Vietnam and the United States are close to an agreement allowing Americans to adopt Vietnamese children again, five years after a ban was imposed amid allegations of baby-selling and babies offered without parents' consent, a visiting U.S. senator said.
Vietnam was a popular destination for prospective adoptive parents before Washington imposed the ban in 2008 following a U.S. investigation.
Senators and adoption lobby groups have been urging Vietnam to pass stronger laws and better monitor the process so that adoptions can resume. A leading advocate, Sen. Mary Landrieu, said Vietnam now has safeguards in place to resume adoptions, including a central authority overseeing the process.
"The government of Vietnam seems to be willing to restart, and there are just some final details to be worked out with the government of the United States," the Democrat from Louisiana told reporters late Wednesday in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital. "We hope that it will be in the near future."
Demand for inter-country adoptions has risen in recent years, especially by prospective parents in the United States. For singles wanting a child, or couples unable or unwilling to conceive, the idea of adopting a foreign baby from an orphanage in a poor country is attractive. But programs in several developing countries like Haiti and Guatemala have been beset by scandals and allegations of baby-selling.
A U.N.-commissioned report into adoptions in Vietnam in 2009 said the demand from prospective parents, most of them in the United States, had essentially created a supply of young babies. Cash payments by adoption agencies to orphanages led them to seek out children for adoption abroad, often without proper checks into their background or their family circumstances.
"The availability of children who are adoptable abroad corresponds more to the existence of foreign prospective adopters than to the actual needs of abandoned and orphaned children," the report said.
Landrieu, the mother of two adopted children and the wife of a man adopted from overseas, said "there was no perfect system," but that the urgent need of children living in institutions needed to be considered.
"There is always going to be a possibility of something going wrong, but just because one or two or three or a handful of cases is not handled right, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't have an opportunity for kids to have families," said Landrieu, who was among a group of four U.S. senators visiting Vietnam.
Vietnamese government spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said that "Vietnamese law has had clear regulations on the process and procedures on Vietnamese children adopted by foreign families."
Asked whether an agreement with the United States was close, he said that "the two sides were continuing to consider."
In September last year, officials from Ireland and Vietnam signed an agreement to restart adoptions, which were halted in 2009.
Partly as a result of fears over baby-selling scandals, the number of international adoptions has fallen to its lowest point in 15 years. Globally, the number of orphans being adopted by foreign parents dropped from a high of 45,000 in 2004 to an estimated 25,000 last year, according to annual statistics compiled by Peter Selman, an expert on international adoptions at Britain's Newcastle University.