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Adoption Scandal in Cambodia Prompted INS and DOS to Suspend Adoption Processing There
by Carl R. Baldwin

Following Cambodian press reports in September, 2001 of an adoption scam that bought or abducted babies from their parents and put them up for adoption by foreign citizens, confirmed by reports from the U.S. Embassy, the INS and DOS called a halt to adoption processing in Cambodia until proper procedures could be assured.

On September 9, 2001 the Cambodian English language newspaper, Phnom Penh Daily, published this chilling report: "Police have rescued 13 infants and arrested four women and a man here for allegedly buying babies to sell to foreign couples through an adoption scam. The arrests, made after human rights groups complained of the racket, are the first such crackdown in the kingdom. Scores of Europeans arrive to adopt babies each month, but adoption agencies have previously been criticized over their credentials amid allegations that illiterate parents were being taken advantage of. The human rights group LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) said it had received 12 children, 10 of them aged between 10 days and two years. The agency is also looking after a three-year-old boy and a girl aged six."

On December 21, 2001, an INS News Release announcd the immediate suspension of the processing of adoption petitions in Cambodia. The suspension did not affect the thirty-two families that the Department of State had scheduled for interviews in January. INS Commissioner Ziglar made this strong statement: "INS' responsibility to determine that a child is truly an orphan must never be tainted by any action that results in the exploitation of innocent children by separating them from their biological families as a result of fraud, trafficking in human beings or other criminal activity."

On February 7, 2002, the INS published Questions and Answers concerning adoption processing in Cambodia. As a sort of echo of the September 9, 2001, article in the Phnom Penh Daily, the INS wrote: "In September 2001, we received reports of two Cambodian children, one four days old and the other six months old, who were abducted from their birth mothers earlier in the year by an organization claiming to assist widows and orphans. The birth mothers contacted a Cambodian non-governmental organization [this must have been LICADHO] seeking assistance to locate their babies." The INS makes this plea for patience: "While we understand that this situation is difficlt for prospective parnets seeking to adopt in Cambodia, INS and the Department of State are working with Cambodian officials to improve the orphan petition process in order to protect the interests of Cambodian birth parents and children, as well as prospective U.S. adoptive parents."

On March 14, 2002, The Cambodia Daily, an English language newspaper, published an article entitled "U.S. Trying to Find Solution to Adoption Mess." It noted that the members of the INS/DOS Task Force included Kent Wiederman, the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, two INS investigators, a consular officer, Cambodia's Director of Immigration and a representative of the Ministry of Social Welfare. The newspaper quoted from an INS Fact Sheet dated March 1, 2002, (not to be found on the INS web site for some reason): "We are concentrating on those cases in which the prospective adoptive parents and a Cambodian child had been officially matched prior to the December 21, 2001, announcement of a suspension of adoption processing. We have thus far identified over 100 such cases." The Fact Sheet goes on to say that, if investigators verify that the children involved are indeed orphans, the prospective adoptive parents may be granted visas for them.

Ambassador Wiederman made this comment: "Some of these Americans really deserve to be parents, and there are plenty of orphans in Cambodia who would benefit from having parents to love them an give them a good life. But we need to separate the bad cases from the good cases. Trafficking exists in Cambodia. It is a fact."

The INS Fact Sheet makes this important point: the suspension of adoptions in Cambodia can only be completely lifted "when the Cambodian government establishes a transparent adoption regime consistent with international norms." That will be a daunting task, according to Ambassador Wiederman: "It is in the interests of some individuals in the government not to have a law, because they can profit personally without one."

About The Author

Carl R. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1980, and became a member of the New York State Bar a year later. He worked for three years with the New York City Law Department, and then entered solo practice in immigration law, which he has continued to the present. His work with clients has included asylum applications, deportation defense, visa processing, adjustment of status, and naturalization. He has also worked to implement special laws, such as the 1986 "amnesty" (The Immigration Reform and Control Act), and the 1998 Haitian reform act (The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act). Mr. Baldwin is the author of Immigration News Monthly. He can be rached by e-mail at

He has written a book on immigration law, called "Immigration Questions and Answers," 1997, Allworth Press, 10 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010 (212) 777-8395. The book, which contains essential background information about how the immigration law works, can be ordered in both an English Edition and a Spanish version from