Vietnam announced Monday it will stop accepting adoption applications from Americans following U.S. allegations that baby-selling and corruption were taking place under the current system.
The decision casts a cloud of uncertainty over pending adoptions in the country and will halt a surge in placements of Vietnamese children with U.S. citizens in recent years.
The announcement followed a report from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi that was first obtained by The Associated Press that alleged pervasive corruption and baby-selling in Vietnam's adoption system.
"It is tragic for children that the U.S. government has not been able to find ways to work with the Vietnamese government to prevent adoption abuses while at the same time processing legitimate adoptions," said Tom Atwood, president of the Washington-based National Council for Adoption, a research and advocacy organization.
"Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children will not have families as a result of this failure of leadership."
Report cites baby-selling
The U.S. Embassy report lists cases in which infants were sold or birth mothers were pressured to give up their babies. In some other cases it describes brokers going to villages in search for babies who could be possibly put up for adoption.
It also says some American adoption agencies have been paying orphanage directors for referrals, and some others have bribed orphanage officials by taking them on shopping sprees and junkets to the United States in return for a flow of babies.
Vietnam officials have said the concerns were "groundless."
Vu Duc Long, director of Vietnam's International Adoption Agency, said the Southeast Asian country was scrapping the bilateral agreement with the United States that had sought to regulate the system.
In a letter sent to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam said it will stop taking adoption applications from American families after July 1 but will continue to process applications of families who are matched with babies before July 1.
Adoption arrangements with other countries were unaffected.
The agreement was due to end on Sept. 1, but was being considered for renewal.
"They (the Americans) can say whatever they want, but we are not going to renew it," Long said.
Bitter blow to waiting families
Linda Brownlee, the executive director of a Washington-based international adoption agency, said the decision was a bitter blow for 20 families on its books waiting to adopt children in Vietnam.
"Now their dossiers will be returned to them," said Brownlee of The Adoption Center, one of more than 40 agencies arranging the adoptions of Vietnamese children.
It was not immediately clear how many other U.S. couples could be affected.
Brownlee said the embassy report did not cover positive aspects of adoptions in the country.
"You notice they didn't say how many visas they had approved with no problem," she said. "I know many agencies who have done great work there and that doesn't get reported."
The U.S. Embassy said it respected Hanoi's decision to scrap the agreement, but was confident about the accuracy of the report.
"The government of Vietnam has made their own decision, but we believe that our report speaks for itself," said spokeswoman Angela Aggeler.
While China remains the most popular overseas country for adoptions, a growing number of Americans had been looking to Vietnam, which has fewer restrictions. The wait for adoption approval has also gotten longer in China after authorities there tightened rules.
Americans adopted more than 1,200 Vietnamese children over the 18 months ending March 31.
In 2007, adoptions surged more than 400 percent from a year earlier, with 828 Vietnamese children adopted by American families.
Inconsistencies in the paperwork
U.S. Embassy officials began raising questions into current adoption practices last year after their routine investigations turned up widespread inconsistencies in adoption paperwork.
They also noticed a suspicious surge in the number of babies listed as abandoned on adoption papers. That makes it impossible to confirm the infants were genuine orphans, or that their parents had knowingly put them up for adoption, as required by U.S. law.
In adoptions before 2003, 20 percent were listed as abandoned babies. Since adoptions resumed in 2005 under tighter rules, that had risen to 85 percent, the embassy report said.
Vietnam suspended all adoptions with foreign countries in 2003 as part of its efforts to improve the legal system by centralizing adoption to prevent rampant corruption. The bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam was resumed in 2005.
Irregularities and suspected fraud have raised concerns over the fate of many of the 2,900 pending U.S. adoptions from Guatemala, which is the second-largest source of adopted children for the United States.
The State Department on April 1 advised potential adoptive parents not to initiate new adoptions from Guatemala.