08/30/2004, 00.00
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Trafficking in children for would-be foreign parents

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – Trafficking in children, fraud and corruption are undermining the adoption process in Cambodia, this according to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO), a Phnom Penh-based NGO.

The League recently released information showing how traffickers acquire children destined for the international adoption market. Their investigation illustrates how middlemen approach poor women promising them large sums of money and well-paying jobs if they hand their children over on a "temporary basis" to child welfare centres.

According to the information middlemen tied to adoption agencies pay on average US for a newborn and US-100 for older children so that they can be resold to foreign couples for sums ranging from US00 to 20000. At times, middlemen take children by force.

Father Alberto Caccaro, PIME missioner in Phnom Penh, corroborated these dramatic findings to AsiaNews. "It's true, trafficking in minors is a widespread practice in the country." To confirm it, Father Caccaro said he had recently visited a woman living with AIDS who after leaving the hospital found that one of her three daughters was missing. An aunt had sent her daughter "to work" in Malaysia and has not be heard from ever since. It is likely that the girl was sold or set to work as a prostitute.

In 2001 the US stopped adoptions from Cambodia to curb trafficking. France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium followed suit in 2002. The United Kingdom suspended all adoptions in June of this year after discovering a scam in fake official adoption papers.

Blocking adoptions cannot however solve the problem on its own said Father Caccaro for whom it has much deeper roots. "We must ask ourselves why western families want to buy a child. Children are a gift, but having children is too often seen as a right that can be bought" he said. "In Phnom Penh's big hotels it is possible to see foreign couples, sometimes gay couples, who a few days after arriving in town leave with a child."

Selling children is a sign of a profound malaise in Cambodian society, Father Caccaro believes. "Notions such as 'lawfulness' and 'respect for human life' have shallow roots in Buddhist Cambodia. In such a poor society (almost one in two Cambodians lives with US a day) selling or prostituting children is seen as a normal way of surviving," he added.

For Children's rights experts the Cambodian government must fix the legislative framework that governs adoptions. In June 2000 Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen did halt adoptions after it became known that some middlemen were buying children from parents. The following year the government followed up by adopting a decree regulating adoptions. Never the less, the country still lacks specific legislation in this area.

Between 1998 and 2003 Cambodian authorities approved 2,303 foreign adoptions. (MA)

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