A suspension on inter-country adoption will give the government time to work on strict adoption legislation
The Nepal Government suspended inter-country adoption in 2007 following evidence that Nepali 'orphanages' were selling children for thousands of dollars to foreign parents. Nepal then drafted new Terms and Conditions on adoption and once again opened shop for potential adoptive parents. Although the new policies were an improvement, they were still full of loopholes and did not prioritise the best interests of the child.
In April 2009, Nepal signed the 1993 Hague Inter-country Adoption Convention. A mission representing the Convention visited Nepal, concluded the 2008 Terms and Conditions were not adequate, and called for temporary suspension of inter-country adoptions from Nepal.
Forty-four Nepali orphanages have been accredited by the government to recommend children for adoption. The Investigation Monitoring and Recommendation Committee established by the Terms and Conditions receives files from orphanages. Its role is to verify the authenticity of each child's file, following which it can recommend the child to the Family Board, which matches the child with adoptive parents.
The committee should be independent, but in Nepal includes representatives from orphanages - a blatant conflict of interest.
In addition, it is bureaucrats, not social workers, who match children with adoptive parents. Investigations focus on whether the paperwork is genuine or not, whereas they should determine if the child has parents, and if local solutions can be found. In many cases the biological parents go from one place to another looking for their children, who may have already been adopted in Kathmandu by foreign parents.
One of the key reasons Nepal suspended inter-country adoption back in 2007 was because large amounts of money (sometimes up to US$20,000) were being paid by adoptive parents to facilitators and orphanages in Nepal. Some progress has been made in regulation, but financial gain is still at the heart of most inter-country adoption abuses.
Now, once a child is officially approved for adoption, foreign adoptive parents pay $5,000 to the orphanage, regardless of the time the child has stayed there, and another $3,000 to the Nepal Government. In addition, 79 international agencies pay $10,000 per year to be accredited by the Nepal Government, regardless of whether or not referrals are made. The authorities have not checked if these foreign adoption agencies are registered in their own countries according to the Hague criteria. This means foreign agencies that have been refused accreditation, are under investigation or have been cited for violations in their own countries are allowed to operate in Nepal.
A fund was established to oversee the money received from these foreign agencies and a management committee has been established under the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. The chairperson of the Child NGO Federation-Nepal, who basically represents Nepali orphanages, is a member secretary of this committee. But Bal Mandir and the Central Child Welfare Board are not represented.
It is clear the 2008 Terms and Conditions have failed. The German and Swedish embassies have stopped allowing adoptions under these rules. If Nepal is serious about ratifying the Hague Convention, it needs to start working on firm laws on national and international adoption. A temporary suspension will allow the government time to do so, as was done successfully in Guatemala and Cambodia. However, this suspension must not affect those adoptive parents who have been matched already.
Children without parents do not belong to orphanages. If they do not have anyone in their families they can live with it is the State's responsibility to assign appropriate guardians. There is a growing number of Nepali parents who want to adopt and can give children safe homes. Let us seriously develop foster families and in-country adoption. Only where this is not possible should we send a child abroad permanently.
Baby bajar On sale - FROM ISSUE #339 (09 MARCH 2007 - 15 MARCH 2007)
'Floodgates closed', - FROM ISSUE #387 (15 FEB 2008 - 21 FEB 2008)
'Abandoned,' - FROM ISSUE #417 (12 SEPT 2008 - 18 SEPT 2008)
Cinderella Children - FROM ISSUE #490 (19 FEB 2010 - 25 FEB 2010)
Suspending inter-country adoption will deny kids in need the chance of a better life
Last week three Nepali boys aged 8, 9 and 10 were removed from juvenile 'homes' in Kolkata by a rescue team from the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation (EBMF), working in close cooperation with the Nepalese Consulate. The two oldest boys had been detained there for four years, and the youngest, Suraj, for three years.
Suraj's face still bears the scars of a vicious attack by a mentally disturbed juvenile who was also held at the centre. All three boys had originally run away from abusive step-parents. They found their way onto the streets of India and, through the police, into the juvenile detention centres.
The boys' release coincided with calls from organisations such as UNICEF and Terre des Hommes to suspend, once again, inter-country adoptions from Nepal. The organisations accuse the government of failing to meet commitments to bring the adoption process in line with the Hague Convention it ratified in 2009, and disregarding the child protection that should be central to adoption procedures. Terre des Hommes claims 62 per cent of children in 'orphanages' actually have both parents and many could be with their families.
However, orphans (genuine or otherwise) are not the whole story; government criteria include step-children as candidates for inter-country adoption. This recognises that it is common in Nepal for step-children like Suraj to be unwanted within new marital relationships.
It would be bad enough if such children were unwanted and treated as de facto slaves, like Cinderella. EBMF has found children sometimes run away from abuse to live on the streets and have been sold by step-parents to be trafficked into Indian circuses.
Arguably these children could have been cared for under family support, kinship or domestic adoption arrangements. EBMF tried the first of these to reintegrate refuge children with families, but found that material support could not buy the love of step-parents, and the children returned to the refuge. Since relatives are often directly involved in trafficking children, kinship arrangements are a very high risk option.
Domestic options, including adoption, should take precedence over inter-country adoption in line with the Hague Convention's 'Subsidiarity Principle'. But it is worth keeping in mind that Nepal has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 144, compared to such adoption destinations as the USA (HDI 13), Spain (HDI 15) and Italy (HDI 18). Suspending inter-country adoption means denying a child the prospects that droves of their fellow-Nepalis are leaving Nepal to access.
The nightmare scenario now is that the call for a blanket suspension of inter-country adoption may be heeded, and followed by another prolonged period of indecision. But reforms could be introduced very easily. The ridiculously high financial return to the government, agencies and orphanages from inter-country adoption should be reduced. Doubtful cases should be investigated thoroughly. But clear cut cases such as those of unwanted step-children should be fast-tracked for inter-country adoption before a worse fate befalls them.
Every day a child spends in a grim orphanage is a developmental disaster. Nepal's Cinderella Children should be protected by preserving what I believe to be the preferred alternative to inadequate domestic alternatives, the oblivion of India or the abyss of the domestic sex trade.
The author is the Country Director of Esther Benjamins Trust - Nepal, and the father of two adopted Nepali children. This article represents his personal views. www.ebtrust.org.uk
Looking for a home - FROM ISSUE #490 (19 FEB 2010 - 25 FEB 2010)
Ethics, Transparency, Support
~ What All Adoptions Deserve.