Adoption Agreement Signed—With Catalonia

Seven years after Cambodia put a stop to its own international adoption programs, the Catalan regional government in Spain signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Social Affairs on Tuesday that will allow its residents to adopt Cambodian children.

But the deal is worthless, according to a senior official at the Spanish Embassy in Bangkok, because Catalonian authorities cannot sign international agreements without approval from the national government in Madrid.

“Inter-country adoption with Cambodia is completely closed. There is no agreement with Cambodia regarding adoptions,” said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Shortly after passing the Adoption Law in 2009, the Cambodian government placed a ban on inter-country adoptions amid reports of child trafficking and corruption, with would-be parents being asked to pay large bribes to have adoption requests processed.

In 2013, the government decided to allow inter-country adoptions again, claiming to have strengthened its laws protecting children. Italy was the only country to agree to arrangements with Cambodia, however, and the countries eventually retracted their plans under international pressure.

Cambodia renewed efforts in March last year, and Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth traveled to Spain and Malta this week in an effort to spur the signing of new agreements.

The ministry posted a message to its Facebook page on Wednesday stating that Mr. Sauth signed an adoption agreement with Dolors Bassa, Catalonia’s minister of labor, social affairs and families.

“It is true that some regional governments have signed agreements,” the Spanish Embassy official said. “But they have to pass through the central government.”

The official said Cambodia had made a “big effort” over the past few years to improve its adoption policies, but added: “We still have to see how it will be executed, and we do not believe the Cambodian government has the administrative capacity to administer it.”

He said Cambodian officials who should be experts on the topic often could not answer “basic” questions about adoption, leading to fears that corruption could again mire the adoption process. Spain, he said, would sign an adoption agreement when Unicef endorsed Cambodia.

Social Affairs Ministry spokesman Toch Chhany said he was not allowed to speak about the memorandum with Catalonia and refused to explain what benefits the government hoped to gain by signing such deals.

Unicef child protection specialist Lucia Soleti said issues such as a lack of social workers who could ensure safe adoption practices meant that Cambodia was not prepared to relaunch adoption programs.

“With necessary human resources not yet in place even for those basic elements, it does not appear that all the requirements to resume inter-country adoption have been met,” she said in an email, adding that Cambodia did not meet the safe adoption standards in the U.S.’ Hague Adoption Convention—which it signed onto in 2007.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman said there was still much work to be done. “At this time, the Department of State’s determination not to issue Hague Certificates for adoptions from Cambodia is still in effect,” he said in an email.

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lucia Soleti was a child protection specialist for Unesco. 

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