On December 21, 2001 the United States INS officially suspended issuing visas for children adopted from Cambodia, effectively shutting the adoption program down. Eventually most of the families in process at the time of the shutdown were able to complete their adoptions. Those were the last adoptions to the United States from Cambodia and the Suspension continues to be in place more than nine years later.
Why did the INS take such drastic actions in Cambodia - doing something it had never done before? What was the source of the corruption? Was every agency complicit? How deep did the corruption go?
We may never know the full answers to these questions, but over the last eleven years an extensive amount of research by the FBI as well as other agencies and organizations has been done to put the pieces together. The picture formed is not a flattering one. It is hard to read. Especially for families who adopted under that system. But we need to understand, because one day we may need to help our children understand. And families hoping to adopt if or when adoptions re-open need to understand in order to be certain the same mistakes are not made again.
The best resource for information on this issue is The Schuster Institute For Investigative Journalism website. They have gathered nearly every document and article written about Cambodian adoption and the problems and irregularities found. While some of the articles linked clearly have a bias, overall the information presented is factual and unfortunately much of the fraud and corruption is typical of that found in developing countries around the world. I do want to highlight one particular link on their site, that of a talk given by US ICE Agent Richard Cross, who did much of the investigative work for the U.S. government in Cambodia. (If you click the link and scroll to the bottom of the page you can watch a video of his talk, or read the transcript.) He breaks down the investigation and issues very clearly and also explains the language of the laws involved.
This is old news. The laws are being changed (in Cambodia). Any future agreement between the US and Cambodia is based on compliance with the Hague Adoption Convention. (Full Text) Many of the agencies working in Cambodia in 2001 are long out of business. But there is still no guarantee that "irregularities" will not happen again. Many of the same players are involved, just their titles have changed. And many of these issues are borne out of a long and tragic history of exploitation in Cambodia - even the best laws have loopholes, and there will be people looking for them. That said, I still believe it is possible to ethically adopt a child from Cambodia. There are children truly in need of families and there are people who have those children's best interests at heart. The key is to know what to look for.