Corruption in international adoptions

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News Reports of Adoption
 Irregularities in Cambodia

Below is a sampling of news articles and broadcasts that have reported on corrupt practices in Cambodian adoptions, with very brief summaries of each one's contents.

"Foreign adoptions by [March] 2011," Mom Kunthear and Irwin Loy, March 30, 2010, The Phnom Penh Post.

Cambodia plans to reopen the door to foreign adoptions by the end of March 2011, officials said. The announcement came after the National Assembly passed a law aimed at governing international adoptions last December. Observers say the law is crucial to ending the allegedly widespread practice of “baby-buying”, but some have raised questions about the government’s ability to enforce it.

“Could Material Girl adopt in Cambodia? Not likely,” Kelly Hussey-Smith and Cheang Sokha, January 11, 2008, Phnom Penh Post.

Article focuses on rumors about Madonna’s desire to adopt a girl from Cambodia, as she hopes there would be less red tape there than in Malawi, where she and husband Guy Ritchie adopted a son in 2006. However, both the US and Britain have suspended adoptions from Cambodia except under certain extraordinary circumstances.

“Government promotes foster programs for 627,000 orphans,” Tracey Shelton and Cueing Sokha, June 29, 2007, Phnom Penh Post.

The article focuses on foster care for orphans, and a new program known as Hope, Assistance and Love for Orphans (HALO). This new initiative works to ensure that children orphaned by AIDS can still grow up in “loving homes and caring families.” “HALO is one of several parenting programs now receiving technical support from the government and UNICEF.”

“Adoption gumshoe gives detailed report on baby-scam payoffs,” Liam Cochrane and Sam Rith, May 20, 2005, Phnom Penh Post.

Richard Cross, the lead investigator for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “accused officials at the highest level of government of complicity of scams involving hundreds of babies and millions of dollars.” Cross made the accusations about notorious adoption facilitator Lauryn Galindo, and showed a photo of Galindo passing an envelope across a table to Senate President Chea Sim (president of the communist party in Cambodia). The US investigation and revealed a “lucrative business in selling Cambodian children as products” and shows the workings of corruption in Cambodia.

“U.S. Families Learn Truth About Adopted Cambodian Children,” Alan B. Goldberg and Deb Apton, March 25, 2005 ABC News.

Reports on an Elizabeth Vargas “20/20” investigation of the Cambodian adoption scandal. Includes interviews with adoptive parents who were horrified to learn that their adopted children had been taken from their families, Judith Mosley and Carol Rauschenberger. Notes Galindo’s guilty plea to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and money laundering; her denial of baby trafficking; and her admission that she falsified documents to wipe out the children’s identities. Interviews several people in the adoption chain, including an orphanage director, Moung Thy, who said Galindo paid him $300 per child adopted; Chea Kim, one of his “child recruiters,” who says Moung Thy paid her $50 per child; and the birthmother of Rauschenberger’s child, who says she was paid $15 and was told the child would remain in the orphanage. “A young Cambodian mother, Meas Bopha, told "20/20" Galindo came to her home in 1997 and tried to convince her to sell her three babies for $700. Galindo says she is a liar.” Examines the lack of evidence for Galindo’s claims that her money went into humanitarian causes. Notes the government’s evidence that she knew she was buying and selling children.

“High level payoffs alleged in adoption case,” Bill Bainbridge, December 3, 2004, Phnom Penh Post.

On November 19 Lauren Galindo, the former U.S. adoption facilitator, was sentenced to prison in the U.S. A former close associate stated that Galindo “bought political capital in Cambodia in order to make her adoption business more profitable.” The Cambodian adoption system has been filled with allegations of bribery and child trafficking for more than a decade. Galindo’s trial “highlighted the web of corrupt practices surrounding Cambodian adoptions.”

“Guilty Plea in Adoption Fraud Case,” Michelle Esteban, June 23, 2004, Komo News.

Lauryn Galindo denies baby trafficking but pleads guilty to fraud for filling out paperwork falsely claiming two babies were orphans. “Federal investigators say she preyed on poor Cambodian families to buy and sell their babies… A local couple was a victim. Years after adopting their Cambodian daughters, the girls biological mother came forward to say she was forced to give them up.”

“Adoption nightmare continues; Galindo convicted but heartbreak lives on,” Tom Finnegan, July 2, 2004, The Garden Island.

Second article in a Hawaiian newspaper’s report on a lawsuit that local resident Summer Harrison against Lauryn Galindo and others, and of the controversy about Galindo’s work in Cambodia. Examines claims that Galindo was profiting from adoptions. Interviews Judith Mosley. “Mosley and Harrison both said they paid around $11,000 for their children, giving Galindo directly $3,500 in new, clean, $100 bills, as an "orphan donation fee." Mosely says she has a receipt. Meanwhile, the orphanages the two women described are squalid, with half formula given to infants because full formula was too expensive.”

“Kalaheo woman names Galindo in civil suit,” Tom Finnegan, July 1, 2004, The Garden Island.

First article in a Hawaiian newspaper’s two-part report on local resident Summer Harrison’s lawsuit against Lauryn Galindo and others, and of the controversy about Galindo’s work in Cambodia. Harrison alleges that she was not told that the child she adopted was born prematurely and with extensive medical problems, including blindness, cerebral palsy, and no ability to eat without a feeding tube. Galindo claims Harrison knew that the baby she was adopting was premature and could develop problems. Harrison says that Galindo and a doctor who examined the child, Dr. Nancy W. Hendrie, duped her into believing the child was fine. Hendrie, a 72-year-old pediatrician and a consultant in Cambodian adoptions, denies wrongdoing, and bitterly blames Galindo for dragging her into trouble.

"Poor Cambodians Selling Babies," Robin McDowell, March 7, 2004, The Times Union (Albany, NY).

Reports that baby selling in Cambodia continues in poverty-stricken areas, even though “illegal baby sales may have slowed since the United States, France, the Netherlands and several other countries started suspending international adoptions from Cambodia two years ago.” Names and profiles several Cambodian baby brokers, including Chea Kim, who regretted selling her own child but recruits other women’s children, and Nop Phat, a farmer who has recruited five babies and knows who is pregnant locally. Examines the desperate Cambodian conditions that lead to the babyselling, including the emotional numbing required to survive the Khmer Rouge. Lynn Devin, director of the WOVA Cham Chao orphanage just outside Phnom Penh, and her sister, Lauryn Galindo, were indicted on charges in Cambodia that include “falsifying documents to make it look as if babies with parents were orphans, swapping at least one sick child with a healthy one in the middle of adoption procedures, and using the names of dead infants for the living.” Interviews Main Dim, who left her child with Chea Kim on the belief that she would get him back again later, and who now gets pictures and money from the American family that adopted him.

“Jolie’s Adoption Nightmare,” Mark Baker, January 9, 2004, The Australian Age.

Reports that Lauryn Galindo, an American adoption agent who arranged Angelina Jolie’s adoption of a baby boy from Cambodia, is turning herself in to federal authorities in Seattle. Cambodian welfare workers believe the child, named Maddox, was sold by his birth mother for $100. Galindo’s sister, who ran the adoption agency Seattle International Adoptions, is being sentenced for falsifying documents to obtain visas for Cambodian children. Galindo is named as a co-conspirator. Jolie claims she did everything she could to verify that the child had no living birth mother and has hired at team of lawyers to defend her right to the child.

“Babies for sale: no warranty,” Mark Baker, December 16, 2003, Sydney Morning Herald.

Reports on adoption from Cambodia and problems with fraud. Considered one of the biggest problem nations for adoptions, alongside Romania and Guatemala, due to baby-buying and kidnapping. The U.S., France, and several other European countries have imposed moratoriums on adoption from Cambodia. But the high demand for adoptions from the West has fueled adoption to evolve into a lucrative industry, some say.

“US adoption agent guilty of visa fraud,” Bill Bainbridge, December 19, 2003, Phnom Penh Post.

Lynn Devin, who runs Seattle International Adoptions, pled guilty to “conspiracy to commit visa fraud and conspiracy to launder money in relation to adoptions arranged in Cambodia.” Devin’s sister, Lauryn Galindo, best known for facilitating an adoption for Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, has been indicted by a grand jury. Devin and Galindo faked documents to falsely pass off children as orphans and created fake identities for the children, according to district court documents.

“International adoptions to be ‘a last resort’,” Bill Bainbridge, July 4, 2003, Phnom Penh Post.

“A draft adoption law has suggested that international adoptions be the final option when dealing with orphaned children. UNICEF's Sarah Mills said the current regimen did not hold the best interests of the child as the primary consideration.” The draft law looks at local alternatives in the family and community before international adoption. A situation report issued in May by the Netherlands Embassy in Bangkok concluded that the practice of international adoptions is still “tainted with unlawful and corrupt practices…and suffered from a lack of transparency.”

“Few babies ‘abandoned’ since moratorium: orphanages,” Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara, August 2, 2002, Phnom Penh Post.

Since adoptions to the United States were suspended last year, orphanage directors in Phnom Penh have reported a sharp drop in the number of abandoned babies.“Licadho founder Dr Kek Galabru emphasized that the human rights NGO did not have accurate figures on abandonment,” but stated that “the decrease is likely to be caused by the drop in demand caused by the suspension of adoptions last December.” He continued by questioning “whether the high number of babies and children arriving in orphanages is the result of active recruitment of babies and children by persons involved in the lucrative business of adoptions.”

“Where Do Babies Come From?,” Sara Corbett, July 16, 2002, New York Times.

Extremely in-depth New York Times Magazine feature article about the controversial adoptions from Cambodia, including profiles of families caught in mid-adoption limbo after America suspended adoptions from Cambodia in 2001. Says that Kent M. Wiedemann, recently the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, was concerned that new orphanages were built expressly to Americans happy and that, “more worryingly, these orphanages are filled with children who seem custom-ordered to suit American tastes” and says that the adoption facilitators are all untrustworthy. LICADHO, a human rights group, says “the moneymaking potential in foreign adoptions is so great that it has inspired a network of unofficial ''recruiters'' who scour neighborhoods in search of young children,” through lies, payments, and deceit, and then bribing officials to create false identity documents. Examines the controversial Asian Orphan Association, run by facilitator Serey Puth, which housed more than a hundred children whose profiles matched U.S. demand. Examines the INS’s reasons for refusing to issue any more orphan visas. ''Documents didn't match up; signatures were forged,'' says Bill Strassberger, an I.N.S. spokesman. Discusses the INS’s inability to deny visas if they can’t prove corruption in a U.S. court of law. Examines mainstream U.S. adoption agencies’ use of freelance facilitators who work “on commission” and the erasure of identities. Traces one child back to the village where she was allegedly abandoned under suspect circumstances. Interviews birthfamilies that sold children, including Chanthea Chea, whose search for her child – and discovery that he was being processed for U.S. adoption – was a final straw that led the U.S. to shut down adoptions from Cambodia.

“Treasured or Traded?,” Richard Sine, June 22, 2002, The Cambodia Daily.

A feature on Lauryn Galindo, who has been accused of “baby-buying” along with one of the adoption centers she supports. But she has also received reconstruction awards from the Cambodian government, given large donations, and has a long list of grateful clients. She considers herself a benefactor and a humanitarian. Information on the development of adoption, human trafficking, and corruption in Cambodia. 

“Orphanage awarded custody,” Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara, April 26, 2002, Phnom Penh Post.

The Asian Orphans’ Association was awarded custody of twelve children after the children were placed in the care of human rights NGO Licadho following a raid on Tuol Kork clinic September 3. The clinic had been suspected of baby “trafficking” for adoption. Licadho’s acting director, Naly Pilorge, said the organization plans to appeal the case and is concerned for the “welfare of the children.”

“Baby traffic witnesses recant,” Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara, March 15, 2002, Phnom Penh Post.

Chea Kamsan, Tuol Kork's deputy chief of police, and the mother of two allegedly trafficked children have withdrawn their testimony from the criminal investigation in the case against staff of the Asian Orphans’ Association (AOA). While the September 3 raid sparked investigations which led to the INS suspending adoptions from Cambodia, the INS will temporarily life its ban and allow up to two hundred “pipeline” adoptions to be completed in the next two months.

“Adoptive parents tell of agency’s deception,” Bill Bainbridge, February 15, 2002, Phnom Penh Post.

Story of Dale Edmonds and Jimmy Yap, a Singapore-based couple who decided to adopt older children because they “understood that infants are often trafficked for adoption” – and who discovered that their children had a family, and went back and traced that family. Edmonds alleges that the American adoption facilitator Harriet Brener-Sam took exorbitant fees but left the children in poverty in the orphanage without even a toothbrush.

“Cambodia suspends all US adoptions,” Bill Bainbridge, February 1, 2002, Phnom Penh Post.

Article explains that because the US INS ceased issuing visas on December 21 to children adopted from Cambodia, the Cambodian government has stopped processing all US adoption paperwork until further notice, in order to prevent a backlog of adoption cases from developing. The INS plans to investigate each orphan’s background before an adoption is completed. “France, the second most common place for Cambodian adopted children, may revamp its adoptive system, possibly increasing the number of Cambodian children adopted by French parents.”

“Adoptions ‘like selling goods’- Foreign Minister,” Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara, December 7, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

Article focuses on adoption agencies, officials, and facilitators within international adoptions in Cambodia as “all profit.” “The Post obtained a letter from May 1999 in which Foreign Minister Hor Namhong asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to investigate bribery allegations from a US adoption facilitator,” and the letter continues by comparing the act of giving a baby to adoptive parents “after the Royal Government of Cambodia has approved it to selling goods.” An investigation by the US INS last month “resulted in the rejection of US orphan visas for at least 12 children,” based on fraudulently issued documents and abuse within the adoption procedure. The article cites an example of an adoption with huge fees involved, and Bill Herod of NGO Forum states that he does not think Cambodian women are motivated by profit in giving up their children for adoption.

“ ‘Orphan’ babies reunited with their mothers,” Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara, December 7, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

Two infants were returned to their mothers by staff of the Khmer American Orphans’ Association (KAOA) at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after they gave their children to what they were told was “an organization for women and orphans.” The three alleged perpetrators, all KAOA staff, are being charged with child trafficking under Article 7. KAOA director Sea Visoth denied involvement in facilitating the adoptions to the United States and claims he was “just trying to help the women.”

“Adoptions still on – embassy,” Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara, November 23, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

The US Embassy remains open to Cambodian adoptions despite the recent rejection of 13 visas for children adopted by couples in the US. “Eight of the children had been adopted from the Asian Orphans’ Association (AOA) which is at the center of two trafficking investigations.” The fate of the children who were denied visas remains uncertain as the Cambodian government recognizes the adoption and the US adoption alleges fraud. The article gives the story of Don Korta, one of the adoptive parents whose child was denied a visa, and details about appealing the INS decision. Serey Puth, AOA president, rejects allegations of fraud.

“Twist in legal fight,” Post staff, October 26, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

Asian Orphan’s Association (AOA) lawyer Chhit Boravuth used an arrest warrant on charges of illegal confinement against Naly Pilorge, acting director of human rights NGO Licadho, in a separate custody battle over twelve orphans seized during a September 3 raid. The warrant relates to a February case when Licadho intervened over a six-year-old girl who was abused by her adoptive mother. Licadho was awarded custody of the girl in this case.

“Give back your kids, parents told,” Bill Bainbridge, October 26, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

“Seven families who adopted children from the Asian Orphans’ Association (AOA) claim they have been told by their embassy to take their children back to the orphanage,” and while all seven adoptions had been completed under Cambodian law, they claimed the embassy had refused to give their children visas until the US INS investigation was completed.

“Adoptions to US put on hold,” Bill Bainbridge, October 26, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

Adoptions to the US from Cambodia are on hold after American officials say they have evidence of systematic fraud in the process among unethical orphanages and corrupt officials. The US Embassy is instituting a system to examine cases on an individual basis. 10 infants and 2 children were seized in a September 2001 raid and four suspects were being held on suspicion of human trafficking. Women who claim to be the mothers of two of the infants have since come forward to get their children back.

“Adoptions to US put on hold, Bill Bainbridge, October 26, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

After a US embassy spokesman said they had uncovered evidence of fraud in the adoption process, adoptions by US citizens have been temporarily suspended. All visa appointments for US citizens wanting to adopt have been canceled during the investigation period, putting up to two hundred adoptions on hold. The official stated the he hopes they will not have to put a moratorium on adoption in Cambodia.

“Adoption figures don’t tally,” Bill Bainbridge, October 12, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

Article suggests that child buying is taking place as a letter from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSALVY) claims that “316 cases of international adoption have taken place since the adoption moratorium ended in March,” but “that number is only about half the number processed by the US embassy alone.” Director of MOSALVY’s child welfare department, Sovadei, said that the September 3 raid on two Tuol Kork houses linked to the Asian Orphans' Association (AOA) (which could lead to another moratorium on international adoptions) “was not involved in the procedure of adoption.”

“Suspected covert adoption center uncovered,” Bill Bainbridge and Vong Sokheng, September 14, 2001, Phnom Penh Post.

“Evidence has emerged of an organized ring which buys babies from poor mothers to supply orphanages with adoptable children” only six months after the nine month moratorium on Cambodian adoptions ended. This brings Cambodia’s troubled adoption industry back into the spotlight. After an NGO working with HIV positive women noticed two toddlers belonging to a mother of three were missing, the case came to light, and “a case worker said it was not the first time they encountered sick mothers selling their babies.”

“Tracking the fee schedules,” Stephen O’Connel and Lon Nara, December 22, 2000, Phnom Penh Post.

The December 13 adoption case highlights the role money plays in adoptions, and while Sar Kheng and Khieu Kanharith say the Government has never charged an adoption fee, this might come as a surprise to clients of American agencies who “paid heavily for the non-existent fees.” Clients were told they need to pay a $5,500 adoption fee to the government of Cambodia but the adoption agencies refuse to explain how that money was spent.

“Baby fees ‘very low’,” Merlyn W Ruddell, October 13, 2000, Phnom Penh Post.

Article is a letter from someone who spent two months in Cambodia, adopted a daughter there, and wants to show the other side of subject and she defends Galindo. She contends that “no proper process of research or proceeding in any court of law has occurred.” She states that the conditions in the orphanage were much better than described, with individual nannies for each baby. She also challenges the idea that orphanages buy their babies, as many of the babies she saw were boys, sick, and undernourished, and “Americans usually want to adopt perfect babies” and more often girls than boys. She states that the “harmful errors and media spin have been to the detriment of a truly beneficial practice of adoption.”

“Mother yearns for contact with daughters,” Stephen O'Connell and Lon Nara, October 13, 2000, Phnom Penh Post.

Kim Sophoan claims that Chhim Naly, Director of the Women and Orphans Vocational Association, tricked her into giving her daughters away.  Sophoan describes that since her husband died, she has had a hard time providing for her family and Naly promised to look after the girls and make sure they receive an education while she works. Ten days later when Sophoan returned to Naly’s house, Naly told her that her children had been sent to the States. Sophoan claims she was forced into signing an agreement, that she wants her children to stay in America even though she wants to touch them, and that she does not want money from the American family but would not refuse to receive money from them as she heard they are tycoons.

“Red Cross offers babies for adoption,” Stephen O’Connell and Lon Nara, September 29, 2000, Phnom Penh Post.

Article focuses on the idea that “black market babies” are available at the Cambodian Red Cross Health Center and other Phnom Penh hospitals according to Khmer facilitators, who also said that it is less expensive to get a baby from the Red Cross Health Center or Municipal Hospital than from an orphanage. Also, some clients prefer babies from hospitals because it has become difficult to find HIV-free babies at state orphanages. The facilitator’s clients had to bribe staff to obtain the infant’s birth certificate and would “pay more bribes to obtain false papers from Phnom Penh’s Nutrition Center certifying the baby as an orphan.”

“Big bribes key to US baby-buying,” Stephen O'Connell, Bou Saroeun and Lon Nara, August 18, 2000, Phnom Penh Post.

“American agencies that facilitate Cambodian adoptions must pay thousands of dollars to government officials to expedite the approval of their clients’ paperwork,” with the largest recipients of bribe money being officials in the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Council of Ministers. The amount of money paid to officials depends on the parents’ application and suitability to adopt. An American man who went to Cambodia to adopt a child last year told the Post it was all about getting the baby, going through the paperwork, giving up the money, and getting out.

“Tourism officials quit ministry to run adoption business,” Stephen O’Connell and Chea Sotheacheath, June 9, 2000, Phnom Penh Post.

The article focuses on the Asian Orphan Association (AOA) which is now providing babies for foreign adoptions. The AOA was opened in the pervious year and suspected of being run by baby traffickers, and is now run by two former Tourism Ministry officials. The AOA was started by Tith Von (the manager of another adoption center, Women and Orphan Vocational Association) and Soeng Mon, a taxi driver. “Investigations by a human rights NGO have linked Von directly to buying babies to supply them for American adoption agencies.” Mon, the taxi driver, was detained by police on suspicion of baby trafficking.

“Babies bought for sale to foreigners,” Stephen O'Connell and Bou Saroeun, May 26, 2000, Phnom Penh Post.

Article focuses on the idea that in order to supply foreigners wanting to adopt a child, an orphanage run by Phnom Penh's Woman and Orphan Vocational Association (WOVA) has been buying babies from a local village. Adoption facilitator Lauryn Galindo stated that “she does not believe there is any truth to the stories told to the Post by the villagers, or the information obtained by the human rights investigator regarding WOVA’s alleged involvement in baby trafficking.” The article contains an example list of the expenses and fees to adopt a child.

“Adoptions: Saving lives or selling young souls?” Written by the Phnom Penh Post, June 28, 1996, Phnom Penh Post.

Daniel Susott, who arranged the adoptions of 52 Khmer children to American families five years ago, claims that orphans in Cambodia are “prisoners of charity,” attracting foreign aid dollars but not families. Notes Susott’s friend Lauryn Galindo. Includes extensive critiques from NGOs, including Save the Children, and examples of adoption-corruption in other countries, including Vietnam, “where the adoption ‘business’ has seen some women get pregnant solely to sell the babies.”  Gives details in a 1991 adoption scandal in which a girl who had a family was sent to Belgium for adoption.

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.

© 2008-2014 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454. All rights reserved.

Last page update: February 22, 2011