Children Back At Orphanage; US Investigates

The US Immigration and Natur­alization Service is investigating child adoptions in Cambodia, a US Embassy Web site stated Wednes­day, the same day that 12 children taken from the Asian Orphans Association were re­turned by court order to the adoption agen­cy.

The children were seized by Tuol Kok police from AOA on Sept 3 following allegations that the agency was trafficking children.

The raid sparked a protracted legal battle between AOA, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the human rights group Licadho, which took the children and placed them with an unnamed international NGO while both sides fought in the courts for guardianship.

Several senior government officials weighed in on the issue, including Minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs Mu Sochua and Prime Minister Hun Sen, asking that the trafficking claims against AOA be further investiga­ted.

But on Monday AOA was given legal guardianship of the children. The decision appears to have stalled all adoptions from Cambo­dia to the US.

“American citizens are advised to expect lengthy delays in the processing of adoption cases,” the US Embassy Web site now reads. “Anomalies in the application process may preclude the approval of an adoption until a full field of investigations has been conducted by the US Embassy, in conjunction with the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.”

The embassy Web site does not make any specific mention of AOA. However, several US citizens who recently adopted children with help from AOA, and are now stranded in Cambodia with no visas for their new children, said Wednesday that US Embassy officials told them the AOA is under investigation.

Though now legal, Cambodia’s foreign adoption process has been plagued by procedural improprieties and allegations of corruption. It was suspended in June 2000 but resumed again earlier this year.

AOA’s lawyer, Chhit Boravuth, arrived at the Tuol Kok police station Wednesday to meet with Licadho workers, who had waited a restless 90 minutes in a spare room to hand the 10 infants and two children back to AOA.

The final legal procedures—signing and fingerprinting court documents—began, and a Licadho worker walked over to an AOA nanny to point out which children had been sick, giving her ointment for the children.

After the formalities, the Licadho workers took the babies one-by-one off their laps and placed them on a table in front of Chhit Boravuth.

At one point, Chhit Boravuth was shooing flies away from a tiny baby sleeping on the table who, according to Licadho, had been suffering from serious pneumonia when it was taken from AOA on Sept 3.

District policemen came into the room to ogle the table full of children. One policeman asked a foreign reporter jokingly: “Do you want one?”

Ten minutes later, several AOA nannies filed into the room and took the children to a waiting minibus. The oldest child in the group, a nine-year-old, carried one of the babies down to the minivan with a smile on her face.

“I want to go back,” she said, “I have friends there.”

 

 

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