Vietnam: Anatomy of an Adoption Crisis

E.J. Graff and The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism have presented another excellent article about corruption in international adoptions, this time specific to Vietnam.  The article, “Anatomy of an Adoption Crisis,” is available from Foreign Policy Magazine. The official U.S. government documents obtained by Graff and The Schuster Institute through the Freedom of Information Act are available on The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism’s website

I’ve known that this article was coming for some time, because I was interviewed for it. I’m even quoted:

Recently I spoke with Tracy [last name] of [city], who adopted an infant from Phu Tho in 2007 through ADOPPT of Wyoming, a now-defunct adoption agency that withdrew its application for Hague accreditation midway through a review of its practices. [Tracy] said that when she was first adopting from Phu Tho, she visited two orphanages that were “overflowing” with 60 to 80 healthy infants. But in 2010, she and another adoptive family hired a Vietnamese searcher to learn more about their babies’ abandonments. The searcher reported that one of the two orphanages (which a number of agencies used to identify children for adoption, according to [Tracy]) had closed completely; the other had only a “handful” of babies and now housed mostly older and special-needs children. As Ambassador Michalak and his investigators had suspected, when the money stopped coming in, so did the supply of “abandoned” babies.

Still, even though I knew it was coming and I knew what it would say, the article feels like a punch in the gut. Seeing it all laid out this way stirs up so many emotions. I feel more comfortable about Zoe’s adoption since we searched (I wrote about the search here, here, and here). We were able to verify some of the details in her dossier, which was a huge relief to us. The searchers told us that the policeman who found Zoe seemed sincere, and they believed that he found her just as it says in her dossier, but we will never know for sure, and that is heartbreaking.

Though the open adoption with Colin’s birthmom has not been perfect, at least we know that she truly intended for Colin to be placed for adoption. We can also say with a great deal of certainty that he is better off with us than he would be with his birthmom, given her circumstances now and when he was born. We don’t know that about Zoe. What if Zoe’s birthmom was tricked or forced into placing Zoe, or what if she was just poor? What if the amount of money we spend on one of Zoe’s birthday parties here would have meant that Zoe’s birthfamily could afford to feed her and send her to school in Vietnam? I mean, she might not have an iPod or her own room painted “Sleeping Beauty Pink” if she had stayed in Vietnam, but that does not mean that she would not have been happy.

From the article:

It seemed like a nightmare right out of Kafka. In late 2007 and early 2008, Americans with their adopted babies in arms, or pictures of babies to come, were being stonewalled by faceless U.S. bureaucrats. The U.S. government refused to issue visas that would allow those babies to come home from Vietnam — and wouldn’t explain why.

Thirteen families, supported by dozens of other parents-to-be, desperately did what they could to attract publicity, calling in the New York Times, ABC News, and members of Congress. They launched campaigns on the web, sent petitions to friends and neighbors, and barraged the relevant offices with pleas for help. And still, for months, the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refused to issue their babies the requisite visas — for reasons that seemed irrelevant. One couple from Queens, New York, said they were told that the baby they had legally adopted in Vietnam would not be able to come home with them for what they called a “bewilderingly minute point”: A Tam Ky Orphanage guard in Vietnam’s Quang Nam province had failed to note the child’s arrival in his logbook.

But inside their fog of secrecy, the faceless bureaucrats were also agonizing about the well-being of the children and their families. Based on hundreds of pages of documents received via Freedom of Information Act requests, this article gives a never-before-seen glimpse at how the State Department discovered what it believed to be a gray market in “adoptable” babies and debated what to do about it, trying each of its inadequate tools in turn.

According to these internal documents, the State Department was confident it had discovered systemic nationwide corruption in Vietnam — a network of adoption agency representatives, village officials, orphanage directors, nurses, hospital administrators, police officers, and government officials who were profiting by paying for, defrauding, coercing, or even simply stealing Vietnamese children from their families to sell them to unsuspecting Americans. And yet, as these documents reveal, U.S. officials in Hanoi did not have the right tools to shut down the infant peddlers while allowing the truly needed adoptions to continue. Understanding how little the State Department and USCIS could do, despite how hard they tried, helps reveal what these U.S. government agencies need to respond more effectively in the current adoption hot spots, Nepal and Ethiopia — and in whatever country might be struck by adoption profiteering next.

From the government documents obtained though the Freedom of Information Act:

“…[D]emand for ‘as young as possible’ infants is creating a very real financial incentive for Vietnamese to fill their orphanages to meet this demand. While there are legitimate orphans in Vietnam, the corruption in the adoption process has become so widespread that [the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi] believes that there is fraud in the overwhelming majority of cases of infants offered for international adoption.”

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6 thoughts on “Vietnam: Anatomy of an Adoption Crisis

  1. ugh. I had no idea one of the orphanages you visited had closed. Maybe I just didn’t remember that part, but it seems like I would have. Yes, I have that sick feeling, too.

    • Yes, the orphanage that Zoe was in has closed. There was a large orphanage in Phu Tho, but it was busting at the seems, so they opened a second location that was under the same orphanage director. Now that there aren’t as many babies, they didn’t need the second location anymore.

  2. I read this article too and it brought all those worries and fears right back up. Jammer was “found” at Tu Du Hospital. And with their recent history I know that they’d probably not be truthful if we did a search, something hubby isn’t interested in yet. If you ever get any more info that I’d be interested in, please pass it on.

    P.S. It is cool to see you quoted.

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