US Studying Changes to Adoption Process

A team of US officials is evaluating the country’s efforts to strength­en a lax adoption system that has led to alleged instances of baby-buying, the US Embassy said in a statement on Thursday.

The US suspended adoptions from Cambodia in December 2001 after evidence arose that many visa documents declaring adopted children as orphans had been fraudulent.

Officials from the US Depart­ments of State and Homeland Se­curity will meet with government of­fi­cials, NGO heads and or­pha­nage directors to determine what improvements, if any, Cam­bodia has made to its adoption legislation and procedures.

Accusations of baby-buying in the Cambodian adoption community prompted a US investigation and the recent indictment of Lau­ryn Galindo, who facilitated the adoptions of hundreds of Cambo­dian children for parents abroad, in­cluding “Tomb Raider” star An­gelina Jolie. Galindo is facing char­ges of vi­sa fraud in a US federal court. Her sister, Lynn Devin, who ran an international adoption business in Washington state, pleaded guilty to similar charges last year.

Galindo, who says she is a close friend to Senate President Chea Sim, co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng and other high-ranking officials, has maintained that she is innocent and that she was doing humanitarian work in Cambodia.

Since the suspension, the Mini­stry of Social Affairs and La­bor and the UN Children’s Fund have developed a draft adoption law that has been distributed to lo­cal and international NGOs and ex­perts for criticism, according to Keo Sophea, a legal adviser at Unicef.

A second draft has not been finished, and it has not been debated by the National Assembly, which is yet to convene as the political parties negotiate a government for the next mandate.

Officials had hoped to have the law debated and passed before the end of the year, Keo Sophea said. The pre-existing adoption law dates to 1989 and is very brief. The law, in an unofficial tran­slation, vaguely requires “an ag­ree­ment of the parent or guar­dian of the adoptee” and states “if a ba­by who will be adopted is an aban­doned baby, the agreement to the adoption shall be given by the authority of the commune or sector.”

The US team is on a “preliminary fact-finding mission and will not make any decisions about the future of adoptions in Cambodia at this time,” the US statement read.

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