Friday, August 22, 2008

Vietnam Adoption Part One: A System Destined to Fail

I adopted my beautiful, precious, enchanting daughter Emma Linh Joelle last October. Adoption should be a beautiful experience and Gotcha Day should be like giving birth, the joyous resolution to months of waiting for your child.

But my Gotcha Day, or Giving and Receiving ceremony as it is called in Vietnam, was not a joyous occasion. It was a day marked with fear and anxiety. It was a day filled with self doubt as to whether I was doing the right thing for my soon to be daughter, myself and my children whom I had left on the other side of the world, and had been home without me for over 4 weeks already.

As I was driving 2 and half hours over bumpy, partially paved roads to get my daughter, my friend and travel mate, Brooke, was on her way to the American Embassy to receive her daughter's NOID-- Notice of Intent to Deny-- her visa was denied.

How could this happen?

Vietnam adoptions prior to 2003 were in the top 10 countries for Americans to adopt from internationally. Prior to the first closing of adoptions many allegations of corruption were made. Vietnam passed a new law and adoptions in the US resumed in 2006. (This is an extremely simplistic overview of the history of VN adoptions.) With the new rules, Vietnam required a MOU, a Memorandum of Agreement, between both countries. The MOU was signed in 2005 and lasted 3 years. The current MOU expires on September 1st. Vietnam chose to not renew the MOU after the US Embassy issued reports about alleged corruption in the adoption system. The US also stated that Vietnam had not held up one part of the agreement-- providing a break down of the adoption fees required of adoptive parents.

Adoption agencies working in Vietnam were required to be licensed in Vietnam. They were also required to provide humanitarian aid. Agencies would work in one or more provinces and form a relationship with an orphanage. The humanitarian aid went to the orphanage. Referrals came from the provincial level, often from the orphanage itself, rather than the DIA, Department of International Adoption, the central adoption agency for the country.

To me this was a total recipe for disaster.

Humanitarian aid came in many forms. From food and clothing to orphans to new cars for orphanage directors. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that if referrals come from orphanages, agencies that provide the best "aid" will get the most referrals. Agencies were competing for referrals. Also, some provinces moved faster than others. Some provinces would move paperwork through in a matter of a month or two while others would take several months. There was no consistency, no gold standard to hold an adoption to.

China is far from perfect but one of its greatest strengths is the relative "fairness" of how referrals are handled. Dossiers come in and are logged in and referred out in order of the date that the dossier came in to the central adoption agency, the CCAA. Children's paperwork is sent to the CCAA and referrals are matched there. The province and orphanage is not involved in the referral process.

I know that allegations of baby trafficking for Vietnamese international adoption have been made but I truly feel that this number is on the low side. That's not to say there isn't corruption in Vietnamese adoptions. I think it is more reflected in the orphanage and provincial level. Humanitarian aid becomes bribes to the orphanage. Provincial officials receive "gifts" to process paperwork faster.

So if it gets babies out of orphanages what's the problem?

The problem, in my opinion, is that in some provinces and orphanages, babies and children become a commodity, a source of revenue. Children that are too sick and aren't expected to live or will be difficult to care for are not given medical care or attention that they need. Sounds reminiscent of China's Dying Rooms, doesn't it? I believe some Vietnamese orphanages still have that mind set.

Last fall, 2007, the US Embassy said that they were seeing inconsistency in paperwork. The usual process for a visa in Vietnam was to have 2 interviews and then receive the visa the day after the second interview. This took a matter of 3-5 days. But last October without warning, the Embassy decided to start field investigating every case. Visas were taking 2 to 3 weeks instead of days. Families were literally stuck in Hanoi. People's lives were abruptly put on hold.

I have no idea what the true motive of the Embassy was. Were they really trying to stop trafficked babies from coming to the US? Were they trying to stop adoptions with false allegations? I really don't know but I do know that their tactics were despicable. I cannot believe that any family would knowingly adopt a child that was trafficked. But the treatment that these families received from their own government was something you would expect to see in an espionage movie, not experience in real life. I only know that if these families really had legally adopted a child that was trafficked they deserved compassion and guidance from their own country not sneers, obviously fake sympathy and thinly veiled glee.

In the end 20 or more NOIDs were issued and many thousands of dollars and many thousands of tears later, at least 19 were overturned and the children came home.

There is plenty of blame to go around with the fall of Vietnamese adoptions to the US. Unfortunately there are two parties that will suffer the most: Hopeful adoptive families who desperately want a child and innocent children who are stuck in orphanages, and neither of them is to blame.


This is the first part of my disscusion on my Vietnam adoption experience. I will post 3 more parts to tell my personal experience as well as my first hand account of what the NOID families experienced.

I welcome you comments but comment moderation has been enabled. Feel free to disagree with me but if your comments are on the ugly, disrespectful side I will delete them.


Kristin said...

I know this is a story you've been waiting to tell. I will be reading each chapter as it is posted. I don't know much about Vietnam adoption but know you have lots to share.

Dana said...


While I've never known all the details, I have known that this is a very painful subject for you. I thank you for your willingness and courage to share...for your own healing and for how ever the sharing might benefit or more to healing others.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being brave enough to tell your story. Not only is this Emma's story, but what you have to say will become part of my daughter's story, and the story of every other child adopted from Vietnam. And these children deserve to know their whole stories, and not just the bright cheery happy part...