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US halts orphans from Vietnam

  • 20 February 2009
It was another humid day at the orphanage when we noticed a van pull up outside. We were playing with the children in the cement playground, an enclosed area protecting us from the sun. Through the dimness into the bright light of the entrance we saw that a group of Americans had arrived to collect their adoptive Vietnamese babies.

The potential parents emerged, some holding video cameras, laughing and talking nervously. Six babies whom we, as volunteers, had been playing with, feeding and generally 'watching over' were leaving. And 20 minutes later, after a rushed ceremony and a few brief conversations, they were taken away to their new lives.

A couple of months later another group of children were going to be adopted and we gave ten-year-old twin boys extra English tuition to prepare them. They were very thin boys and, like most of the children, had hair lice and black, gappy teeth. Their American adoptive mother sent me photos to show them the wealthy, middle class lifestyle which would soon be theirs.

One day, however, we arrived to find a thin, graceful looking woman sitting and talking with the twins. It turned out that she was their 'birth' mother, who had trekked from her village in the mountains to the orphanage to say goodbye.

Through an interpreter, she told us that, being single, she could not afford to look after them. At first she had agreed to let one be adopted, but when the adoptive mother pursued both children, she had eventually resigned herself to losing both. She told us she did it so they could have a better life. She gave the boys a letter she'd written, explaining why she did it, and asked them to return one day.

Later I learnt that it might not have been her idea to send the boys away in the first place. She may have been approached and encouraged to by orphanage staff. In 2007 the USA Embassy conducted a thorough investigation and found that the way children came to be put up for adoption was being adversely affected by financial arrangements between adoption service providers (ASPs) in the USA and orphanages.

The donation agreements between ASPs and orphanages are private and negotiable. Some orphanage directors admitted there was a strong financial incentive to maximise the number of children available for adoption. The USA report states:

If the ASP funds a $10,000 project and the per-child donation