Child care begins at home

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Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie (C) chats with her adopted son Pax Thien from Vietnam next to Maddox (L) from Cambodia at a security check point before leaving Con Dao Island, off Vietnam's southern coast on November 16, 2011

In its March 8-14, 2013 edition, Vietweek published an article referring to the possible revival of adoption programs between the United States of America and Vietnam.

As former country representative of Terre des hommes Foundation, a Swiss NGO with a long record and expertise in issues related to inter-country adoptions, I am concerned - especially about the closing quote in the article. There, we read that the spokesman of a particular orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City would wish to "fast-track the adoption processes for the children." And he is quoted as saying: "The faster, the better for the kids. American adoption is always the best choice for them."

Apart from the fact that not all orphaned or homeless children are adopted by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, this opinion seems to focus solely on material benefits. Of course, per se, this is not bad. Who would not wish for an orphaned or abandoned child a new home, loving parents, appropriate healthcare, good education, and this possibly in another, wealthier country?

But the question remains: What is actually in the best interest of the child? Is an "American adoption" - or a Swiss adoption for that matter - really "the best choice"?

I would strongly argue that a homeless child born in Vietnam should be enabled to grow up and live a decent life in his/her own cultural and spiritual context. Therefore, I would agree with the Vietnamese Minister of Justice Ha Hung Cuong who is quoted as saying that "international adoption should be considered only as a last resort."

Many expatriates have written to Vietweek concurring that despite the problems they face in Vietnam, it is simply not acceptable that people direct their anger and slurs at all Vietnamese. This forum, "Your two cents", opens the floor for you, the expats, to hold forth on the changes you see in Vietnam: what disappoints, what pleases and what you would like to see happen. Email your thoughts to We reserve the right to edit your submissions for reasons of space and clarity.

This is in line with international treaties. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), which Vietnam ratified on February 28, 1990 as the first country in Asia, stipulates in Article 9: "States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will," and in Article 18: "States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child." 

With regard to inter-country adoption the UN CRC is clear, stipulating in Article 21:

States Parties "recognize that inter-country adoption may be considered as an alternative means of child's care, if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable manner be cared for in the child's country of origin."

We have witnessed many cases of children who were adopted by well meaning parents from other countries and who, once grown up, desperately try to look for their original parents, their roots, their identity. So, instead of answering the call from the receiving or demanding countries and focusing on reviving inter-country adoption programs, the Vietnamese Government might consider strengthening national/local adoption programs and encouraging Vietnamese parents to adopt an orphaned or homeless child.

The example of India shows that a growing upper middle class paired with government policies that sensitize and support Indian parents to adopt an orphaned or homeless child have considerably reduced the number of children "available" for inter-country adoption.  

In an interview on RTS , Marlène Hofstetter, Head of the Adoption Sector of Terre des hommes Foundation in Lausanne/Switzerland, refers to this development, which she considers positive: "For some years we have been witnessing a gradual decrease in international adoptions. All host countries are concerned, in North America as well as in Europe. Keeping a child in his biological family, alternatives to the institutionalization of children, the increase of national adoptions, have all played their part in this decrease."


Jury out as Vietnam, US look to revive adoption programs

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Consequently, Terre des hommes Foundation, once a pioneer in international adoptions, announced on March 10, 2013 that the Foundation will cease its inter-country adoption activities, which it had taken up in the early 1960s by flying in children from countries such as South Korea and Vietnam.

As the Foundation states on its website: "Terre des hommes will no longer be serving as an intermediary for adoptions, but will continue to advocate for the children's protection, encouraging keeping or returning the children to their own families, or having recourse to alternative care options such as host families in the child's own country."


In a remarkable feature titled "Adopting Africa," CNN's Isha Sesay has just taken a look at the red flags waving over Uganda's adoption boom, documenting how a lax legal context on one hand and a strong, interested demand on the other hand can lead to phenomena well known to experts of inter-country adoption: Blood parents coerced into giving away their child, often without being informed that when their child is adopted to a foreign country they will not be able to see him or her anymore; mushrooming orphanages with caretakers who neither check the children's origins nor look for their parents or extended family, instead making a business by literally selling the children; foreign parents with missionary fervor, who show disdain for the country of origin of their adopted children; child trafficking; and the constant danger of child abuse...    


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