- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

Asian children orphaned by the tsunami last month aren’t immediately available for adoption, and may never be, international and U.S. adoption experts said this week.

“I think there will be a real need for orphanages in this region now,” said John Quinley, an executive director of Youth With a Mission (YWAM), a Montana-based evangelical Christian service group that is assisting tsunami victims in Phuket, Thailand.

Since the Dec. 26 tsunami, countless Americans have called adoption agencies inquiring about adopting children who appear to have been orphaned.

Susan Soon-keum Cox of Holt International Children’s Services said people want to adopt children instead of giving money. The Eugene, Ore.-based organization specializes in international adoptions, including from India and Thailand.

“Some people really think they can just get on a plane and bring home a child,” Mrs. Cox said.

She, however, said this scenario isn’t like the one in 1989 when Romania’s government was overthrown and the country’s orphanage doors were thrown open.

“Those [Romanian children] really were orphans,” Mrs. Cox said, adding that tsunami survivors still might have family members alive.

The State Department has issued a statement that says “it is not possible for U.S. citizens to adopt these children, for several reasons.” One reason is that some children are being reconnected as quickly as possible with surviving family members, who most likely will become their caretakers.

Of the four hardest-hit tsunami countries, India and Thailand are the most amenable to foreign adoption. Every year, hundreds of Indian children and dozens of Thai children are adopted by U.S. families, according to the State Department.

But foreign adoption, at least by Americans, is almost unknown in heavily Muslim Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Five or fewer U.S. immigration visas a year are issued for children from either of the two countries, primarily because of prohibitions on non-Muslims adopting Muslim children.

Foreign adoptions of tsunami victims are illegal, Sri Lankan and Indonesian officials said this week. In a crackdown on illegal trafficking of children, the Sri Lankan government said neither its citizens nor children’s relatives can adopt children without the government’s approval. Officials in Indonesia said adoptions in Aceh were banned and that it is illegal for children 16 or younger to be taken out of the province without their parents.

Adoption advocates have been gently educating Americans about foreign adoptions.

“Although we empathize with these heartfelt impulses, we must advise patience and caution,” the National Council for Adoption said on its Web site.

The group said established child-welfare procedures must be followed to ensure that children truly are orphaned and have no other family members to take care of them, and that adoptions are conducted ethically.

In Phuket, Mr. Quinley said, young tsunami survivors have been brought to hospitals, emergency shelters and into neighbors’ care but will require long-term, secure upbringing.

“Someone on our team has just been talking to a lady who has had quite a bit to do with seeing orphanages open in Asia. So I think there will be that need,” said Mr. Quinley, 47, who grew up near Virginia Beach and has been working with YWAM in Thailand for the past 16 years.

In addition to relief and development work, YWAM operates orphanages in Thailand, which Americans and others can contact to adopt Thai children, Mr. Quinley said, though children from the tsunami-hit zones aren’t available.

“The Thai government has a very clear system set up about adoption,” and the process of freeing children for adoption may take months or years, Mr. Quinley said.

Richard S. Ehrlich filed his report from Phuket, Thailand.

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