SAM KANG LI
UNICEF and the Geneva-based foundation Terre des Homes (TDH), in a report released in Kathmandu last week, said a two-year study had revealed cases of child abduction and babies being taken for adoption without their parents' consent. Orphanages were in some cases little more than fronts for trafficking by unscrupulous agents.
An undercover report in the Nepali Times in March 2007 revealed how a baby had been offered for sale by a Kathmandu 'orphanage' for $6,500. Public outcry over this and other, similar reports of children being sold to foreign parents who bribed officials, led to the government banning inter-country adoption in 2007 ('Baby bajar'#339).
The government stopped processing files, and those awaiting final authorisation from the ministry were sent back to the respective district offices unsigned. Foreign embassies stopped issuing visas and the ministry said nothing would change until the inter-country adoption process was brought into line with international procedures. Earlier this year, the government allowed 442 pending adoptions to go ahead, but announced new, stricter rules in May.
This week the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare published a list of 38 authorised children's homes from which adoptions could take place. Ministry officials said a list of approved international agencies, which had to apply for registration by 22 August, would be announced shortly, and only after that would inter-country adoptions resume.
Prakash Kumar Adhikari, legal adviser at the ministry, said the new regulations were an improvement, and claimed extensive background checks on both international agencies and local children's homes had been done.
"Now a central authority, under the ministry, will facilitate the inter-country adoption process including matching of children with parents, not individual homes," Adhikari told Nepali Times this week.
However, UNICEF and TDH said the definition of what made a child eligible for foreign adoption remained too vague, adding that inter-country adoption should be the last resort for an abandoned child who could not be adopted within Nepal. The report urged the government to pass an Adoption Act to enforce these safeguards.
"Children should have the right to first grow up in their own country, their own culture and with their own language," said UNICEF's Nepal representative, Gillian Mellsop.
UNICEF said an industry had grown up around adoption, in which profit, rather than the best interests of the child, was the prime motive. The report said that the sale, abduction and trafficking of children?disguised as adoption?was happening in a woefully under-regulated environment.
There are an estimated 15,000 children living in institutional homes in Nepal. Many are genuine orphans, but many others have been coerced. Joseph Aguettant of TDH thinks inter-country adoption should not be left to private agencies.
"A lot of Nepali children put up for foreign adoption are not even orphans, and their parents are misled into parting with their children," Aguettant said. "Poverty alone is not enough reason for inter-country adoption."
Demand for Nepali children has grown in Spain, France, Italy and the US following moves by Latin American and Southeast Asian states to tighten adoption procedures. India too is moving towards prohibiting inter-country adoption.