The Ministry of Social Affairs is ordering adoption bureau officials to check the number of overseas adoptions with adoption centers around the country after disparities were found in the figures.
The discrepancies between official government overseas adoption figures and those claimed by local adoption centers has raised concern about an black market in children.
Human rights officials and others said Tuesday the ministry’s order to check figures is a good first step, but it won’t be enough to seriously tackle the reasons behind the adoption figure disparities. They say adoption centers need an incentive to tell the truth, especially when some are involved in irregular adoptions.
“Because two numbers match doesn’t mean you can really control adoption,” said Kek Galabru, founder of local human rights group Licadho. “Some of the adoptions go unlisted by the centers themselves. The best way is to have a strong law for that.”
Child trafficking is a lucrative illegal business in Cambodia, where one child can be sold for as much as $20,000, Kek Galabru said. Besides the profit motive, it would be difficult to force adoption centers to tell the truth when they usually go unpunished, she said. “Right now, nobody is sanctioned,” said Kek Galabru.
Mao Sovadey, director of the child welfare department at the Social Affairs Ministry, acknowledged that it would be difficult to get accurate figures, considering the high number of children who are trafficked. “It’s a problem for us to find the truth because I think [centers] would not report to us the specific number of overseas adoption if they have done [trafficking],” Mao Sovadey said.
One official in the Social Affairs Ministry said another reason the problem is difficult to tackle is that some high officials in the government make a profit off child trafficking.
“It is dangerous to my life if I dare to say who they are,” the anonymous official said.
The Social Affairs Ministry recorded that 472 orphans were adopted overseas between 1993 and early last year, but two of the country’s 22 adoption centers showed a combined total of more than 700 such adoptions for the same period.
Khrouch Sophary, chief of cabinet for the ministry, said some adoption centers did not send their reports to his ministry, which caused the disparities. He said he is meeting with all of the adoption centers to ensure that reports are sent to his ministry.
However Ith Sam Heng, minister of Social Affairs, said an overseas adoption needs approval from four ministries: Council of Ministers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Social Affairs.
Mao Sovadey said he visited two adoption centers in Phnom Penh Monday to check overseas adoption figures and found that their figures matched with the government’s figures.
Another NGO official who deals with human trafficking said she reported to the Ministry of Social Affairs of rumors that adoption centers were trafficking children, but that it was difficult to fully investigate the problem.
“There is no way of knowing or documenting that, if an adoption is trafficked,” she said.
Benoit Duchateau Arminjon, founder of Krousar Thmey, a local children’s rights NGO, said the ministry’s new rule to check adoption figures is useful for transparency, but the key is to strengthen the rules for adoption
Krousar Thmey doesn’t even allow orphans staying in their 22 protection centers to be adopted overseas, because it would be difficult to check to make sure the children weren’t being used for sex or cheap labor. “In order to have good adoption, you have to have very strict rules, and I don’t think Cambodia has that,” Arminjon said. “It’s possible to have [local] adoption because the people are willing to stay here so we can do follow ups.”