Corruption in international adoptions

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Images of Nepal  

Adoption: Nepal

 Click to follow link Capsule overview of adoption issues in Nepal
 Click to follow link News reports of adoption irregularities in Nepal
 Click to follow link Resources & related documents

NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

Number of US Orphan Immigrant Visas Issued to Nepal, FY 1990-2008  

Capsule overview of adoption issues in Nepal 

For many years, very few of Nepal’s children were adopted internationally. Those few were primarily to expatriates from other countries who were temporarily in Nepal. Bribes were said to be part of the process. But after Cambodia was closed to international adoption, some adoption facilitators discovered Nepal. According to AICAN (Australian Intercountry Adoption Network), numbers went from a total of eight international adoptions in the year 2000 to 394 in the year 2006–a dramatic increase in such a short time for a politically chaotic country whose 30 million people were being roiled by civil war.

Countries Adopting from Nepal
Source: AICAN (Australian Intercountry Adoption Network)   

With that rapid expansion, NGOs and the news media began to report on systematic irregularities that were much like those that had already been seen in Cambodia and Vietnam. Orphanages were being started (or converted) specifically to focus on international adoption, rather than to assist poor families who needed temporary help during periods of illness or financial stress, as had traditionally been the case. Illiterate parents who left their children in these child-caring institutions, expecting to bring the child home a few months later, would discover to their shock that the child had been adopted abroad, especially to Spain and Italy. Apparently, once corrupt officials and individuals discovered that there were profits to be made in international adoption, they began to “find” the healthy infants and toddlers that Westerners most wanted to adopt.

In March 2007, The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, published an in-depth investigation on the baby-buying, bribes, and defrauding of birthfamilies that was taking place in Nepali adoptions. The Telegraph quoted one government official who "complained that she had raised objections against this long-standing malpractice but those who harvest dollars in the name of children silenced her." Fearing retaliation, few people would go on record about the corruption. The Nepali Times followed with a similar article that included a picture of Padam Bahadur Shahi, a 32-year-old forest guard who for six weeks had been “haunting” the Kathmandu's District Administration Office's Child Welfare Council, asking when his child would come back. He had left the child for temporary care while his wife was ill, and returned to discover that his boy had been adopted to Spain. Shahi was just one in a series of birthfamilies with similar complaints. Meanwhile, prospective adopting parents reported escalating fees and what the local news media considered “extortionary” requests for additional orphanage donations or unexpected ministry fees as they tried to complete their adoptions. In one case, according to a report released later by child protection groups, an eight-year-old girl:

“told embassy staff that she had parents in Nepal and did not want to leave. Her adoption papers stated that she was six years old and had been ‘abandoned’ by her parents. She had been declared an ‘orphan’ as per the law. It turned out that she did indeed have biological parents who had entrusted their daughter to a child centre in hopes of securing a good education for her in Kathmandu. Consequently, the visa was refused.”
In April 2007, after the Nepalese civil war came to a negotiated end, former Maoist insurgents entered the government, including the ministry in charge of orphanages and adoptions. Very quickly the new minister shut down all international adoptions, leaving 400 Westerners who had applications underwayand who had, in some cases, already met and spent time fostering their assigned childpainfully in limbo. In November 2007, facing international pressure from countries with larger groups of prospective parents, the Nepali Cabinet "decided to resume processing the approximately 440 cases currently pending" under the prior system, "while moving ahead with proposed reforms," according to the U.S. State Department. Processing the 50 American cases was completed by April 2008. By May 2008, the new government had published its new international adoption regulations. Observers waited to see how those regulations, which in some key ways conformed to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption’s suggestions, would be implemented.  In August 2008, UNICEF and the Swiss child advocacy organization Terre des Hommes released an in-depth report called “Adopting: The Rights of the Child,” detailing how international adoption had affected Nepalese children’s welfare and giving specific suggestions for improvements.

However, in October 2008, when the Nepalese government released its list of 58 adoption agencies from 10 countries that had been approved to work in Nepal, the list included agencies that had been linked to some of the worst abuses in Nepal, Cambodia, and Vietnam. A similarly problematic list published by the Vietnamese government in 2005, before Vietnam reopened to US adoption after a moratorium, was followed by a sudden rise in reported “abandonments” and other documented abuses. 

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Last page update: February 21, 2011