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Cablegate: Vietnam Adoptions: Baseline Study of Orphanages

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001187

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR CA/OCS/CI AND CA/VO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CASC CVIS KFRD VM
SUBJECT: Vietnam Adoptions: Baseline Study of Orphanages
Showing Some Early Surprises

1. Summary: While the USG and the GVN continue to work on
restarting adoptions of Vietnamese orphans by Amcits,
AmConGen HCMC has begun a baseline study of local
orphanages. The study is intended to determine how many
adoptable orphans are likely to be available to U.S.
prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) when adoptions resume,
and to gauge how well Vietnam is currently handling the
adoption process. Preliminary results indicate that the
number of healthy abandoned infants is significantly lower
than what might have been expected based on the number of
petitions for orphan infants processed by Post prior to
1993. Results also indicate that the number of foreign
adoptions being processed (primarily by the French, who have
a bilateral adoption agreement with Vietnam) is extremely
low, a fact that orphanages blame on GVN adoption
procedures. We intend to continue this study in more
distant provinces of Vietnam, but will require TDY/WAE
assistance in order to do so. End Summary.

-------------------------
Goals/Method of the Study
-------------------------

2. Adoptions of Vietnamese orphans by Amcit PAPs have been
suspended since January 2003, following the GVN's
promulgation of Decree 68, which was intended to regularize
and centralize adoption procedures in an attempt to stem the
rampant corruption and baby-selling that had long plagued
adoptions in Vietnam. Because adoptions are currently
suspended, we reasoned that orphanages are likely to contain
only genuine orphans - there simply isn't any financial
incentive at the moment for anyone to buy or sell children
and launder them through orphanages. As such, we surmised
that a survey of orphanages at this time would provide a
good baseline estimate of the number and ages of healthy
orphans likely to be available to Amcit PAPs under a "clean"
adoption system.

3. The primary purpose of the survey, therefore, is to
gather information on the number of children at each
orphanage, and particularly the number of healthy infants
(aged 12 months and under). The reason for the focus on
healthy infants is that prior to the adoption moratorium,
the vast majority of orphan petitions processed here were
for healthy (non-special needs) infants under one year of
age. For example, post processed 66 orphan petitions in
January 2002; all but five were for children under 12 months
old. In February 2002, only 13 of 47 cases were for
children over one year old. In March 2002, only nine of 76
total cases were for children over 12 months old. This
trend is consistent for other months and years as well.

4. There are two secondary goals of the survey. The first
is to discover which U.S.-based adoption agencies had been
active in particular orphanages, and to hear the orphanage
employees' opinions on how well they had worked together.
The second is to gauge how well the Vietnamese side of the
adoption process is currently working (by asking orphanages
what they thought about the process) and to get a sense of
what effect the France-Vietnam bilateral adoption agreement
might be having on adoptions between those two countries.

5. To carry out the initial phase of the survey, Fraud
Prevention Manager (FPM) paid unannounced visits to six
orphanages in southern Vietnam in August 2004. The
orphanages selected were among those at which many orphan
petition beneficiaries had been abandoned, according to
their documentation, prior to the implementation of Decree
68. We hoped that unannounced visits, as opposed to
officially arranged tours, would reduce the opportunity
anyone might have to try to manipulate the results.

--------------------------------
Where Have All the Orphans Gone?
--------------------------------

6. The total number of healthy (i.e., non-special needs)
infant children observed at the six orphanages was
approximately 120. This number is oddly low, particularly
considering the number of orphan petitions previously
processed by post. Looking back at the first three months
of 2002, for example, post processed 162 orphan petitions
for newborns aged 12 months or younger. If similar numbers
were being processed now, it would appear that the number of
available newborns would be quickly depleted. In addition,
one would expect that orphanage populations would show a
"bulge" of children aged 2-3 years as a result of the 21-
month suspension of U.S. adoptions, but there were virtually
no children seen in that age range in any of the
institutions visited.

7. One interesting phenomenon seen during the visits was
that the official populations of some orphanages did not
match the number of children FPM actually observed. For
example, Tam Binh Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City said that it
housed 253 children under the age of 18 months. During the
tour, however, FPM observed only about 75 children in that
age range, and saw no empty rooms, cribs or other indicators
that some of the children might be elsewhere. Another
inexplicable disparity in numbers of children was seen at
the Ba Ria Vung Tau Orphanage, where a staff member said
that they had no children under the age of 12 months. One
of the orphans, however, told FPM that there were 10
newborns at the orphanage. FPM was not allowed to tour the
facility, and so could not verify which account was true.

8. One of the strangest cases was at the Dong Nai Orphanage.
FPM spoke with a Catholic nun, Pham Thi Men, who had
volunteered at the orphanage for several years. She said
that prior to December 2002, the orphanage had housed "many"
healthy newborns. In a change that mysteriously coincided
with the halt in adoptions from the U.S., however, the
orphanage stopped housing healthy children altogether, and
now housed only about 60 disabled and other special needs
children. Sister Men could not explain why this change had
occurred when it did, and was vague on what had happened to
the healthy children previously housed at the orphanage,
though she said some of them had been moved to another
facility nearby. FPM visited that facility, the Bien Hoa
Orphanage, and discovered that some children had indeed been
relocated there, but not nearly as many as had previously
lived at Dong Nai.

--------------------------------
Adoptions Stalled By Bureaucracy
--------------------------------

9. Despite the fact that five countries have bilateral
agreements with Vietnam which allow their citizens to adopt
Vietnamese children, the six orphanages toured by FPM
reported a total of only 19 foreign adoptions over the
previous six months, all involving PAPs from France. (France
and Vietnam signed a bilateral adoption many years ago,
after France had unilaterally suspended adoptions from
Vietnam due to fraud concerns.) Of this small number,
several cases had still not been completed. At three of the
orphanages, administrators explained that a number of
bureaucratic impediments made completing foreign adoptions
very difficult.

10. Most problematic, they said, was the GVN's requirement
that, before an adoption can be approved, provincial
authorities contact the birth parents of a child to
ascertain whether the child had been abandoned. These
investigations are supposed to be conducted by provincial
justice departments, but the justice departments have
instead tasked the orphanages themselves to conduct the
investigations. The orphanages FPM visited were short-
staffed, and considered it an extreme hardship to send a
staff member to find a child's birth parents. Moreover, in
many cases, what little information they had about the birth
parents' whereabouts was inaccurate. In other cases, the
address of the birth parents was known, but was very distant
from the orphanage. In those cases, the orphanages would
write to local police to request their help in contacting
the birth parents. The orphanages complained, however, that
the police often fail to respond to their requests. As a
result of these problems, the few adoption cases that get
started often become stalemated.

----------------------------------------
U.S. Adoption Agencies Viewed Positively
----------------------------------------

11. Of the six orphanages visited, four expressed positive
views about the U.S.-based adoption agencies with which they
had previously worked. Tam Binh Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh
City said they had worked with several agencies. Go Vap
Orphanage, also in Ho Chi Minh City, had worked with World
Child and Hope International, and had only positive things
to say about the help they had previously received from
those groups. Dong Nai Orphanage had also worked with
numerous adoption agencies, and had no complaints. Tra Vinh
Orphanage in Tra Vinh Province had worked exclusively with
International Mission of Hope (an agency investigated
extensively in the past by both INS and the GVN), and the
director expressed hope that he would be able to resume
working with them if and when adoptions from the U.S.
resumed. Interestingly, Ba Ria Vung Tau Orphanage claimed
never to have worked with an adoption agency from the U.S.,
but benches and chairs on the orphanage grounds were
inscribed "Compliments of Hope International".

---------------------------------
Comment, and a Plea For Resources
---------------------------------

12. Thus far, the orphanage visits have shown some
surprising results, particularly in the low overall numbers
of healthy infants, the inconsistencies between official
numbers of children and those actually observed to be
residing at the orphanage, and the difficulties reported by
orphanages in processing adoptions under Vietnam's current
regulations. Post plans to continue to tour several more
orphanages in other areas of Vietnam in order to further
nail down a reliable baseline. In particular, several
provinces in central and northern Vietnam (Danang, Thai
Nguyen, Bac Thai, Ha Tay, and Hanoi) have orphanages from
which many orphan petition beneficiaries originated,
including numerous problem cases involving allegations of
baby selling and official corruption. As part of the
survey, post will also examine old IV records to compare
current realities against past trends.

13. HCMC and Hanoi will discuss how best to survey the
orphanages in Hanoi's consular district, but right now it
would seem that the best strategy would be for the surprise
visits to be carried out by HCMC's FPM (Mission Vietnam's
only full-time fraud officer), accompanied by a Hanoi-based
FSN. This would allow Hanoi's small consular staff to
continue to focus on meetings with the GVN in preparation
for A/S Harty's upcoming mid-October visit.

14. In order to complete this baseline study in a timely
fashion - preferably prior to A/S Harty's arrival - post
will require TDY/WAE assistance, and will request such
assistance in accordance with CA/EX guidelines. Even with
two TDY/WAE officers currently assisting here, CONS/HCMC is
still short three officers, and that shortfall will increase
once the current TDY/WAEers depart. The problem is
exacerbated by the fact that post's FPM is also acting ACS
officer until the arrival of the new ACS chief in late
October. Post requests that CA provide resources so that
post can complete this important step on the road to
resumption of adoptions from Vietnam.

WINNICK

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