What do you want me to say? You who are waiting, waiting, waiting, for a child, your heart so frustrated and tender that the slightest bit of negativity sends you into a tailspin. I know that feeling. I lived that feeling. Twice. It is hard and so very painful. Sometimes it feels like you can’t breathe. And every single thing that anyone says or does feels so consequential. Sometimes it is.
When I say that corruption was a very big problem in Vietnam before the shutdown, you want to shake your head, no. You want to believe there were only a few isolated cases, that our government lied, that even if there were problems, those problems have all been dealt with and everything is good now.
That is what I told myself when we adopted from Cambodia – just months after the program reopened, with a new “better” system in place. And that is what I hoped would happen when we chose to adopt from Vietnam in 2005, just as the program was reopening, a new “better” system in place.
The truth is, it was possible to complete an ethical adoption from Vietnam under that new system. I believe many adoptions were processed in an aboveboard way. Unfortunately, it was also possible to cut corners and ignore rules and grease palms to speed up timeframes and by the time things came to a screeching halt the corrupt cases very likely outnumbered the ethical ones. Because who wants to wait if you don’t have to? And if an agency is licensed and they say they can give you a referral of an infant right now, why on earth would you choose another agency that tells you there’s a wait?
It all came down to the fee schedule. Or rather, the lack of one. When the US signed their agreement with Vietnam last time, it was on the condition that Vietnam would produce a clear fee schedule for their side of the adoption process. “Soon,” they said. “In a few months.” Months turned into years. Still no fee schedule. Without officially set fees, orphanages and provinces were free to set up their own fee system. They could charge whatever they wanted. They could charge different amounts to different people. Who would know? And if an agency wants to buy the orphanage director a car, what’s wrong with that? Or if an agency, under the guise of working as an NGO pours on the “humanitarian” aid to the orphanages that provide them children, well of course that orphanage will send more kids their way… it’s about the relationship. Not the fees.
I heard all of those excuses and more. While I waited a full year for my two and half … then three.. then three and a half year old son, other families brought their AYAP (as young as possible) babies home in record time, singing the praises of their generous agencies who did so much for the orphanages. My adoption took much longer, because my agency refused to play the game. No extra fees. No special favors. By the books, methodically and carefully. The province dragged their feet, expecting to get results, but our agency stood firm. Was I frustrated? You bet. But I knew better. Because I had been down this road before, I saw what so many others were unable to see.
You can’t get something for nothing. And supply always follows demand. PAP’s demanded young babies, fast. Agencies turned to orphanages to supply them.
According to DIA [Dept. of International Adoption - VN] , orphanages are required to refer one child for foreign adoption for every x dollars donated by the ASP [Adoption Service Provider aka Agency]. Thus, if the ASP funds a $10,000 project and the per-child donation is set at $1000 per child, then the orphanage would be required to refer 10 children for intercountry adoption to the ASP. Should the orphanage not have 10 children who are qualified for intercountry adoption, then, according to DIA, the orphanage director is required to find the additional children to complete his side of the agreement. Two orphanage directors have confirmed to consular officers that they are feeling pressure to find more children for their orphanage to “compensate” ASPs for their donations. ~ Summary of Irregularities in Adoptions in Vietnam (04/25/2008)
It happened. Not just once or twice, but many times, all over the country. Some provinces were totally corrupt, others varied depending on the behavior of individual orphanages and agencies. But it happened. And it wasn’t just a matter of speeding things up, cutting through “red tape” to keep children from being institutionalized too long. Some of these children – we don’t know how many – would never have been institutionalized in the first place were it not for the demands of eager PAPs and their agencies.
During a recent return to the area in 2007, some parents expressed a concern to me regarding their children. As one mother explained, local officials from the “Trung tâm nuôi dưỡng người có công đối tương xã hội” Centre in Đồng Hới, the provincial capital, and communal authorities had come to the village offering help to the children. After some discussions and visits, several households agreed to send their children to the institution in Đồng Hới. These were supposed to be short stays, but now apparently many of the children were gone and had not come back to the Rục villages. One mother explained how she had become worried and gone to town to see her children, only to be informed that they were gone. “Do you know if my children have been sold?”, she had asked me. She had received a photo picturing what seemed like a ceremony of her children being handed over to foreigners and was now seriously worried about the fate of her children. ~ “Will the Vietnamese Rục children come home? “case closed” or is there hope?” Peter Bille Larsen, anthropologist
It wasn’t because our government is populated by grumpy old men out to kill your joy. Seriously bad things were happening. Children were being taken from their families. Stolen. Kidnapped. Parents were lied to. Identities were erased. Paperwork was forged. Without the power to take away agencies’ licenses, the US had no other option but to shut the whole thing down. It didn’t matter that a few of the agencies were following all the rules and doing everything properly. The corruption of the others led to the downfall of the whole system.
And here we are again. The internet is abuzz with the whisperings of a new agreement to come, doors about to reopen. A new “better” system. Will it truly be better? Or will the same corruption be there, hidden under a few new layers of bureaucracy? Will it reopen with a great rush of excited hopeful PAP’s clamoring for their AYAP babies, a sudden gush of demand pressuring orphanages and provinces to provide the supply?
Do you believe there are really “thousands” of babies just waiting for a new agreement to be put into place? One NGO that has worked in the past with an adoption agency wondered that very thing, and so they took a survey in January 2012. Across the country nearly a hundred child care centers were surveyed on a number of issues relating to the care of children, including the raw numbers of children in their care. What did they find?
Every CCC is committed to long‐term care for all their children. They do not see their CCC as a temporary living place or an avenue for adoption. One of the rumors that the survey hoped to answer was that “all the orphanages were crowded with babies”. As of January 2012, NONE of the Child Care Centers have any young children
- 40% of the children are between the ages of 6-10 years old.
- 60% of the children are over 11 years old
None. Not. Any. Keep in mind this survey was done by an organization that worked with an agency that previously worked in Vietnam, so if anything they would have an incentive to say there were many young children waiting for families. But that is not what they found.
That is not to say that I believe there truly are NO young children in need of families. Tragedies happen. And there is a two-child limit on families in Vietnam, though it is not vigorously enforced. Certainly there must be some young children somewhere. But it is a far cry from the baby rooms that adoptive families saw in 2005-2008 when they traveled to adopt their children. The demand was cut off, so the supply dwindled.
If we want to have any chance of a truly better system the next time around, we need to adjust our expectations. People need to be aware that there are NOT thousands of babies just waiting. People need to understand that without a clear fee schedule there will inevitably be corruption. We all need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Good agencies DO exist. It IS possible to adopt in an ethical manner. And if we could find a way to support those agencies – and choke out the ones that cut the corners and make the outrageous demands – perhaps that better system would have half a chance.
That is why we are here . That is why we keep talking about these uncomfortable issues that no one wants to talk about. It is not because we are “anti-adoption” – far from it! We hold the ideal of adoption so dear, we want to preserve and protect it, that other families may be as blessed as we have been.
Please, don’t let your fear and your anger cloud your judgment. Use this time while everything is still on hold to learn all you can about what happened before, so that you can help to prevent it from happening again. Knowledge is power. And those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If you truly believe you are meant to adopt a child from Vietnam, do you not owe it to them to make certain their adoption story is one you will be proud to tell them – with no questions or mysteries, just the clear unvarnished truth?
If you would like to learn more for yourself, we recommend reading through the Schuster Institute’s very thorough investigative report. Mentioned in the report, but worthy of its own separate link is this summary of findings from the US Embassy. And to prove that these reports are not coming solely from the US side of things, read this article from Viet Nam News.