Investigators find no evidence of crime, but community insists they were duped
An adoption scam has allegedly taken 13 children away from their biological parents without their knowledge and consent in the central province of Quang Binh.
Several families of the Ruc ethnic minority said they had been approached by officials of the "Trung Tam Nuoi Duong Nguoi Co Cong va Doi Tuong Xa Hoi" [Rough translation: Center for Taking Care of People Who Have Made Contributions to Society and Disadvantaged People] in 2006, offering to take care of their children.
The impoverished families accepted the offer to have the children be taken care of by the center in Dong Hoi Town, the provincial capital, in the hope that they could study and be well fed.
However, a few months later, they were told that the children were gone.
Eight families from the On, Yen Hop and Mo O O O villages in Minh Hoa District's Thuong Hoa Commune have since then been fighting for news of their children, and have submitted complaints to concerned authorities, accusing the center, which functions under the Quang Binh Province's Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, of having their children adopted by foreigners without their consent, the Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper reported on December 29.
The provincial administration has ordered an investigation into the case.
The provincial Justice Department and the Social Sponsor Center have been told to review adoption procedures and identify individual(s) and entiti(es) responsible and propose solutions to the provincial People's Committee by January 15, the provincial government said in a statement on December 30.
The 13 children are from a small community living in the middle of the Phong Nha Ke Bang World Heritage site in the central province's Minh Hoa District. The Ruc community, now numbering only a few hundred people, are suffering high levels of poverty and are mostly illiterate.
The parents said that the Quang Binh Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs in January 2006 issued a decision asking for 13 children to be admitted to the center because their mother or father had died and the other parent was unable to bring them up on their own.
"We decided to allow them to be admitted to the center to study, be trained and to grow up. We missed them and visited them a few times, but since June 2006, we could not see them," they wrote in the letter.
The children were born between 1995 and 2000, and aged between six and eleven years old then.
"Among the 13 children, Cao Duc Buoi was born in 1995 but some official in Thuong Hoa Commune had falsified his birth certificate and changed the year to 1998. We recognized that officials at the center have cheated us and sent 13 children abroad for their (officials') benefit," the letter said.
One of the petitioners, Tran Thi Thu, said her two daughters, one born in 2000 and the other in 2003, were "missing." She said she used to be glad that they were at the center and being taken good care of. But when she could no longer see them, officials would not answer her questions about the fate of their children.
Another petitioner, Ho Thi Pay, said: "The monkey in the mountain loves its young. I am a human being, I miss my children so much." Pay's children, nine-year-old Cao Xuan Ly and 11-yearold Cao Thi Luu, were among the adopted children.
After the parent's accusations were publicized in the local media, the center, under pressure, showed documents relating to the adoption.
The documents raised fresh controversy about the adoption process and the operation of an Italian agency, Ariete, the representative office of Italian adoption organization Network Aiuto Assistenza Accogleinza (NAAA) - an Italian Adoption and Foster family aid group, in Quang Binh. The office closed in 2009 after the 13 Ruc children were adopted by Italian parents, the Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper reported on December 30.
The center received a total of US$49,000 from Ariete over three years during which procedures for the 13 children to be adopted were carried out.
Le Thi Thu Ha, director of the center, said that the 13 children were not missing as claimed by their biological parents.
Saigon Tiep Thi was shown some handwritten documents of consent given by some parents for their children to be adopted. The parents are illiterate.
All the papers of consent are similarly worded - a single sentence saying that the writers agree that their children could be adopted by foreign parents during their stay at the center and that they would not file a lawsuit against the adoption, the paper said.
The eight petitioners insisted that they were not aware of these documents.
In a recent development, director of the Quang Binh Justice Department, Truong Quang Them, and the child care center's director Ha, met the parents at the office of the Thuong Hoa People's Committee to apologize and make a commitment to notify them about their children's situation.
However, a request of the parents to have their children's phone numbers was rejected.
The 13 Ruc children are being brought up in Italy, mainly in Napoli, Sai Gon Giai Phong cited Ha as saying on December 31.
Ha said the adoption was conducted by the center's then-director Nguyen Tien Ngu and a center employee, Pham Khac Manh, had prepared all the documents.
One of the mothers, Tran Thi Thu, who has lost two of her children to the dubious adoption scheme, said Manh had cheated them to get their signature or fingerprints on the documents.
Legal, with shortcomings
On December 9, the Quang Binh Police Department said in a statement sent to the eight petitioners that the 13 children had been adopted legally and there was no crime involved, the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported on December 31.
"The center's introduction of 13 children to be adopted by Italian citizens was conducted with the consent of their parents, abiding by regulations and approved by the Quang Binh People's Committee and the provincial Justice Department," the statement said.
The statement also mentioned several shortcomings in the process. The Justice Department and the center hadn't informed the biological parents of their children's situation [every six months during the first three years and every year until the child is 18] as required by law, they said.
It also said no evidence was found of criminal action in the "reissuing" of Buoi's birth certificate, saying it was simply a mistake.
Quang Binh police have requested the provincial Justice Department to work with concerned agencies to obtain information about the children from adoptive parents and notify biological parents as required by law. The Thuong Hoa Commune
People's Committee was requested to censure the judicial official for re-issuing the birth certificate.
As of press time, Thanh Nien Weekly's request for comments from the Italian Embassy in Vietnam had elicited no response.
Early last month, Daniela Bacchetta - vice president of the Italian Commission for Inter-country Adoptions, met with Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Justice Dinh Trung Tung during her Vietnam visit and both parties agreed to boost bilateral relations in child adoption.
Baccheta expressed high appreciation for the transparency in child adoption activities in Vietnam in accordance with a new decree guiding implementation of the Adoption Law as well as in procedures initiated to confirm with the Hague Convention on International Child Adoption. She also expressed her hope that the cooperation between the two countries in the area of child adoption will be strengthened further, the Ministry of Justice reported on its website.
However, Baccheta had not replied to requests for comments on this case as of press time.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of Vietnamese children adopted in Italy has been increasing of late. In 2010, more than 80 children had been adopted by Italian families as of December 2, and other applications are under consideration.
ANTHROPOLOGIST URGES FOR BETTER ADOPTION
Peter Bille Larsen, an anthropologist who had reported on the case in 2008, questioned earlier Italian reports to UNICEF that "fewer than 5 Ruc children" had been adopted by Italian parents and that procedures "were in no way alarming".
"Contrary to earlier confirmations made by Italian authorities to UNICEF that less than five Ruc children had been adopted, the Sai Gon Giai Phong, based on interviews with parents, confirms that in fact 13 children were adopted."
"How are we to interpret the difference between "˜less the five children' mentioned by Italian authorities in the UNICEF report, and the figure of 13 children emphasized by their parents? "¦. the reluctance from Italian authorities faced with the dramatic circumstances is hard to understand," he told Thanh Nien Weekly via email.
Larsen said that even if parents had signed over their rights to the center, the illiterate mothers did not know what they were signing. So the center did not have informed consent from the parents to put their children up for adoption.
"Such documented "˜irregularities' clearly confirm the wrongdoing at stake. Have similar irregularities taken place in Italy? Given the systematic nature of "˜irregularities', one would also expect independent investigations on the "˜receiving side' in Italy to effectively document conditions and whereabouts of all of the children affected."
He said Vietnam has to improve its adoption system to weed out corrupt practices. "The fate of these mothers and the children, up to 11 years old at the time of being taken away is not just "˜their' own affairs, but has become a concern for Vietnamese society at large seeking to fix an adoption system that has left many wounds to be healed."