I don’t know the exact numbers, but there have been 10-15 NOIDs (Notice of Intent to Deny) issued to adoptive families in Vietnam in the past several weeks. It also appears that more NOIDs are on the way. This means that families who have adopted children in the eyes of the Vietnamese government have been denied visas for these children to enter the United States by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Visas are denied when the US government has reason to believe that the children were not adopted legally and/or ethically.
A statement issued this week by the US Embassy, posted first on Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity and then on the Embassy’s website, discusses corruption in Vietnam adoption. What has made me sick to my stomach is that the statement specifically mentions corruption in the provinces of Thai Nguyen and Phu Tho, where we adopted Zoe in March. The statement says, “We are extremely concerned by reports of significant increases in the number of abandoned children since 2005, especially in the provinces of Phu Tho and Thai Nguyen.” Zoe was one of these abandoned children.
Zoe’s dossier says that she was abandoned and found by a police officer. We always knew it was possible that the police knew to be looking for her at that particular time and place. There is a lot of stigma attached to relinquishing a baby, so many mothers in Vietnam chose to do it this way to remain anonymous. Also, there’s a lot of paperwork involved when a baby is relinquished, so sometimes the birth parents and the police feel it is “easier” if the baby is “found.” The problem though, is the possibility that she wasn’t really “abandoned” or “found” the way her dossier describes.
The statement continues, “…to date we have seen little remedial action to address the problems. Even more important, we have seen little if any action to identify and prosecute those responsible for fraudulently documenting the abandonment of children, offering monetary inducements to families for relinquishing children, and offering children for international adoption without the consent of the birth parents…
“We strongly endorse international adoption as an important option for Vietnamese children who do not have permanent families. We are deeply concerned, however, by confirmed cases of child selling, and by evidence that children are being released for adoption without the consent of the birth parents.”
I was pretty naïve going into this process, but I have suspected that something was going on in Phu Tho since we traveled. I was so anxious to get our daughter home though that I ignored the signs (our facilitator told us there were 17 agencies working in her orphanage yet there were lots of fast referrals of young babies). This may show the weakness of my character, but I think I would have done anything to complete the adoption at that point. After we had Zoe in our arms, I honestly don’t think I could have given her back. The orphanage director wants another $1,000 in cash? – no problem. Lie about my daughter’s dossier to the US Embassy? – sure thing. (We didn’t do either of these things by the way, but frankly I don’t think I would have been above it at the time.)
When we got home, an adoptive parent in our agency’s next travel group to Phu Tho returned home without two children because of perceived ethical and/or illegal activities. I also heard that the province was being investigated for artificial twinning (passing off two unrelated children as biological siblings, which means dossiers had to be falsified). Even so, I tried to tell myself that these were isolated incidents and that Zoe’s adoption was fine.
Now it appears that corruption is widespread in Phu Tho and I am sick. I am literally sick. My stomach aches and I want to throw up, and I don’t know what to do with this information. Part of me wants to bury my head and ignore the negative things I am hearing. The other part of me wants to know what the true circumstances of Zoe’s abandonment were. I think I would like to find out, but the reality is that we will probably never know. And what if we did find out, and it was truly terrible?
Christian and I have been talking about this a lot and trying to figure out how to cope with it. Not that baby-selling is ever OK, but what if her parents were poor or unmarried and truly felt that they could not raise a child? What if they willingly relinquished Zoe and just happened to get some money because of it? If their intentions were pure, could we be OK with that? In US domestic adoptions, adoptive parents can pay up to $8,000 of a birth mother’s living expenses. How is that so different?
The alternatives are worse: What if her birthparents relinquished her just for the money? What if her birthparents were told that the baby could be placed in the orphanage temporarily for care, and that they could come back for their daughter later? What if her birthparents were coerced or forced into relinquishing her? What if Zoe was stolen or kidnapped for a “finders-fee”? Unfortunately these are all very real possibilities.
Christian and I really don’t know how to reconcile these thoughts and feelings, and we have no idea how we will tell Zoe about these fears someday. My heart breaks thinking about those difficult conversations.
Despite these recent findings, I am not anti-adoption or even anti-Vietnam-adoption. We may even decide to adopt again some day. If we do, I will certainly do my research more carefully. We will ask our agency the hard questions and we will listen more closely to other adoptive parents about their experiences. We will choose a well-known, established, respected agency, even if it means that the process will take longer.
We were naïve and anxious, but at least I know our intentions were pure. We truly thought that we were doing a “good” thing. It is often said that adoption is not about finding a child for a family, but it is instead about finding a family for a child. We always intended to do both, and there is some comfort in that.