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RIGHTS-NEPAL: ‘Inter-Country Child Adoption Policy Weak’

Mallika Aryal

KATHMANDU, Sep 24 2008 (IPS) - When reports in the Nepali and international media exposed a market in orphans, and the taking away from this country of children without the consent of biological parents, the government responded with a ban on inter-country adoptions.

As a result of the June 2007 ban over 442 families, awaiting final clearance from the ministry, were unable to take away their wards.

The sudden halt resulted in prospective parents camping in Kathmandu and pursuing their cases through adoption forums like ‘Nchild’ and ‘Adoption Nepal’, while making pleas to senators and to the ministry in Nepal.

After much pressure from the United States and European governments, the government decided to ease the ban for families whose files were pending but announced new, stricter terms and conditions.

This month, the ministry published a list of 38 children’s homes authorised to handle adoptions. Ministry officials said a list of approved international agencies, which apply for registration by an Aug. 22 deadline, would be announced and that inter-country adoptions could resume after that.

Prakash Kumar Adhikari, legal adviser at the ministry, said the terms and conditions are an improvement, and claimed that extensive background checks were done on both international agencies and local children’s homes before the list was brought out.

“Now a central authority, under the ministry, will facilitate the inter-country adoption process – including the matching of children with prospective parents – not individual homes,” Adhikari told the IPS.

A central commission, under the ministry, has been set up to facilitate the adoption process. Foreigners wanting to adopt from Nepal must first approach agencies in their home countries that are accredited with the government.

These agencies will, in turn, contact the commission so that potential parents can be matched with children from approved institutions. Officers at the ministry say that these terms and conditions will make adoptions transparent because a central authority, not private homes, will be responsible for the matching process.

Meanwhile, a report released earlier this month by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Geneva-based foundation Terre des Homes (TdH), says there are major irregularities in the way children are tricked by unscrupulous agents pretending to run ‘orphanages’. The two-year study revealed instances of abduction of children and babies put up for adoption without their parents’ consent.

The report, ‘Adopting the Rights of a Child’, is deeply critical of Nepal’s inter-country adoption policies and says it does not always take the best interests of the child into consideration. The report reveals instances of abduction of children and babies put up for adoption without their parents’ consent.

The majority of ‘orphans’ the researchers talked to should not have been in orphanages because their biological parents and relatives were still living. The report says most children’s homes do not meet required standards, monitoring is not properly done and the biological parents are not properly informed about the adoption process.

Domestic adoption accounts for only four per cent of adoptions, families are divided and siblings, including twins, are separated to increase the chances of their being matched. No psychosocial support is given to abandoned children.

The report said that the definition of what makes a child eligible for foreign adoption remained vague, adding that inter-country adoption should be the last resort for an abandoned child. The report urged the government to legislate and pass an adoption law to enforce these safeguards.

“Children should have the right to first grow up in their own country, in their own culture and with their own language,” said UNICEF’s Nepal representative, Gillian Mellsop.

UNICEF says 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 appear to 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.”

Child rights activists say that the new rules are an improvement on the old but they still do not provide sufficient guarantees to fully uphold the rights of the child. Although international agencies are required to register with the ministry, it is still possible to apply through an embassy for adoption.

Unless the supervision board and family selection boards take bold steps, children’s homes will continue to have power over the adoption process.

Demand for Nepali children has grown in Spain, France, Italy and the U.S. following moves by Latin American and South-east Asian countries to tighten adoption procedures. Neighbouring India too is moving towards prohibiting inter-country adoptions.

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