Sad advice from unicef to Vietnam on orphaned and abandoned children

There are many aspects of child rights I like to think about and write on. I am not mono-focused on adoption. However, lack of permanency seems to me–in light of issues like child labor, sexual exploitation, street life, drug abuse and so forth–to be often at the root of other life-threatening problems for children. I first launched into the adoption debate with what I still think is an important article–Making Legal Regimes for Intercountry Adoption Reflect Human Rights Principles: Transforming the UNCRC with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, 21:2 Boston University International Law Journal (2003). I argue many points in the article, but I make one overarching argument to the effect that as we work to reduce opportunities for corruption in ICA via Hague, there is no child rights- based reason for the international child welfare bodies to oppose it.

In a later article, I argue that the UNCRC’s Articles 20 and 21 are seriously flawed and grossly inadequate, and offer my own draft protocol to the UNCRC on social orphans. See The Missing Link: A Social Orphan Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1 Human Rights and Globalization Law Review 39 (Fall 2007/Spring 2008). That protocol I wrote would make clear to states that foster care should not be given priority over ICA. I am shocked to see the manner in which unicef continues to present its view, as if it is self-evident, that domestic foster care (not limited to kinship care!) is better for children than international adoption. I mean, please!!!

See the following paragraph from the MOLISA (Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs)–UNICEF report of 2009 Creating a Protective environment for Children in Vietnam: An Assessment of Child Protection Laws and Policies, Especially Children in Special Circumstances in Vietnam (

On page 40, the report states that “With respect to inter-country adoption, both the CRC and the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption state that inter-country adoption should be considered as an alternative only if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable manner be cared for in the child’s country of origin.”  The report uses the highly misleading phrase “foster or adoptive family” when referring to in-country alternatives, as if these were even remotely equivalent.


Does the global public understand the implications of what unicef is doing here? Could any sensible person argue that a child is better off in ordinary foster care simply because it is the home country, as opposed to international adoption? Foster care is only preferable to institutional care–not to ICA!! Measure it in any way you like–how can there be any other conclusion, unless based on ideology alone? If that is the unicef argument, let’s really have the argument. Let’s not hide behind the very ambiguous and very flawed provisions of the UNCRC relating to adoption. Also, Hague says that foster care is better than ICA, too????

Ironically, Hague has proven to be a means of restricting international adoption, not what it might have been–and as I argued way back in 2003–a means of greatly increasing it, where family reunification or domestic adoption are not available. The hierarchy should be family reunification where possible (and strong efforts should be made)–domestic adoption where possible–then ICA, based on Hague principles–not Hague obstructions!


The Irish Government Posts WHAT Report As Authoritative??

The Irish government has posted on the website of the Ministry for Children a report on international adoptions from Vietnam, written and presented by the ISS–International Social Service based in Geneva–This report purports to be objective and independent!! Not only have I lived and worked in Ireland for many years; I know the context in which such a report would be received. I have also researched the work of the ISS and the ubiquitous Mr Nigel Cantwell (one of the authors) for many years–both the ISS and Mr. Cantwell have a long record of strident opposition to international adoption and should not in any way be seen as objective on the issue. (By way of comparison, look at the report on Ukrainian adoptions in which Mr Cantwell was a central figure, designed to impugn the motives of adoptive parents and essentially cast a pall over the adoption process–Do note the current grim situation of children in Ukrainian institutions….It is so sad that this report on Vietnamese adoption by ISS and Cantwell is receiving any credibility at all.)

The fact that the Irish government is using this report as objective evidence of anything is completely astonishing! It is also, in my view, completely irresponsible! Why doesn’t the Irish government carry out its own research?!

Here is the way the report opens–does it sound objective to you?? More anon on all this–

The level and nature of intercountry adoptions (ICA) from Viet Nam are essentially influenced by foreign demand. Thus, the availability of children who are “adoptable” abroad corresponds more to the existence of foreign prospective adopters than to the actual needs of “abandoned” and orphaned children. As a result, the overwhelming majority of adopted children are under 1 year of age, the age-group most sought by prospective adopters.  Since only a relatively small and ever-decreasing number of other “countries of origin” are currently making children of this age “adoptable” abroad, foreign actors have proved willing to accept conditions put in place by Viet Nam for processing these adoptions. There is also considerable pressure from abroad for Viet Nam to continue as a “source” of very young children.


The circumstances under which babies become “adoptable” are invariably unclear and disturbing. Declarations of so-called “abandonment”, which is notoriously difficult to investigate, are intriguingly frequent, but with unexplained “peaks” and “troughs”. Procedures for verifying the child’s status and, inter alia, for ensuring free and informed consent to adoption are inadequate and inconsistent. Decision-making on the availability of a child for ICA as opposed to a domestic solution (including return to the biological family) seems to take no account of the subsidiary nature of adoption abroad, with little or no effort being made to establish the child’s real need for the latter or to identify in-country care opportunities.


The ICA procedure is influenced by a remarkably unhealthy relationship that can exist between agencies and specific residential facilities. It involves compulsory and sizeable financial contributions by agencies in the form of “humanitarian aid” to facilities that they themselves have identified as potential “partners” in ICA. The question of “aid” generally seems to be given far more importance than ensuring that ICA is resorted to as an exceptional measure on a case-by-case basis. Agencies compete with each other to secure children and tend to expect that children will be “indicated” to them for ICA processing according to the amount of humanitarian aid provided. Agencies are subject to little or no monitoring, and neither they nor the residential facilities they work with have any incentive to address or notify problems, since the way the system presently functions is to the advantage of both.

How many Kyrgyzstans?

I have written before that one of the main rationales for this blog was that I was completely tired of and worn out over the “adoption debate”–a debate which the pro-adoption side is losing in every sense but on paper…..I have continued to insist that the task should be to unearth information on the fate of children who have become detached from their original families. The reality is shocking, and almost completely ignored by the international human rights establishment….We have countless conferences and write countless law review articles on a small number of Guantanamo detainees, but discussion of the often unnecessary suffering of social orphans is off the radar screen.

Here is one small snippet from Kyrgyzstan–where, as you may know, recent international adoptions (only a handful in any event) have been held up through a “slow down” and red tape–to the point where it is alleged that some of the waiting children have become sicker and perhaps even died.

At least 3.5 thousand children live in orphanages in Kyrgyzstan

06/11-2009 10:33, Bishkek – News Agency “”, By Eliza BOTALIEVA

At least 3.5 thousand children live in orphanages in Kyrgyzstan, Tolkun Bekbulatova, chief of the Child Protection Department under the Kyrgyz Labor, Employment and Migration Ministry said Friday at the round table discussion on implementation of the state policy for orphans housing issues’ solution.

About 1,300 thousand children enter orphanages and 25 percent of the inmates leave them annually. “Unfortunately, none of the government agencies monitor future of the children. We do not have our own statistic, but in other countries 60 percent of such children fall into risk groups. We believe that it is a consequence of unsolved housing problems. Orphans simply do not know where to live and find no better occupation than crime or prostitution,” Bekbulatova said.

I suspect the overall figure of institutionalized children presented here is low–but the official at least acknowledges that the life outcomes for these children is bleak at best….Where is the Red Cross??

Elton John, celebrities and children’s “charities”

Well, every opportunity….

As I have previously said with regard to the “celebrity adoption” issue, it really does not reveal or affect the status of children one way or another. Any such adoption is just another adoption, or proposed adoption. I do not know whether Elton John would have provided a good home to the Ukrainian boy he had formed a bond with or not. Only a home study would provide such information. But my point here is something else. Why oh why do these children’s charities jump in each time there is a question of a celebrity adoption to make their point that adoption is not the answer, and to “instruct” us (often falsely) that the country in question is creating a model child welfare system, with the great and wonderful possibility of, yes, more foster care. (We know how well that works out in the US….)

See this cnn piece, in which the children’s charity EveryChild says that adoption “sends the wrong message,” and repeats the preposterous notion (a tried and true, and utterly unprovable idea) that celebrity adoption encourages young women to abandon their children…..What does it mean that adoption “sends the wrong message”?

UNICEF worked hard to ensure that Ukraine limited the number of international adoptions that coud take place from that country. Has there been independent verification that this sent the right message,a nd improved the lives of children when seen across the board in that country?

The EveryChild spokesperson states that

“After a great deal of campaigning by charities such as ours, the Ukraine government introduced a new ‘gate-keeping’ system which means the authorities will have to consider all available options before a child is placed in an institution,” Georgalakis said.

“So when a child is taken into care or abandoned, they will have look at whether a child has other family or can be fostered by another family for example. This is a huge step forward and one that needs support.

Where are the reporters on the question of Ukraine’s child welfare system, its many many street children, and the long period of time during which children are institutionalized? How is the public supposed to evaluate statements like these, to the effect that adoption is part of the “wrong message”, whereas foster care is part of the “right message”?

Lula and the Law Based on Love

This article is well worth considering, for many reasons. At the very least, it seems as if there is a drive in Brazil to identify those children who will not be going back to their original families (a two year limit), and a concerted effort to get them adopted–whether domestically or internationally.

I have never liked the (supposedly rights-based) term “last resort” used with respect to international adoption. It sounds so negative….On the other hand, the new Brazilian law countenances international adoption when domestic adoption is not happening. A thirty day stay in Brazil does not seem too burdensome, although the issue of stays- in- country is contentious, and worth considering in terms of the substantive effects.

It would be wonderful if the concepts at work in this new law were to take hold across Latin America, and indeed elsewhere. It is interesting that Mr. Lula refers to the law as being founded in love–how rarely we hear this in the discourse.