A joint United Nations report has called on Nepal to tighten laws and procedures in its inter-country adoption scheme, which it says has been open to abuses by orphanages and child centers. As Ron Corben reports, the new government has welcomed the recommendations that highlight children's rights as well as providing more support to local Nepalese families.
The joint report by the United Nations Children Fund and the Swiss-based Terre des Hommes followed widespread reports of abuses in Nepal's procedures for inter-country or foreign adoptions of Nepalese children in recent years.
The 62-page report, entitled Adopting - The Rights of the Child, highlighted widespread weaknesses in the existing scheme, where only four from every 100 adopted children being taken up by Nepalese families and where the government influence has often been limited.
Across Nepal there are some 15,000 children in orphanages or children's homes. And while many are there because of the loss of parents the report points to a significant number of admissions in the homes due to fraud, coercion and malpractice.
Joanne Doucet, chief of UNICEF's child protection unit in Nepal, says the report's main theme is the on-going shortfalls in the inter-country adoption scheme, suspended in June 2007 due to reports of widespread corruption.
"The process of inter-country adoption in Nepal has a lot of problems and loopholes and in many cases we can talk about some malpractices. The best interest of the child is not the center piece of the current process and an important shift should be encouraged," said Doucet.
The study said the standard of care and protection in many of the orphanages also failed to respect the rights of the child.
"The standards in the homes are really not up to minimum acceptable standards. The majority have many, many problems. There's no professional people working in these centers; the physical organization - the fact that the children cannot leave the home, they cannot freely move," continued Doucet.
Doucet says the failure of the government to exert control over the adoption programs has left the way open to abuses.
"The centers have the full control of the system. The centers are the one who decide who are the abandoned, who should leave for adoption, for inter-country adoption. So where they make their money is through inter-country adoption because parents in the outside are so eager to have children so people are ready to pay any amount. An adoption law should absolutely stop this business," added Doucet.
Demand for Nepalese children has increased in recent years as countries such as India have improved or tightened legal access to children for adoption or have placed greater emphasis in adoptions within their own country. European countries such as Spain, France and Italy, as well as the United States, have also been among the main sources of demand.
The study also revealed instances of abduction of children and babies being adopted without their parents consent.
Marlene Hofstetter, head of the Adoption Department for Terre des hommes (Tdh), says authorities need to have more control over the adoption process, to avoid such abuse and exploitation by the adoption centers.
"Once they have seen the child most families - they are hooked. And the home has power over these parents because they want to have this child. They can ask for more money. How much is demanded is difficult to say - $20, 25, 30,000," said Hofstetter. "But nobody will really say how much it pays because they know it's not really [ethically] correct."
The report also warns while there have been improvements over earlier laws they still fail to provide sufficient guarantees to uphold children's rights. It also found that families were often divided, with siblings, including twins, being separated to increase their chances of adoption.
There were also calls for less emphasis institutionalization and that alternatives to inter-country adoptions are explored.
Punya Prasad Neupane, Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, welcomed the report, saying it highlighted the need for reform.
"No I'm not surprised. Actually, the contents of the report are not that surprising. Of course the report has revealed many things that need immediate improvement," said Neupan. "It will help us reform the inter-country adoption process and there to make good provisions regarding the rights of the child."
UNICEF and Terre Des Hommes backed moves by the Nepalese Government to ratify the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children but added that ratification and enactment of domestic legislation needed to take place before the resumption of inter-country adoption procedures.