Corruption in international adoptions

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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.

News Reports of Adoption
 Irregularities in Vietnam

"Ethnic minority parents lose children to adoption scam," January 7, 2011, Thanh Nien News.

Experts have called on international authorities to reform Inter-country adoption practices to ensure their legality, August 11, 2010, ThanhnienNews.com. Read the report>

New regulation on child adoption, August 9, 2010, Vietnam Ministry of Justice.

U.S. Department of State Adoption Notice July 28, 2010: Intercountry adoption is not possible from Vietnam at this time.

Law on Adoption brought into line with int’l practices, May 27, 2010, Vietnam Ministry of Justice.

"Law on Adoption brought into line with international practices," May 27, 2010, VietnamNews.com.

Ha Noi—According to the latest version of the draft law on adoption—under discussion by the National Assembly Standing Committee—only children under 16 years can be offered for adoption. NA deputies also touched upon the termination of the relationship between the adoptive parents and adopted children.

"Lawmakers want child adoption fees hiked," Thanh Nien, Tuoi Tre, May 27, 2010, VietNews.com.

Lawmakers have called for increasing the amount foreigners have to pay to adopt Vietnamese children to cover the administrative costs.

"Vietnam Hill Tribe Says Kids Stolen for Adoption," Simon Parry, March 14, 2010, JakartaGlobe.com.

Police investigate claims that in 2006, officials took thirteen children from Ruc hill tribe families with promises to educate them in the nearby provincial capital. When one mother tried to visit her daughters, she couldn't find them, and claims they were adopted overseas. Adoptive parents in Italy and the U.S.A. pay as much as $10,000 in fees per child.

Officials found guilty in illegal adoption trial, T.Vinh (translated by Truong Son), September 29, 2009.

Sixteen former medical and orphanage officials were found guilty September 28 at Nam Dinh Province People’s Court on charges of forging documents and receiving bribes from foreigners to adopt 266 children.

Six officials jailed in Nam Dinh adoption scam, Thai Son, September 28, 2009, ThanhnienNews.com.

They were among 16 officials tried for faking papers to have hundreds of babies adopted by foreigners for a price. The six were found guilty of “abuse of power in public duty,” said Nguyen Tien Hung, vice-president of the Nam Dinh People’s Court.

Vietnamese doctors 'sold' babies for overseas adoptions, Ian MacKinnon, September 22, 2009, Telegraph.co.uk.

Sixteen Vietnamese doctors, nurses and officials sold 266 babies for overseas adoptions, a court heard on Tuesday.

U.S. Department of State Adoption Notice for Vietnam, June 2009. 

U.S. citizens cannot register a new adoption in Vietnam at this time.  The Government of Vietnam has stated its intention to introduce new adoption legislation and to institute reforms in the adoption process, and has indicated that the anticipated new legislation and implementing regulations may take effect in 2011.

"Vietnam jails 3 for child trafficking," Associated Press, June 26, 2009, China Post.

A court in northern Vietnam sentenced three people to prison for trafficking children in a scheme that sold babies to a welfare center, an official said...

“U.S. and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Reach Agreement on International Adoptions,” Embassy of the United States in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 14, 2005. Accessed on November 20, 2008.

Press release from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi announcing an agreement between the governments of the United States of America and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam regarding cooperation on the adoption of children, paving the way for signature in Washington, D.C. The agreement includes that both parties will support the facilitation of the adoption of orphaned children on humanitarian grounds and for the purpose of child protection, and that appropriate measures will be taken to prevent adoption abuse and child exploitation.

Vietnam: State Department Announcement Regarding Adoption of Children with Special Needs," October 15, 2008, U.S. State Department, Joint Council.

“Abandoned Lives,” Thanh Tung, September 14, 2008, Thanh Nien Newsi.

Vietnamese newspaper claims that hundreds of babies are left behind at children’s hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City every year due to unwanted pregnancies or economic hardship.

“US-Vietnam adoption deal ended after corruption exposed,” Ian MacKinnon, September 2, 2008, The Guardian.

The trade in Vietnamese babies, kidnapped and stolen from their parents and effectively sold to families in the US and elsewhere, has ended an adoption scheme between Vietnam and the U.S. Reports that “An investigation by the US embassy in Hanoi, unveiled in April, revealed a host of ways whereby corrupt district officials were subverting the rules and duping illiterate and impoverished parents so as to profit. The six-month investigation of 300 cases unearthed disturbing situations, including hospitals sending babies to orphanages for overseas adoption in the wake of parents being unable to pay medical bills for the birth. In five provinces, the embassy discovered unlicensed, unregulated facilities that provided free room and board to pregnant women who agreed to relinquish their children on birth. Officials persuaded birthparents to leave their babies and were falsely told their offspring would return permanently at the age of 11 or 12.

“Lawmakers back bid to join Hague adoption convention,” Tuyet Nhung, July 28, 2008, Thanh Nien News.

Reports that National Assembly’s Standing Committee members supported a bid to sign the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which would give national supervision to all adoptions; currently provincial officials approve adoptions. Notes that “Vietnamese parents who send their children to orphanages due to poverty do so only temporarily. But several criminals have faked documents leading agencies and adoptive parents to believe that such children were in fact abandoned.”

“Adoption gang members held,” July 27, 2008, Vietnam.net.

Vietnam authorities arrested a father and son for picking up children “of unknown origin” and cooperating with other communal healthcare centers to falsify their identity documents so that they could be sold for international adoption.

“Justice chief responds to alleged wrongdoing in local adoptions,” July 16, 2008, Viet Nam News.

After the news that around 300 children have been put up illegally in Nam Dinh Province for adoption abroad, Vietnam News Agency spoke to director of the provincial Department of Justice Le Cao Tuyen. Police investigations show that the two centers in Truc Ninh and Y Yen districts forged adoption certificates for the children. Le Cao Tuyen refused to claim responsibility.

“300 infants illegally put up for adoption,” July 15, 2008, Viet Nam News.

Reports on an adoption ring in the Nam Dinh province that picked up more than 300 infants and falsified adoption documents enabling them to be sold for international adoption. Tran Ngoc Lam, who lives in Nam Dinh City, allegedly picked up abandoned children in the province and took them to healthcare centers in Yen Tien and Yen Luong communes. The centers’ directors, Vu Dinh Loi and Truong Cong Lich, allegedly forged fake birth certificates for the children so they could be put up for adoption.

“Charity centres investigated for falsifying birth records,” July 14, 2008, VietNamNet.

Reports that police were investigating two charity centers in Nam Dinhfor falsifying birth records for foreign adoptions. One of the centers was sponsored by three foreign adoption agencies: Destimes, World Doctors’ Organisation, and Italy’s Moniri. Its orphanages were in bad condition, with “some primitive equipment.” At one center, five pregnant women were waiting to give birth.

“Adoption agencies under investigation,” Tuoi Tre, July 13, 2008, Thanh Nien News.

Reports on an illegal adoption ring in the Nam Dinh province that falsified adoption documents so that infants could be sold for international adoption. Reports that in April, the US embassy in Hanoi claimed the Vietnamese adoption system was riddled with corruption and fraud. Notes that Vu Duc Long, director of the Justice Ministry’s Department of International Adoptions (DIA), called the allegations “groundless” and “unreliable.”

“International Adoption Becoming Difficult Amid Treaties, Regulation,” July 1, 2008, PBS.

Judy Woodruff interviews Karen Strottman, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and Susan Soon-Keum Cox of Holt International Children's Services. Interview covers the Hague intercountry adoption convention, international adoption standards, and the recent termination of adoption agreements between the U.S. and Vietnam.

“Painful, being hired to get pregnant and sell the children,” Quang Thanh, May 24, 2008, Family and Social Newspaper.

Article discusses Dieu Luong village in Tan Minh commune, which is known for its women becoming pregnant for the purpose of selling their newborns. A baby can command up to seven million dong (over $420 USD). Other families who have serial pregnancies in hopes of producing a boy sell their female offspring.  Local authorities are unable to stop the selling of babies.

“Corruption Halts Vietnam Adoptions by Americans,” Karen Russo, May 15, 2008, ABC News.

Reports on the wake of the U.S. embassy in Hanoi’s report on widespread corruption in Vietnamese adoptions. Interviews Americans whose lives have been put on hold as the U.S. government investigates their prospective children’s orphan status. Some are angry with the U.S. government. Interviews a former American adoption program director who says, "It's very hard for adoption agencies to work together and to stand behind ethical adoptions because there is a lot of competition.” Interviews a visa appeals lawyer who explains, “Whether it's in Vietnam or in Nepal, we get someone to do our own investigation and bring out additional information.”

“Burden of Birth,” Manh Duong-Tho Phuoc, February 20, 2008, Thanh Nien News.

Reports that Nguyen Thi Thuyen operates an underground trafficking network that pays pregnant women for newborns and resells them at high prices. Certificates signed by government officials suggest that local officials and health practitioners are involved. Interviews suggest that some babies are being resold abroad.

“Families Adopting in Vietnam Say They Are Caught in Diplomatic Jam,” Elizabeth Olson, February 11, 2008, New York Times.

Interviews three California families whose visa applications to adopt from Vietnam were denied, but who hired investigators who, they claim, proved there was no corruption, and who have enlisted their senators to complete adoptions. Quotes Michele T. Bond, State Department’s deputy assistant secretary, as saying, “The goal of international adoption is to find a home for each orphaned child, not to ‘produce’ a child for a family. It’s not a market.”

“Camarillo family takes adoption battle to State Department,” Michael Collins, February 8, 2008, Ventura County Star.

Reports on Steve and Julie Carroll’s to complete an adoption from Vietnam despite denied visa applications, who met with the State Department, and who hired Vietnamese investigators to overturn the denial. 

"Adopting Children From Vietnam Becomes Struggle," Sharon Chin, February 8, 2008, CBS5.com.

“Couple seek senator’s aid in Vietnam adoption fight,” Michael Collins, February 6, 2008, Ventura County Star.

Reports that Steve and Julie Carroll have enlisted Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to help them complete their adoption from Vietnam. USCIS approved the visa but the State Department refuses to issue it. Discusses the likelihood that the US-Vietnamese agreement on adoption will not be renewed.

“Hoping in Hanoi: Queens couple’s adoption stalled in Vietnam,” Noah Rosenberg, December 27, 2007, The Queens Courier.

Profiles David and Chanin French, who do not understand why they cannot bring home the child they adopted under Vietnamese law. USCIS notes that the night watchman made no entry in his logbook that he had found an infant abandoned outside the orphanage, which suggested to USCIS the abandonment story was false. The Frenches believe the lack of notation was just an oversight. The Frenches remain in Hanoi, awaiting a final decision on their orphan visa application.

“Vietnam’s abandoned children,” Tony Birtley, December 4, 2007, Aljazeera.

Looks at poverty as a reason for child abandonment in Vietnam, where per capita income is $700/year, subsistence level. Interviews pregnant women and girls at a maternity house. Profiles Ho Chi Minh City’s Tu Do Hospital, which has the “busiest maternity wing” in Asia, reporting almost 200 births a day, and says that 3 out of 100 are abandoned. Looks at Tam Binh orphanage, from which Angelina Jolie adopted. Shows an Italian couple adopting a Vietnamese baby.

“The tale of Angelina’s new son,” Kay Johnson, March 22, 2007, Time.

“The boy whom the world would know as Pax Thien Jolie was brought to the Tam Binh orphanage when he was one month old after being abandoned by his mother at Tu Du obstetrics hospital in Ho Chi Minh City." "His mother gave birth and left immediately," said Nguyen Van Trung, orphanage director. Hospital authorities put up notices and tried to search for the mother for 30 days, but no one showed up. So he was placed in the orphanage, which was provided with a police report of attempts to find his birth parents, as is standard practice in Vietnam.”

“Abandoned Babies Surge in Vietnam,” Mike Weston, September 22, 2006, VTV.VN.

Reports that in the past eight months—since the new Memorandum of Agreement was signed, allowing adoptions to the United States—nearly 140 babies were renounced at Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Hospital staff say they care for all abandoned children until they are healthy enough to be transferred to what this post refers to as the Department of Social, War Invalids and Social Affairs or orphanages.

“Silence greets exposure of corrupt adoption practices,” Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, July 29, 2006, Irish Independent.

“Three weeks ago the Irish Independent published secretly recorded interviews with My Linh Soland, the woman who organised all 150 of the Vietnamese adoptions to Ireland since 2004. Ms.Soland revealed the adoptions were corrupt, that birth certificates were routinely forged, that officials who declared children abandoned knew exactly where their parents were, how money meant for humanitarian aid was part of the corruption and that Vietnamese officials at the highest levels were getting pay-offs... It would be reasonable to assume that the Irish Adoption Board would have phoned looking for details. We have the names of the Vietnamese government officials who are corruptly profiting from the adoptions... Instead all these organisations have hidden behind a letter from the Vietnamese government assuring them that the 150 adoptions were legal.”

“Vietnamese adoptions under way 'not illegal',” Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, July 28, 2006, Irish Independent.

Reports that “The adoption agency which now organizes all adoptions between Ireland and Vietnam disclosed yesterday they have no evidence that any recent adoptions were unethical or illegal. This is despite secretly recorded information obtained by the Irish Independent in which it was admitted there was forgery and corruption.”

 “New fears over Vietnam adoptions,” Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, July 24, 2006, Irish Independent.

Reports that the Irish Adoption Board has appointed Vu Thi Tanh Binh, who was My Linh Soland’s sole employee, as the new facilitator for all Irish-Vietnamese adoptions. Raises concerns that this means unethical adoption practices will continue. Reports that the Irish Adoption Board knew about Soland’s past criminal activities when it first hired her.

“Foreign adoptions: latest form of human traffic?” Ann McElhinney, July 20, 2006, Irish Independent. 

“At first glance international adoption seems like the perfect solution to a heartbreaking problem. It involves the rescue of abandoned and unwanted babies by well-meaning and loving Irish couples. However, it also involves large sums of money in some of the most corrupt countries on the planet.” Analyzes the problems in adoptions conducted by Soland, former Irish-Vietnamese adoption facilitator. “Irish adopters would first send Soland a personal cheque for $3,700. When they reached Vietnam they handed her another $3,000 in cash... Where and how Soland found the babies and what she did or said to their parents to permanently separate them from their children is a mystery. The Vietnamese 'histories' of these babies are, at best, unreliable, at worst, pure fiction.”

Adoption chief used Vietnam fraudster as a tour guide,” Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, July 11, 2006, Irish Independent. 

Even though My Linh Soland was forced to resign as the Irish Adoption Board's consultant on Vietnamese adoptions, (after the Irish Independent taped her discussing bribes to secure adoption paperwork), My Linh Soland was employed by the registrar of the Board to act as a guide during his tour group’s trip to Vietnam. The trip happened only a week after Soland was exposed by these journalists, who surreptitiously recorded her admitting to fraudulent practices in facilitating Irish adoptions of Vietnamese children.

We Irish play an essential role in illegal trafficking in babies,” July 10, 2006, Irish Independent.

Editorial comments on its reporters’ exposure of My Linh Soland, employed as the country’s official facilitator for adoptions from Vietnam. “The Irish Adoption Board stated on its website that, in order to adopt from Vietnam, couples had to send Ms. Soland a personal cheque for $3,700. The rest [of the $7,000 fee] had to be paid in cash, in small denominations, when the couple arrived in the country… The money is supposed to go to humanitarian aid projects but, as Ms. Soland revealed last week, it is used as corrupt payments to ensure a supply of babies with the proper paperwork,” including forged birth certificates. It notes that “in a country where the average salary is $640 a year,” this amount was an irresistible lure. The losers in this process were the natural parents and relatives of the babies who were removed from their families in order to satiate Irish demand.” Concludes that, because Ireland adopts only from countries with poor human rights records and legal corruption, it is helping to drive illegal baby trafficking.

“'We nicknamed her DR EVIL but no-one dared challenge her because we were afraid we would not get our babies',” July 8, 2006, Irish Independent.

Reports on the troubling experiences of Anne Marie and Paul Kennedy as they attempted to adoption a Vietnamese child through My Linh Soland, including last-minute baby-switching and a series of surprise charges.

“'Evil' adoption scandal,” Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, July 08, 2006, Irish Independent.

“A woman nicknamed 'Dr Evil' who arranged the adoption of 150 Vietnamese babies to Irelandhas admitted the paperwork was forged by corrupt officials. In a series of secretly recorded meetings, My Linh Soland told an Irish Independent reporter how the children's histories were invented. And she told how officials at the highest level were paid to procure paperwork or to turn a blind eye about whether the adoptions were legal or ethical.” Outlines bribes paid to acquire children from dubious sources.

“Irish agency severs ties with Soland,” July 08, 2006, Irish Independent.

Reports that, as a result of allegations made against adoption facilitator My Linh Soland, Soland would be suspended from involvement in Irish-Vietnamese adoptions. 

“Babies adopted through fraudster 'won't be returned',” Ann McElhinney, June 22, 2006, Irish Independent.

“The 150 Vietnamese babies adopted to Irelandthrough convicted fraudster My Linh Soland will not have to return to Vietnam, Children's Minister Brian Lenihan said yesterday.”

“Vietnamese adoption agent was jailed in US for fraud,” Ann McElhinney, June 20, 2006, Irish Independent.

Reports that My Linh Soland, “the woman responsible for organising the adoption of Vietnamese babies for Irish people is a convicted criminal who spent three years in a US prison” for marriage visa fraud. “The Irish Adoption Board has suspended Ms. Soland from any involvement in Vietnamese adoptions and has asked Gardai to investigate. Ms. Soland had been responsible for providing all the paperwork about babies to be adopted.”

“Pitfalls for Parents,” Kit R. Roane, May 29, 2005, US News & World Report.

Reports on adoption facilitator Mai-Ly Latrace’s libel lawsuit against Carrie West and Judi Mosley, American citizens who said they discovered that adoption facilitator Mai-Ly Latrace was offering the same Vietnamese child for adoption to each of them, and who milked Carrie West for money with falsehoods. Points to the letter from the Embassy of Vietnam stating that Latrace is "a child trafficker for money" who was deported from Vietnam; confirms the letter’s authenticity with the embassy's press attaché, Chien Bach.  Notes Mai-Ly Latrace’s history of legal troubles, and how difficult it is for authorities to close down problem adoption consultants.

“Vietnam tightens controls on foreign adoptions,” July 22, 2002, Associated Press.

In an effort to halt fraud and child trafficking, Vietnam has tightened controls over foreign adoptions by decreeing that all adoptions must be approved by a agency overseeing foreign adoptions. Children may be adopted only by foreigners from countries that have bilateral adoption agreements with Vietnam. Currently, only France has an adoption agreement with Vietnam. About two dozen people, including some government officials, were jailed in the past two years for soliciting children from unwed mothers and poor families and falsifying documents for hundreds of children sold to brokers for foreign adoption, according to local news reports. Vietnamese newspapers have accused some foreign adoption agencies of illegally trafficking hundreds of Vietnamese children over the past six years.

“Vietnam jails baby smugglers,” March 31, 2000, BBC News.

A court in the northern Vietnamese province of Ninh Binh sentenced 12 people for their roles in buying and selling children for foreign adoption. The judge in the trial said the group bought more than 170 new-born babies from unmarried Vietnamese women and desperate families, paying between $200-$700 (a year’s income), and then sold them for adoption to Belgium and France. Adoptive parents were told that the children had been abandoned by their mothers.

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

Last page update: February 24, 2011