread institutionalized corruption, child selling, routine document falsification, etc) are clearly not working out so well. Even basic concepts such as who qualifies as an “orphan” quickly devolve into a quagmire.

Much has been made of the May 29th U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’s (USCIS) announcement of its Vietnam DNA testing program, as a means by which fraud could potentially ‘be curtailed’. The program was instituted in part to “streamline”cases where a (biologically related) parent had been identified. It was also instituted in part due to:

…concerns regarding the adoption process in Vietnam, and to ensure that all children identified for potential adoption meet the Immigration and Nationality Act’s definition of “orphan” prior to a United States citizen adopting or obtaining legal custody of the child. In several cases, children have been returned to birth parents who did not intend for their child to be adopted internationally.

The statement also elaborates on how the term “orphan” can become a point of contention:

USCIS strongly encourages prospective adoptive parents who intend to continue with a planned adoption in Vietnam to file the form I-600 by mail, with USCIS in Ho Chi Minh City, and not travel to Vietnam until USCIS has provided a notification that the child qualifies as an orphan. This is important because in some cases irregularities that have affected the eligibility of the child for classification as an orphan have become apparent only after the adoption had taken place and while the parents and child were waiting in Vietnam for a visa.

All of which comes back to how terminology such as “orphan” in international adoptionland does not necessarily refer to ‘a child whose parents are dead’ or ‘a child bereft of parents.’ “Orphan” in relation to international adoption law has a very specific meaning.

Children adopted internationally after being designated “orphans” often have one or both parents still alive (and yes, in some cases even still seeking them, as often parents are lured into signing paperwork and leaving their children at ‘orphanages’ with promises of it ‘just being for a short duration’, perhaps until the parent has more money to care for the child.)

While the idea of a child whose parents are now dead tends to be the non-technical/non-legal definition in lay or common use, “orphan” as relates to international adoption has a very specific technical meaning embedded in international law in relation to the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and a set of criteria laid out in its definition of an “orphan.”(WAY too huge to lay out here, instead use this search tool of the document, searching on the term “orphan.” “Sec. 1101. Definitions” contains the technical definition of “orphan” for purposes of international adoption.)

“Orphan” is not the only linguistic stumbling block, Look here for a definition of how “Abandonment” is defined in relation to the USCIS Guidebook for international adoption and how that begins to pose a new set of issues in relation to Vietnamese adoptions. (The entire guidebook is well worth glancing through.)

The Adopted Children Immigrant Visa Unit, USCIS Implements Required DNA Testing for Vietnamese Adoptions, Questions and Answers page from May 13, 2008 explains why things have come to the point in U.S. Vietnam adoptions that the Embassy moved to DNA testing.

Last April, Vietnam’s top adoption official, Vu Doc Long had dismissed DNA testing as “unacceptable” (See Vietnamese babies ’stolen for adoption in the west’. I pointed readers at several resources last April after the U.S. Embassy report was first released)

Far from the ‘few bad apples’ arguments heard so often, the Embassy point blank states “recent investigations have demonstrated that Vietnamese civil documents are unreliable.” This is a blanket statement, not speaking to merely ’some’ or ‘a few’ documents:

Q. What are the problems in Vietnam that prompted USCIS to implement this policy?
A. The U.S. Government has growing concerns about irregularities in the methods used to identify children for adoption in Vietnam. Additionally, recent investigations have demonstrated that Vietnamese civil documents are unreliable. Moreover, Vietnamese officials, in some provinces, have interfered with the ability of the U.S. Government to conduct independent field inquiries into the status of children identified in Form I-600 petitions.

The same page goes on to explain that making the “orphan” determination can be difficult to verify:

Q. If the United States sees problems in the Vietnamese adoption process, why has it continued processing adoption cases?
A. The situation in Vietnam can sometimes make it difficult to verify that a child qualifies as an “orphan” as defined in the U.S. immigration laws. If a child’s status as an orphan can be verified, however, it is appropriate for the case to go forward. USCIS has sought to improve the ability to verify the child’s status. For example, in 2007 USCIS initiated the “Vietnam Initiative” program for prospective adoptive parents adopting in Vietnam. Under the Vietnam Initiative program, prospective adoptive parents file Form I-600 directly with USCIS in Ho Chi Minh City before traveling to Vietnam. This enables USCIS or U.S. Department of State officers to determine whether a child identified in the petition qualifies as an orphan before the child is transferred to the care of the adopting parents. In addition, USCIS and the Department of State have also engaged in a series of formal discussions to address concerns regarding the integrity of Vietnamese intercountry adoptions. Finally, this new policy for DNA testing of Vietnamese birth parents will also improve the ability of USCIS to verify that a child is an orphan.

Unfortunately in Guatemala, which is often pointed to as a model for the Vietnamese program, the DNA testing program (two separate tests in Guatemala) has been far from a solution. Instead, the Guatemalan solicitor general’s office there has unearthed at least 80 cases of adoption irregularities, some of which involve falsified DNA tests. As a result the Guatemalan chief prosecutor’s office has launched a criminal investigation into the two laboratories under contract to take DNA samples. (See this CNN piece from October 2007 by way of citation.)

Back in Vietnam, by July, (not long after the DNA testing was begun) the heads of two health centers were arrested (see 300 infants illegally put up for adoption).

The heads of two communal healthcare centres were arrested last month under suspicion of forging State adoption documents and of making up bogus histories for the infants, said Nam Dinh Investigative Police Department.

When the HEADS of healthcare centers are being arrested for forging documents, one really has to wonder what the real value of one’s health test related paperwork is.

The adoption related problems in Vietnam far from aberrations, are systemic. As recently as June, the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam was issuing fact sheets such as this, Adopted Children Immigrant Visa Unit, Vietnam Adoptions – Fact Sheet which speaks to systemwide problems of exploitable weaknesses:

The Government of Vietnam has been unable to comply with the 2005 Agreement as planned, and cases have frequently been tainted by corruption due to weaknesses in the Vietnamese adoption system.

and

Among the problems with the current system is that the Government of Vietnam has not established and published a fee structure for adoptions. Instead, individual orphanages and adoption service providers make private arrangements concerning the “voluntary donations” and other assistance the agencies will provide to orphanages where they arrange adoptions. These arrangements are kept private and there is no official accounting for how funds are spent. Because it is relatively easy to obtain fraudulent civil documents (birth and death certificates, for example) in Vietnam, U.S. officials must verify the information in the orphan’s file, in many cases, before a visa can be issued. U.S. authorities have been prevented from conducting these verification trips in a few provinces, although these trips have been completed without incident in most of the country.

Most troubling, U.S. officials have discovered repeated instances of fraud and corruption in connection with some adoption cases in Vietnam. We believe systemic reform, and more effective safeguards, are needed to prevent the abuses. (See report at: this webpage)

Despite the newly instituted “orphan first” processing which began in November 2007, U.S. Embassy officials continue to find evidence of “serious irregularities:”

Unfortunately, our field investigations continue to reveal some incidents of serious adoption irregularities, including forged or altered documentation, women paid or coerced to release their children, and children offered for adoption without the knowledge or consent of their birth parents. We are aware of four children who have been returned to their birth parents once these circumstances were discovered.

State Department guidelines on adoption in Vietnam make it perfectly clear, “Document fraud is widespread in Vietnam.” See the section entitled “A Few Words on Vietnamese Civil Documentation:”

Document fraud is widespread in Vietnam. Fraud is not limited to fake documents produced by other than the authorized civil authority. A document may be legal, in the sense that the appropriate Vietnamese government office has issued it and it is in the correct format, but still be fraudulent because it contains false information. Vietnamese regulations regarding civil documentation are frequently not followed. For instance, births are supposed to be registered within 30 days and in a prescribed format, but late registrations and non-standard, unofficial “birth certificates” created by orphanages are common. Death certificates, such as for a child’s biological parent(s), may prove even more difficult to verify, since there is no standard format and the cause of death listed on Vietnamese death certificates is often very vague. Moreover, the format of all official documents, with the exception of birth certificates, varies widely from province to province. All of these factors can greatly complicate the ability of Vietnamese and U.S. officials involved in the intercountry adoption process to identify the child and confirm his/her parentage to a sufficient level of comfort to protect against child-buying or other inappropriate, illegal or prohibited practices.

(This is exactly what to keep in mind when Ethica demands adoptions from Vietnam be “legal,” the paperwork may line up, have the required seals, and even be signed by the appropriate officials, yet still contain inaccuracies or deliberate falsifications. This is not something any kind of ‘quick fix’ is going to correct.)

None of the above “legal” frauds are the least bit surprising to those of us who have exploring the broader implications of and climate Vietnamese adoption appears to sit in. The very building blocks of the system itself appear to rely on corruption in day to day functioning, see this (June 25h, ‘07) Not in My House: Corruption in Vietnam, “Lying has become an everyday habit” as officials ignore fraud at home. (That I found linked off this article , which has both some good and some bad to it, at Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity which is primarily a website community for those who already have or were considering adopting from Vietnam. It too, has both some good, some bad to it.)

In late July The Congressional Coalition invited the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affiars, USCIS to conduct a briefing for Representatives and their staff on intercountry adoption, focusing on issues related to Guatemala and Vietnam.

On Friday, July 26, 2008, Joint Council participated in a briefing of over 60 Congressional offices on issues related to international children’s services with particular attention to intercountry adoption in Vietnam and Guatemala.

Naturally, would be adopters picking up on the urging of JCICS utilized the opportunity to lobby in favour of participation (A variety of wanna-be-adopter bloggers picked the lobbying around the briefing up.) The timing of course, was in anticipation of the impending Vietnam deadline.

Here in this blog post, (most of which reiterates text originally found on the JCICS page) we find a description of the briefing and those participating.

In addition to Joint Council President Tom DiFilipo, Lynn Song, Executive Director of Joint Council Member Organization Ethica Inc., Susan Cox, Vice-President of Holt International and Vice-Chairperson of Joint Council’s Board of Directors, along with Tom Atwood and Chuck Johnson, respectively President and Vice-President of the National Council For Adoption participated in the briefing.

According to the July 30th posting on the JCICS Vietnam page a second briefing was scheduled thereafter for August 1.

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption has invited the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to conduct a briefing of Congressional staff on issues related to intercountry adoption in Vietnam, Guatemala along with issues related to intercountry adoption in general. The briefing is scheduled for this Friday, August 1, 2008 in the U.S. Capitol Building, LBJ Room at 10:00 a.m.

Also near this time frame JCICS got a copy of the response from the State Department to the letter sent by the the representatives, the reply is addressed to Senator Landrieu. JCICS has posted a PDF copy of the letter to their website. (I strongly urge readers to follow the link.)

By mid August, NCFA, Ethica, and JCICS were working together on a “Vietnam Survey” for all families in process of adopting from Vietnam. They hoped to receive the responses back by August 22nd.

On August 19 the (American) State Department issued a statement, Update on Tu Du Hospital in Vietnam which chronicles what it determines to be

“a pattern of false information in documentation pertaining to the birth mothers of children born at Tu Du Hospital”

Were this not bad enough, precisely what I was writing about earlier in the month has come to light, the slippery definitions of words such as “desertion” and the ways in which children are determined (or not) to have been “deserted” are being used to reclassify children for resale.

U.S. officials have also recently been informed that it is Tu Du Hospital’s policy to document all children as desertion cases regardless of the actual circumstances leading to their being made available for intercountry adoption.

This “policy” naturally short circuits genuine determinations as to the disposition of the children and whether or not they would genuinely qualify as “abandoned.”

In light of these discoveries, the Department of State and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommend that U.S. adoption service providers refer children born at Tu Du Hospital only when the child is a special need child or when all parties can ensure that the information pertaining to the birth parent can be verified, where a birth parent can be identified and/or when a birth parent can be interviewed to confirm that the child qualifies as an orphan in accordance with U.S. law.

Despite the “policy” the adoption cases already filed continued forward with higher scrutiny.

State and USCIS will continue to process cases already filed for children born at Tu Du Hospital; however, prospective adoptive parents should be aware that the circumstances discussed above have resulted in significant delays in the verification process of their cases. State and USCIS understand the severe impact of these delays, and commit to working expeditiously on these complex cases. To the extent possible, State and USCIS will process cases on a first in, first out basis.

As the deadline now nears, perhaps more details on the final outcome of those cases will become available.

On the 25th an important interview with the Vietnamese Head of the Ministry of Justice’s International Adoption Agency, Vu Duc Long was published. The “big news” is of course that adoptions will be centralized. This would come steps closer to aligning the Vietnamese system with Hague requirements, but also comes with potential downsides as well. I wrote briefly to those ‘downsides’ back on August 1:

Centralization hardly strikes me as a solution to the systemic problems Vietnamese adoption faces. It would however move both the power, and some of the potential profits away from the local provincial governments, and some of the indies and middlemen and directly into the Minister of Justice and the centralized government system itself.

Unfortunately, the interview with Vu Duc Long also makes the Vietnamese position on Vietnamese children adopted after criminal acts were committed clear as well.

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.

Dr. Long explained how deeply ingrained the paperwork fabrication is, explaining that the false paperwork trail can begin when a child first enters the system.

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.

Even in cases where the children were adopted after having been kidnapped, it’s clear their (biological) families are now supposed to ’sue the kidnappers’, a senario that seems unlikely at best in most cases.

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.

The bottom line remains money. So long as poverty is widespread, combined with the low wages of Vietnamese government workers, everyday corruption as both a means of personal survival and wealth accumulation continues unabated. International adoption, like it or not is a major business, and where there’s money to be had ways of ‘working around the system’ will be found.

So long as (so often American) adopters are willing to pay large fees to gain children, so long as adoption agencies are willing to do what it takes to supply those ‘needs’, and make a living (or a killing) for themselves in the process, children will continue to be provided by those who often stand to gain, whether with the child’s parents consent or not.

I wrote about the circumstances leading up to the 2005 agreement and the consequences of reopening back in 2006 previously:

Adoption from Vietnam has of course had a long and troubled history, this latest step is only one of many in an ongoing saga.

US adoptions from Vietnam had previously been stopped between 2003 and 2006 due to evidence of unethical conduct. Adoptions resumed in 2006 under a under a 2005 bilateral document (the “Memorandum of Agreement” click link for PDF) seeking to ensure adoption was practiced ethically. The Agreement is set to expire Sept 1, 2008. Clearly, conditions did not improve, leading to the latest measures towards curtailing US adoptions from Vietnam.

Sadly, once adoptions reopened, far from a tentative approach with the history of abuses in mind, instead a ‘gold rush’ mentality, wherein getting what kids could be gotten while the doors were still open kicked in. Damn the abuses, full steam ahead. Thus creating the largest boom in Vietnam to US adoptions to date as potential adoptive couples try to get in under the wire.

Now as the evidence piles up showing that kids were obtained through all manner of underhanded and illegal means, PAPs (prospective adoptive parents) are anguishing that “their child” is going to be one of the many children behind the closed doors, and thus are screaming politically and clutching desperately the photographs their agencies provided them, as happens in each and every country wherein Americans strip mine pregnant womyn for their children only to have to doors closed on their efforts.

The JCICS “A child’s right campaign” recommendations are woefully inadequate in the face of the systemic problems and inadequate “band-aid” patches that have been slapped on the existing system. While there are people genuinely working to ensure abuses are limited, they are up against a climate in which abuses are endemic.

Many of the problems Vietnam faces tonight on the eve of the shutdown are distinctly similar to the events that led to the last shut down. If the latest ‘open window’ was supposed to be in a climate of ‘changes made’ after corruption brought adoptions to a screeching pause, the evidence of systemic change is clearly lacking. Instead we have yet another time period to evaluate with still further corruption brought to light and yes, on the other end of such a very human, if often voiceless toll of Vietnamese families who have lost their children to lies, systemic corruption, kidnapping, child selling and child traffickers.

Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity has a blog entry up tonight entitled “The end of an era.” While it spells out much of the “conundrum” American adopters and would-be-adopters from Vietnam are now facing, and I certainly can empathize, much as I hate to say it, such constituencies have the uncomfortable luxury of being able to view this ‘window of availability era ‘ as resulting in a “conundrum”.

For families that have lost their children, or for the adoptees themselves, who will in time grow into their own voices, this so called “era” may be something many of them are far less ‘conflicted’ about. No one wants to be a stolen child. No one wants to have a child taken. There is no good, no silver lining, no ends justifies the means in that. To some this ‘era’ can only be greeted with a ‘good riddance, and NEVER AGAIN!’

As a Bastard myself, I find my deepest empathy lies with those so often the most powerless and voiceless in the adoption zero-sum-game of ‘who gets the child?’ I do not side with industry, nor those who bring at minimum a level of wealth to the process. I’m not a consumer nor marketer of adoption. I’m product.

As a womyn who has spent her life working for womyn’s reproductive autonomy, I also feel a deep empathy with those in what you might call “production”.

I’m not a Washington industry lobbyist. Nor do I necessarily represent anyone other than myself. I’m just a Bastard, an adoptee, trapped behind my own state governement’s wall of secrecy and lies (i.e. sealed adoption records) But for what it’s worth, I’ll conclude by simply saying this isn’t the first time around (to speak of Vietnam alone, setting aside for this moment the numerous historical and even contemporary precedents elsewhere in international adoption.)

There were promises of changes to prevent corruption LAST TIME around, and now we’re here AGAIN, with ends justifies the means mentality, those who may have bought stolen kids just being happy to get theirs out under the wire, and those from whom those kids may well have been stolen, left voiceless, powerless, and given nonsensical non-answers like ’sue the kidnappers’. That would be a positively classic YOYO- “you’re own your own”, psuedo-answer. It flatly denies the government as having any significant role in dealing with the mess other than leaving it to the courts long after the fact, provided of course, those wronged could even track down said perpetrators. The consequences and whatever supposed remedies might exist are pushed down to the purely personal, to the fringes, to the irrelevant, as there is no money to be made in returning stolen children.

Governments owe their citizens more than that.

Infants and children deserve better than that.

Womyn and families deserve better than that.

Congressional signatories to the letter would do well to rethink their position, yes folks, for the sake of the children. Lest yet another generation of Vietnamese children be stolen, trafficked, and sold.

Infants don’t remain infants forever. When some of these kids reach 18, they’re going to be demanding answers and systemic changes too. After all, when it comes to adoption, we’re the experts.

***

In closing here are a few articles for further exploration.

Tougher adoption regulations needed 8-23-08

(Note- “DIA’s Vice Head Le Thi Hoang Yen said: “We are very worried with the recent fake adoption documents. We had been confident about the legitimacy of documents appraised by police. But in recent cases in Nam Dinh Province, there were fakes which police appraised.””)

Orphanages in fake document investigation 8-19-08

Gov’t cracks down on human trafficking 8-18-08

(Note particularly- “Although Vietnam since 2003 has set out penalties for trafficking of women and children, no penal code criminalising male or infant trafficking exists.”)

300 infants illegally put up for adoption 7-15-08

Charity centres investigated for falsifying birth records 7-14-08

Vietnam police arrest two over baby trafficking to China 5-11-08

Baby traffickers arrested on China-Vietnam border 5-7-08

Vietnam’s adoption system ‘corrupted,’ US embassy says 4-26-08

Vietnam gang ’smuggled 30 babies’ 4-9-08

Police arrest alleged infant traffickers 2-20-08

Police in Vietnam arrest three for smuggling babies 2-18-08

Chinese police detain two suspects over trafficking Vietnamese babies 11-29-07

***

( For readers who have made it all the way to the bottom, thanks. Please pardon the typos, and the somewhat disjointed construction. Getting this up this evening was obviously pressing, I’ll get to just a few very basic fixes come morning.)

4 Responses to “Vietnam- the Sept. 1 deadline and the demand for a new intercountry agreement amidst a landscape of fraud”

  1. Kev Minh Says:

    Hi Baby Love Child,

    Your comprehensive post on the adoption situation in Vietnam is well researched and timely. Thank you for calling attention to this issue and the injustice inherent in the machinery driving today’s international adoption industry.

    What raised my eyebrows, though, is that you assumed that adult Vietnamese adoptees have been silent on adoptions from Vietnam. Thankfully, that is not the case because I, as well as another Viet adoptee blogger, have been writing extensively about the corruption and temporary stoppage of adoptions from our birth country.

    Please take a look at our blogs at:

    Borrowed Notes
    http://borrowednotes.wordpress.com/

    &

    Ethnically Incorrect Daughter
    http://ethnicallyincorrect.wordpress.com/

    Also, we co-blog with another adult Vietnamese adoptee at Misplaced Baggage, where we deal specifically with our lives as transracial/-ethnic adoptees.

    http://misplacedbaggage.wordpress.com/

    Lastly, back in May, I was invited by Gershom to be on The Adoption Show to specifically discuss the State Dept report on adoptions from Vietnam, as well as adoptions from Cambodia and Guatemala. You can listen to the podcast on their website.

    I look forward to reading more of your writing and I wish you success in getting the word out there.

    Thanks, Kev Minh

  2. Nicki Says:

    The end of an era article was originally an extremely long somewhat disjointed partly incoherent rambling, itself. I can relate. I ended up cutting it way off and leaving the rest as separate topics to be dealt with individually in the coming weeks. I hope you’ll keep reading and I really REALLY hope other adoptees speak out and blog about these issues because some parents are listening and are pretty desperate right now for the adoptee perspective as we navigate the difficult territory ahead as, like you said, our children grow from babies and have questions that we will not be able to answer.

    Although it is easy to believe that all adoptive parents are simply happy to have made it out before the shutdown, there are a large and growing contingency of adoptive parents who mourn for what their children have lost – or even potentially lost – and what their children’s birth families have lost and will fight tooth and nail to prevent that from ever happening again through education, advocacy and lobbying. VVAI and specifically the article you cited are written for that audience and we certainly welcome the guidance and advice of adoptees. You are the voice that our children do not yet have.

  3. Baby Love Child Says:

    Kev,

    You are of course, absolutely correct, there have indeed been a precious few voices (available in english, anyway, and yes, there I am readily admitting the limitations of my own mostly monolingual personal limitations and the limitations of online translations dependence) consistently pounding away at this wall. I’ve stumbled across each of the blogs you’ve mentioned many times over in the past year as I’ve tried to get up to speed on the details of all this.

    Your work has most certainly informed my own.

    When I said

    “it has gotten surprisingly scant mention from adoptee bloggers. I find this deafening silence stunning in light of the ongoing rising number of arrests and other evidence of corruption and falsified documentation finally coming to light.”

    in the intro, obviously I was not being clear.

    Yes, there have been some bloggers fully on this, I clearly mis-spoke. Perhaps what I was most influenced by, in writing those bits above was the odd quiet that has become perhaps all the quieter as the deadline approached. Consider my referring to the “deafening silence” more a “HEY, WAKE UP! PAY ATTENTION HERE!” to much of the blogging I see occupying space while missing the point elsewhere across the adoptee blogosphere.

    I suppose my other inherent assumptions is that at some point over the past year I’m guessing I’ve linked at least something of one of your blogspaces, if not, it’s positively an oversight on my part. (This being a product of more than a month’s worth of work, I’m not on top of every link I’ve used on the topic in the last almost year’s worth of blogging.) Inherent to the piece I put up tonight are many of the assumptions that come from earlier links and blog posts I’ve done, particularly in relation to Vietnam. That was one of the reasons I pointed out those earlier posts early on in the piece, folks should feel encouraged to go back and read or re-read them, they contain much of the documentation for what I take as bedrock in this piece, the corruption, the arrests, the paperwork modifications, etc.

    This matters. It matters tremendously.

    So much so that clearly, I (and others) have had a tremendously difficult task even trying trying to write it (and yes, falling short in many many ways even as I try.)

    But ultimately, I’m by no means THE voice on this, that has to fall to those most directly affected and on whose alleged behalf so much of all this structure was created in the first place.

    This is merely my personal take on it, speaking as a late 60’s sealed records, domestic Bastard whose skin at least appears mighty damn “white.”

    It’s by no means ‘your job’ to educate the clueless (which yes, at times does include me!) about what resources and writings do exist, but that said, I’m damn glad you did. More people need to be seeing more of it.

    Tonight. Tomorrow.

    And as this continues to unfold.

    Thanks for coming across and saying what you did. I can’t speak for everyone, but me? I’m listening.

  4. Baby Love Child Says:

    Nicki,

    I was doing one final search prior to hitting post on my own piece and of course, VfVAI came up, kinda right on cue actually, I suppose I assumed sooner or later some form of piece would be up on your page, I’m just glad it was up in time for me to include it. It was a very clear articulation of yes, precisely the ethical dilemma some adoptive families now find themselves in. I thought it important to at least in some way bring that perspective forward tonight too, (after all, what are folks like me, other than one time kids raised in adoptive families ourselves?) The “end of an era” piece very clearly put a finger right down on the ambiguity and discomfort some are feeling, even while not ‘regretting, nor revisiting’ those decisions perse. A very fine line to walk. It couldn’t have been easy to write, and I found it a strong ‘other side of the coin’ for those wrestling with the “conundrum” from that angle.

    The end of an era article was originally an extremely long somewhat disjointed partly incoherent rambling, itself. I can relate.

    I think it was very appropriately cutting to the core of the issue. Still, glad I’m not the only one. This has been exceptionally difficult to finally get out, and naturally, no I’m not satisfied, but it will do.

    While I may not always agree with what I see on VfVAI, I have been a somewhat regular reader, and yes, the page has been an invaluable tool in helping me get up to speed on all this.

    The perspectives and at times interests between the VfVAI blog and mine are obviously, somewhat different (being at very different positions in what I’ve come to term the adoption pentagon that’s perfectly expected) but clearly, those writing there are not fully wallowing in the “I got mine-ism” so commonly on display across the adoptive parent blogosphere.

    Yes, just as there have always been, there are adopters who are deeply concerned with the “ethics” (though the terms comes with a certain baggage in this climate) of adoption and yes, obviously care very deeply about what is best for the adopted person, to the point of being willing to perhaps set aside some of their own feelings in relation to things such as helping an adopted person regain lost pieces of identity. Or to stare directly, unflinchingly into the maw of some of what adoption practices really can mean, and to see those ugly parts without the benefit of adoption rose colored glasses.

    Which is not to say adoption is ‘pure ick’, just that in light of circumstances of kidnapping, childselling, etc many would rather deny rather than actually even begin to ponder the possibility of what they may have themselves been part of.

    As for after the fact what does one do?

    Well ‘preventative medicine’ where possible is still my preference, but for those now here, I think all one can do is speak truth and do whatever little one can to help people regain any fragments still available to them while such are still possible.

    Living a lie, any lie is no solution.

    Not for the kids, not for adults, not for countries, and not for families.

    For now, I’ll leave it at that.

    I do have to point out one quick thing though, you said

    You are the voice that our children do not yet have.

    Actually no, I’m not.

    I’m a domestic adoptee in a sealed records system.

    While that has commonalities of question marks with what many of your children may experience, their experiences are going to be very distinct from mine and only their voice can address the situation they are going to find themselves in.

    I’m A voice of experience of a particular subset of adoptee experience (although I prefer “Bastard” when referring to myself.)

    This is one of the many limitations of the english language. The same word is utilized for domestic closed adoptions as for transnational adoptions (as I pointed out in the intro to my piece.) Foster adoptions, international adoptions, so called “open adoptions”, adoptees with open records (from open records states) and state confiscated records (from sealed record states), etc, are all sloppily lumped together.

    Some, particularly certain industry lobbyists and marketers, play those conflations to the hilt, whereas I continually work for increased precision, pulling apart linguistic assumptions.

    I cannot presume to speak for nor on behalf of the kids coming up from those situations.

    I can however, speak to what secrets and lies, living with question marks in place of fundamental facts about one’s own existence on a day to day basis can feel like, and how rather than being in the business of creating more people who at times literally find themselves in the position of second class citizens legally in relation to the state, the state should instead be working towards eradicating those forms of inequity.

    One of the fundamental and unavoidable problems with, or perhaps nature of adoption is that those in those situations are going to have a roughly 18 year lag, if their paperwork goes through tonight before they are able to legally fully participate in society and fully speak on their own behalf.

    Any ‘mistakes’, (legal, “ethical” etc) made now, have a lag period before those most directly affected can speak on their own behalf.

    For that reason alone, we should be deeply questioning ANY reopening of Vietnam in the going forward from here.

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