I was reminded today of a blog post I was in the midst of writing for New Mandala by an article in the International Herald Tribune on orphanages

The article cautions those would be Brangelina’s against adoption of children from poor countries as a means to alleviating child poverty in the Third World.

It’s true that, sometimes, international adoption can save a child’s life. But be very careful. By heading to a poor, underdeveloped, or war-torn country to adopt a baby, Westerners can inadvertently achieve the opposite of what they intend. Instead of saving a child, they may create an orphan. The large sums of money that adoption agencies offer for poor countries’ babies too often induce unscrupulous operators to buy, coerce, defraud, or kidnap children from families that would have loved, cared for, and raised those children to adulthood… Another problem is that the abandoned or orphaned children who actually do need homes are rarely the healthy infants or toddlers that most Westerners feel prepared to adopt. The majority of children who need “forever families,” as the adoption industry puts it, are five or older, disabled, chronically ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need of extra care. In Asia, the children themselves may be HIV-positive or suffer from chronic hepatitis B. But from an adoption agency’s standpoint, these needy orphans are not very “marketable.” So here’s the bad news: to meet Western families’ longings to adopt healthy babies, many adoption agencies pour disproportionately enormous sums into poor, corrupt countries – few questions asked – in search of healthy children ages three and under. Those sums can induce some locals to buy, coerce, defraud or kidnap children from their families. Traumatically, these children are deprived of their families, and families are deprived of their children.

Further to my contribution on the need for NGO regulation in Cambodia, Details are Sketchy recently reported on orphanage scams in Cambodia. When I first arrived in Cambodia in 2003, the government had recently moved to regulate adoptions by foreigners of Cambodian children given the expose of an American run orphanage accused of selling babies to well-meaning foreigners, including Angelina. Today the adoption process is much more rigorous and difficult, and in most cases one needs to have lived in Cambodia for a minimum of two years to adopt a child. Nonetheless the scams continue, according to two blog sources, detailed sketchily here.

This is however only the extreme end of an aid sector which by and large does little to assuage the suffering of poor, abandoned Cambodian children. Even legitimate orphanages operating in Cambodia are known to openly flout moral decency in their treatment of children. During the final 6 months of my 3 year stay in Cambodia a colleague of my husband’s adopted a child from an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. Facilities were basic and the children were fed the bare minimum required for survival. Many were still patently under-weight. Although the colleague was only in the “market” for a healthy young child (the boy that she adopted was the healthy one out of a set of twins), she was however concerned with the treatment and care of many of the other orphans and in particular the medical state of one baby girl who, born deformed, had an open wound as her only means of defecation. Distressed, my friend rounded up funds from Australia to offer to the nuns in order to pay for an operation for the child to liberate her from her state of pain, misery and stench. The nuns refused the money for the operation and stated that all life is suffering and that it was this child’s fate to suffer.

With such callous disregard for the health and wellbeing of their charges, perhaps Cambodian legislators need not only to overhaul NGO laws but to also rethink orphanage regulation and adoption laws yet again.