UPDATED:  December 26, 2010 5:53 PM
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U.S. Suspends Adoptions from Nepal

By: Cathy Crenshaw Doheny

Following suspicions of child trafficking, the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, jointly announced in August the suspension of adoptions of children who are described as having been abandoned in Nepal.

“The Department of State’s recent interactions with the Government of Nepal and its efforts to review and investigate numerous abandonment cases, including field visits to orphanages and police departments, have demonstrated that documents presented to describe and ‘prove’ the abandonment of children in Nepal are unreliable,” the announcement states.

The moratorium was enacted in the midst of a nationwide orphan crisis in Nepal. According to Unicef, there was an estimated 990,000 Nepalese orphans in 2007. With little improvement since, adoption and child advocacy organizations fear the consequences of the U.S.’s suspension of the adoption program.

“As a voice for orphans, The National Council for Adoption has always accepted additional regulations being imposed upon adoption programs. However, we cannot accept a suspension of the Nepal program, as it will result in more children being harmed because they are denied a family.” says Chuck Johnson, President and CEO of National Council for Adoption, an adoption advocacy nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, Virginia. “Should these children survive being in an orphanage, they will age out of the system and be unprepared for the life that awaits them. Most of these children will then fall into homelessness, poverty and the sex trade.”

Johnson emphasizes that the ultimate consequences could be even more devastating.

“The Guatemala adoption program is a good example of what can happen when a suspension is put into effect. When mothers no longer had the option to safely relinquish their children to adoption, many children were found dead,” he says.

The moratorium is also creating problems for families who were already well into the process of adopting a Nepali child when the suspension was announced.

“I received my official match to Junu on July 3, 2010. At that moment, she became my daughter fully in my heart,” says Sharlyn Keegan, one of 56 Americans still waiting to bring a child home from Nepal. “When the suspension came, the State Department said they would process our adoptions as all adoptions prior to the suspension - on a case by case basis.  This quickly morphed into few visas being issued, delays upon delays and long waits to hear about our cases.”

Keegan traveled to Nepal in December for two weeks in order to finalize the adoption. However, the U.S. Department of State would not issue Junu a visa, so Keegan had to return her daughter to the orphanage. On the same day Keegan officially adopted her daughter, she was also issued a “Request for Further Evidence” (RFE) for which she must provide proof of Junu’s abandonment. For this, she has had to hire an international adoption attorney here in the U.S. and an investigative lawyer in Nepal.

“They basically want the birth parent(s) to be found and for them to write a statement saying they gave the child up. This is so out of touch with Nepal culture. To abandon a child warrants jail,” says Keegan.

“This is the first time I can recall in over ten years that the burden of proving the child’s abandonment falls on adoptive parents. How do you do that in a country where accurate record-keeping is not in the country’s cultural practices? Providing proof will ultimately be very difficult for these adoptive parents,” says Johnson. “I don’t think this is a case of child trafficking. I think these children were intended for adoption, they just lack the documentation to prove it.”

U.S. officials, however, insist the RFE’s are in the best interest of all involved.

“We know that prospective adoptive parents want us to confirm that the child was indeed abandoned. Anyone involved in this process would not want to have a child trafficked,” says Chris Rhatigan, Spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “We are working with the government in Nepal to review the cases. We want to make sure we are following the laws of both countries and respecting the rights of the child, adoptive parents and biological parents.”

Ambassador Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, stresses that the investigations are being completed as quickly as possible.

“We realize that time is of the essence and that these children should not be institutionalized any longer than necessary. This is a horrible situation for both adoptive parents and the children, and I wish the Nepalese government had put into place more measures to protect children,” says Ambassador Jacobs.

In the meantime, Keegan and many of the other 56 Americans have made the only decision they could – to return to Nepal until they can bring their children home.

“I've placed my belongings in storage, put my private practice as a pediatric speech language pathologist on hold, gave my pets up to other families and assumed greater debt in the process,” Keegan says. “It does not make any financial sense, but as a mother it makes perfect sense and that is the part of me which overrides everything else right now.”


To sign a petition to bring the stranded Nepali adoptees home, visit http://www.petition2congress.com/3867/bring-stranded-nepali-adoptees-home-now/

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