Adoptions Slowed as Investigation Continues

In a telephone interview Wednes­­day, a US Embassy official said that “in theory” an adoption case involving the Asian Orphans Association could be approved and the child awarded a US visa.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was not optimistic that all the children in the AOA adoption cases now under scrutiny would be awarded visas.

The embassy and the US Im­migration and Naturalization Service have purportedly been investigating all adoptions in Cambodia for the past two weeks. Parents trying to adopt through the AOA have said they believe their cases have been singled out.

“[The investigation] is a comprehensive examination of the way visas are processed,” the US official said. “I can’t single [the AOA] or anyone else out. Cases that are straightforward will be processed.”

The AOA came under suspicion for child trafficking six weeks ago, when a Phnom Penh woman complained her baby had been taken by an AOA worker. Suspicion spread among human rights groups, the courts and the government. The Council of Ministers issued a directive under orders from Prime Min­ister Hun Sen that the ministries of Interior and Justice investigate the orphanage.

The US Embassy official said possible trafficking is the biggest question in the investigation.

“That’s the thing that concerns us. Are people selling babies?” the official said. “Are there people facilitating this trade?”

The official said that if the embassy discovers a woman has sold her baby to an adoption facilitator, that is enough to deny the baby a US visa.

The official said the current investigation was not spurred by isolated accusations of baby selling.

“There’s indications that there’s something larger out there, something more systematic,” the official said, adding that a “critical mass” of evidence had recently surfaced.

“The issuance rate [of visas for adoptions] was very high [before] because we didn’t have any reason to scrutinize,” the official said. “That’s different now.”

The sudden change in adoption procedure has left several parents in limbo. The US official sympathized with their plight.

“Any time you have changes mid-stream,” the official said, “you’re going to have people caught in that stream.”

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