New Law Leaves Adoptive Parents, Kids in Limbo

Foreign couples that are still working their way through the process of adopting a Cambodian child will have to start from scratch once the new adoption law comes into effect, a member of parliament said yesterday.

SRP lawmaker Ly Srey Ryna said that the adoption law, passed by the National Assembly on Oct 23, also prevents single people, even those already deep in the adoption application process, from adopting Cambodian children.

“For parents who have not had final approval from all the relative ministries, they will have to reapply under the new law,” said Ms Srey Ryna, a former orphanage director who played an active role in debating the law at the Assembly.

“Anything that is not approved before the law [goes into effect], you have to cancel it,” she said.

The new law, a draft of which was obtained yesterday, states that potential parents must be older than 30 years of age and between 22 and 45 years older than the adopted child. The law refers to those wishing to adopt a child as “a couple,” which according to Ms Srey Ryna means that potential single adoptive parents are excluded.

“I think this is ridiculous. I think that a single mother or father can do a good job as a parent,” she added.

Martina Cannetta, country representative of Network for Aid, Assistance and Acceptance, an Italian non-profit that helps people who are seeking to adopt in Cambodia, said that, despite the inconvenience it might create for those already in the application process, the law is a necessary step toward making adoptions more transparent. “If this is the law then families will just have to accept it,” she said.

Tim Ricketts, first secretary at the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, said the embassy was aware of the concerns among adoptive parents regarding the new law and he had heard from a group of Australians who are hoping to adopt. He declined to comment any further until the law was officially implemented.

Nguon Nhel, first vice president of the National Assembly, said on Tuesday that he did not know whether the new law would affect those already in the adopting process. “I don’t think there are any articles written in the law that requires the adoptive parents to apply [again],” he said.

Oum Sophannara, director of the child welfare department in the Ministry of Social Affairs declined to comment on the impact of the new law for those already in the process of adopting.

Cecelia Cominos, 44, a single Australian national working as a university teacher in the United Arab Emirates, said on Wednesday that she was one final signature away from adopting a two-year-old Cambodian girl.

She says she received a “referral document” from the Cambodian government on Oct 8 saying it had agreed to approve her adoption case. But officials at the orphanage had warned her that because she is applying as a single person, she now might not be able to adopt at all.

“I have moved from one city to another, I really have changed my life because this child is so important. Her bedroom is all ready, what can I say?” Ms Cominos said by telephone.

One single Australian woman, who declined to give her name for fear of jeopardizing her adoption case even further, said she was devastated after learning she would no longer be able to adopt a child under the new law.

“What [the law] is doing is creating a whole generation of children that could have been going to families and putting them in a situation where they cannot,” she said.

The new adoption law has been widely praised for its improved measures in protecting children from human trafficking and is also seen as a move to clean up the country’s much-criticized foreign adoption industry, which has long been associated with systemic corruption and reports of baby buying. Rory Hunter, 34, an Australian national working in the real estate sector here, has been fostering his one-year-old child Naryth for almost a year. Mr Hunter and his wife Melita are at the very end of their adoption process and are fearful that the little boy will be taken away from them as they are forced to reapply.

“He calls us Mummy and Daddy and he thinks he has been living with his forever,” Mr Hunter said on Wednesday. “We are absolutely devastated. We always thought that this was our little angel. We were so grateful but now that it’s looking that it’s not going to be possible I don’t know how we can achieve that any more.” However, Ms Srey Ryna, the SRP lawmaker, said yesterday that couples who are currently fostering Cambodian children as they await an adoption certificate from the government would not be obliged to send their child back to the orphanage while they reapply.

“It would be damaging for the child both psychologically and physically,” she said. “They will have some new documents to submit and then they will have to adopt the child under the [new] law.

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