Cablegate: Adoptions in Vietnam: Preventing Abuses

Published: Wed 19 May 2004 09:13 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
Ref: A) Hanoi 891 B) Hanoi 0048 C) 03 Hanoi 3203 D) 03
Hanoi 1759 E) 03 State 49491 F) 03 Hanoi 0218 G) 03 Hanoi
0064 H) 02 Hanoi 3027 I) 02 HCM 1136 J) 02 Hanoi 2258 K)
01 HCM 593 L) 01 HCM 580 M) 00 HCM 1363
This is a joint ConGen HCMC-Embassy Hanoi cable.
1. (U) Summary: As we wait for the GVN to make written
revisions to the draft text left with them at the conclusion
of the first round of adoption negotiations in March, we
wish to take this opportunity to once again raise our
concerns about the implementation of any agreement we
eventually reach, and consider how we can improve adoption
processing in Vietnam once adoptions resume. Given the
implementation regulations associated with the Hague
Convention on Intercountry Adoptions, Mission recommends
that the USG press the GVN, alone or in concert with other
countries with the same concerns, to accede to the Hague as
soon as possible in lieu of negotiating bilateral agreements
with every country individually. Otherwise we are concerned
that we will return to a system with widespread fraud and
abusive practices. See Action Item para 11.
2. (U) Prior to the passage and enactment of Decree No.
68/2002/ND-CP, which halted intercountry adoptions within
Vietnam until a bilateral agreement was reached with
individual countries with prospective adoptive parents, U.S.
parents accounted for over 750 orphan visa cases annually.
While most of those cases seemed legitimate on the surface,
discrepancies and irregularities appeared in many cases --
unanswered questions about the origins of the children and
the circumstances of their relinquishments; the lack of a
strong central authority governing the adoption process and
matching children with families; and lack of documentation
or even explanations regarding what fees were paid and to
whom -- clouded each decision. Add to the mix the high-
fraud environment in Vietnam, where documents can easily be
bought and manufactured and official corruption is endemic,
and consular officers issuing orphan visas are almost never
100 percent sure about the bona fides of these cases.
3. (U) This is not merely speculation or suspicion.
Reftels K, L, and M list several cases of documented
illegalities in the process. Certain adoption facilitators
are believed to have made millions of dollars in the
adoption business by promising one child to adoptive parents
with no intention of delivering that child (or, indeed, in
one case, the child had already been adopted by another
family), paying off government officials to doctor
paperwork, and providing a combination of monetary
incentives, false promises and scare tactics to pressure
Vietnamese mothers to relinquish their children. This
coercion to give up children who are not truly in need of a
home and family is real and duplicitous. While $600 may
seem like a small amount of money in U.S. terms, the average
per capita income in Vietnam is roughly $480, and in poorer
provinces where some children have been presented for
adoption it is only about $200. The money offered to the
birth parent or parents is not an amount for reasonable
medical expenses, but actually remuneration for buying the
baby. It is the rough equivalent of offering the average
American $47,000 for a child over and above medical
expenses, which are negligible in rural Vietnam.
4. (U) Adoption facilitators will often offer the money,
with pictures of other children in well-furnished homes, and
a promise that the relinquishing parents will be able to see
their children again in the future. Familial ties in
Vietnam are quite strong and families in dire economic
straits will often let their children be raised temporarily
by other more economically prosperous members of the family,
or place them in "nutrition centers" where they can visit
the children regularly until they are back on their feet.
The "relinquishment" in these cases is never promoted as a
permanent separation, but rather predicated on the accepted
belief that it is temporary. We can never be sure in these
circumstances whether parents are giving informed consent
when signing a "relinquishment" document. (Note: we have
seen several cases recently in HCMC's American Citizen
Services Unit where parents of high school aged children who
went to the U.S. on cultural exchanges have come in to sign
and notarize U.S. court documents relinquishing parental
authority over their children so they can be "adopted" by
the host family in the U.S. and continue their education
there free of charge. When consular officers explain to the
Vietnamese parents that this breaks the parent-child bond
and they will no longer have any legal tie or claim to the
child, they universally withdraw the notarial request.)
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5. (U) It is also our contention that the vast amounts of
money that can be earned in the adoption process are
actually "creating" orphans for intercountry adoption here
in Vietnam. Once the new decree went into effect, only
France had an existing bilateral Agreement in effect with
Vietnam and could thus resume intercountry adoptions right
away. The French Agreement is unique in that it specifies
set amounts of money that can be paid at each step - not a
small amount, but certainly less than U.S. adoptive parents
said they were paying on average. French Embassy officials
report that there are nearly 1500 pending dossiers from
French couples wanting to adopt for whom no children can be
found. The supply simply isn't there. The informal word is
that children are being "held" until the Americans come back
into the game, since they will pay more money. The fact
that our participation in intercountry adoptions in this
country is "creating" orphans is disturbing and confirms our
worst fears about the source of many children who were
identified as orphans in past cases.
6. (U) In addition, five other countries have also entered
into bilateral agreements with the GVN (Belgium, Italy,
Ireland, Sweden and Denmark) but none of them has resumed
adoption processing due to difficulties with implementation
of their agreements. At first it appeared a new central
authority, the Department on International Adoptions in the
Ministry of Justice, would make the matches between the
children and adoptive parents and have authority to license
adoption providers and facilitators in country. That
process has now devolved back to the provincial level, with
the new Department adding a new level of bureaucracy to the
process but with seemingly no regulatory or enforcement
mechanism to make changes binding on the provinces. Under
this scenario, which is still unfolding, it is increasingly
apparent that we will return to status quo prior to the
decree's implementation date in terms of processing adoption
cases. At the provincial level there is essentially no
effective mechanism to prevent the kind of corrupt practices
we have outlined.
7. (U) During the negotiations, we raised the issue of
implementation and gave to the GVN side a non-paper
outlining our concerns. Unfortunately, the negotiations
became bogged down in title and form, and discussion of
implementation was pushed to the back burner pending
agreement on an actual document to discuss. We do find it
encouraging, however, that Mr. Vu Duc Long, Acting Director
of the Department of International Adoptions and the lead
negotiator for the GVN, is organizing a trip to China to
study their adoption system, a model which we agree should
be emulated here in Vietnam.
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8. (U) Pending final approval of a bilateral document
between the U.S. and Vietnam, we strongly believe now is the
time to discuss how we can improve implementation of that
agreement. Certain changes to the current adoptions process
in Vietnam will offer a way to reduce the abuses of the
past, and the USG should press the GVN, alone or in concert
with other countries with the same concerns, to accede to
the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions as soon as
possible, in lieu of negotiating bilateral agreements with
every country individually. It should be apparent to them
at this point that their plans to implement each agreement
with completely new and different provisions for every
country are untenable. We believe we can garner support
from other foreign missions in Vietnam to approach the GVN
with a joint demarche on this subject.
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9. (U) If that approach is unsuccessful, we should strongly
urge the GVN to take the following actions immediately:
- Give the Office of International Adoptions the sole
responsibility for matching children with prospective
adoptive parents and responsibility for licensing and
regulating of all adoption service providers operating
within country.
- Publish transparent, consistently applied processing
regulations, directed by the Central Authority, which do not
vary from region to region. Clear processing instructions
should be provided to all adoptive parents of all countries,
who will know exactly what they need to do at every step;
how much the various fees are for the adoption processing;
which office is responsible for what authorizations;
requirements for post-adoption monitoring, etc.
- Provide a specific point of contact for the Central
Authority for the U.S. government to call when concerns or
problems arise under the agreement. That point of contact
should provide a timely, written response to those
- The Central Authority should provide information on the
circumstances under which the Central Authority is prepared
to revoke an individual adoption and to provide in writing
notice that the irregularity is in violation of Vietnamese
adoption law.
- The Central Authority should develop regulations
governing licensing or accreditation of adoption agencies
operating in Vietnam, a mechanism for revoking the license
or accreditation of agencies that engage in illegal
practices, and a list of agencies currently authorized to
process adoptions in Vietnam. Such regulations should
apply throughout the country and should apply equally to
all adoption agencies, regardless of country of origin.
- The Authority should set and provide a list of fees that
cover every step in the adoption process in Vietnam and to
provide transparent, consistent fees that all adoptive
parents must provide and for which they receive a receipt.
Fees should not vary from province to province.
- The Central Authority should provide a list of
institutions that will be permitted to place children for
international adoption.
- There should be a regular forum for information exchange
about bilateral adoption processing issues and both sides
should commit to participation.
10. (U) These changes are incumbent upon the Government of
Vietnam to set up for themselves. But as the second largest
foreign country recipient of Vietnamese adopted children, it
should be our obligation to push the GVN to adopt these
measures to ensure the integrity of the process and protect
the interests of children who are vulnerable to potential
exploitation for profit. This would also be in the best
interests of the birth and adopting parents. The process of
obtaining some form of bilateral agreement on adoptions in
Vietnam is close to entering its third year. At this point,
failure to put into place mechanisms that will provide any
improvement on the worst abuses of the past could call into
question our claims over the past two years to be working
towards an agreement that will protect the interests of all
the parties.
11. (U) Action Request: Embassy seeks Department
authorization to approach other embassies in Vietnam who
share our concerns on adoptions processing to prepare a
joint demarche to the Vietnamese Government, urging them to
sign the Hague Agreement, with the understanding that some
assistance may be available to help them accede fully to
that Agreement. Mission also seeks authorization to open a
more formal discussion with the Ministry of Justice
regarding implementation issues before we come to a final
agreement on the text of a bilateral protocol.
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