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Authors call for international reform in an assessment of Vietnam's adoption system

Two foreigners carry Vietnamese children down De Tham Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Experts have called for increased efforts from Vietnamese and foreign authorities to the ensure legality of Inter-country adoptions.

Experts have called on international authorities to reform Inter-country adoption practices to ensure their legality.

The recommendations were made following an assessment of Vietnam's adoption system released on August 11. The assessment was carried out by Hervé Boéchat, Nigel Cantwell and Mia Dambach of International Social Service (ISS).

The study was commissioned by UNICEF Vietnam and by the Department of Adoption of the Ministry of Justice of Vietnam. The study was commissioned to identify and address problems in both the domestic and Inter-country adoption processes, with a view to assisting Vietnam in its preparations to accede to the 1993 Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption.

Inter-country adoption from Vietnam began in the 1970s and an average of 1,000 Vietnamese children have been adopted each year by families in the US, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, according to ISS.

In June, the central legislature passed adoption laws scheduled to take effect in January of 2011.

The authors of the ISS study, which began in May 2009, have made detailed recommendations to Vietnamese and foreign authorities as well as international adoption agencies.

The findings urged Vietnamese authorities to establish a proper system of data collection for children in need of adoption and undertake an assessment of the root causes of child abandonment, relinquishment and separation. The causes should then be addressed through social services such as support for single mothers, family counseling, and social assistance.

Laws regarding parental consent for adoption should be clarified, the researchers found. Fees charged by official entities in Vietnam throughout the adoption process should be clearly itemized, regulated, and placed in the public domain, the researchers advised.

The report further urged increased involvement on behalf of adopting countries.

The researchers found that the governments and the central authorities of "receiving countries" have not effectively committed themselves to applying the basic principles of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption (ICA).

The convention, which went into force in 1995, was aimed at the prevention of child trafficking. All signatory and ratifying members agreed that adoption should be a last resort. Every effort should be made to keep a child with its family before putting it up for Inter-country adoption, the Convention agreed.

But the ISS team found that authorities in "receiving countries" routinely fail to uphold the Hague principles when dealing with non-Hague countries such as Vietnam.

Procedures for ensuring free and informed consent for adoption are inadequate and inconsistent, the researchers found. They further recommended that the embassies and central authorities of "receiving countries" enhance their contacts and cooperation with the Vietnamese central authority to determine the number and characteristics of children requiring adoption abroad.

Adoption agencies working in Vietnam have been urged to refuse to process Inter-country adoption applications for babies whose age at referral makes it improbable that sufficient care solutions for them have been sought out at home.

According to the assessment, the overwhelming majority of adopted children in Vietnam are under one year of age "” the age-group most sought by prospective adopters. Vietnam belongs to a small and ever-decreasing number of "countries of origin" that offer children of this age for adoption abroad.

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