Nepal Gets Ready to Resume Foreign Adoptions

by Savitha C Muppala on Nov 21 2008 6:44 PM

Nepal gets ready to restart international adoptions that had stopped in the previous year following allegations of child trafficking for sale

As a legal officer at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Affairs, Adhikari has been bombarded by queries and requests since the announcement last month that foreign nationals would again be allowed to adopt in Nepal.

The decision was greeted warily by the United Nations and child rights groups who say that some of the problems that led to abuses of the system had yet to be resolved.

Adhikari, who spends his days fielding queries from foreign adoption agencies seeking clarification of the new regulations, insists that Nepal has learned from its mistakes

"The crux of international adoptions is matching children with prospective parents, and in the past there were weaknesses in the matching system," he said.

Under the new regulations, foreigners will no longer be able to deal directly with children's centres, and the matching of adoptive parents and children will be done by a government body.

"The new rules and processes will make the process better managed and more transparent," Adhikari said.

In the past, foreign couples paid up to 20,000 dollars to adopt a child - a huge amount of money in such an impoverished country and one that critics said spawned an illicit adoption market.

Under the new rules, fees are fixed at 8,000 dollars per adoption, with 5,000 dollars going to one of 38 approved children's homes and 3,000 dollars to the government.

The government has approved 58 foreign adoption agencies, each of which is required to spend 10,000 dollars a year on "the welfare of children in Nepal".

But the United Nations child rights body UNICEF argues that the system remains vulnerable to exploitation.

"The official designation of who is an orphan is still very wide," said Joanne Doucet, the head of UNICEF's child protection department in Nepal.

"Not only can it be a child with one or both parents, it can be someone who comes from a poor family, or someone who has been abandoned," she said.

UNICEF and Swiss child rights group Terre des Hommes completed a study of children's homes earlier this year and found 60-80 percent of the 12,000 children being looked after had family they could live with.

"We are not against adoption, but inter-country adoption is not the only option and unfortunately in countries like Nepal it's the only option that's promoted and a lot of money is involved," said Doucet.

Domestic adoption and increased promotion of foster care could reduce the number of children placed in homes, Doucet said.

Madhav Pradhan, the head of a Nepalese child welfare group, Child Workers in Nepal, said the new regulations were an improvement, but argued that the sums involved were still too large in a country where the average annual income is around 400 dollars.

"The amount of money involved has been made more transparent, but the question is, is it appropriate to charge such large amounts," said Pradhan, whose organisation has tried to assist parents whose children were sent abroad without their knowledge or approval.

Pradhan's main concern is that by creating an adoption system where profits can be made, there is more motivation on the part of the home owners to keep up a steady flow of "paper orphans" who can be processed for adoption.

He believes, like Doucet, that instead of resuming international adoptions, the government should ensure money goes to poor families in their villages, so they do not feel the need to place their children in homes.

Pradhan also worries that the involvement of government officials could increase the risk of malpractice.

"In the past, the corruption was between parents and child centres and now it could begin to touch the bureaucracy. Government officials could be bribed, or back-door deals could be made," said Pradhan.

Adhikari, the adoption official, said that once the process restarts, Nepalese children will begin leaving with adoptive parents from February.

But he said that until Nepal drags itself out of dire poverty, impoverished parents will continue to hand over children.

"Many parents who are very poor are willing to send their children abroad at any cost. In all sectors of society in Nepal, there is a craze to try and go abroad for a better life," he said.