examines UN reports pointing to concerns at Vietnamese adoptions
Oct 06, 2009
Helping Hands adoption agency wants transparency in Vietnamese
adoptions, which are suspended, writes CAROL COULTER, Legal
O’DRISCOLL has the unenviable task of heading up an adoption agency
liaising with a country from which adoptions have stopped, at least for
is chief executive of Cork-based Helping Hands, which assists couples
who are adopting children from Vietnam.
the lapsing of a bilateral agreement between Ireland and Vietnam last
May, these adoptions have been suspended, though 20 applications that
were in the system in Vietnam before the deadline are still in the
to Minister for Children Barry Andrews, the Government is considering
two UN reports on Vietnam before taking further steps towards a new
bilateral agreement. These reports highlighted concerns about the
adoption process in Vietnam, and one, a draft report from the UN’s
International Social Service, seemed to criticise Helping Hands,
describing its public information as “at least somewhat misleading and
consequently disturbing in its implications”.
O’Driscoll did not want to discuss this report as it was still in
draft form, but said she had received a letter from its authors saying
they were not alleging any impropriety on the part of Helping Hands.
of the concern in the reports centres on the autonomy of regional
authorities and institutions with regard to adoption, and what happens
to the “humanitarian aid” paid to these bodies by adopting parents.
Last week 16 people were convicted in Vietnam for corruption in the
O’Driscoll stressed Helping Hands had nothing to do with the provinces
where the abuses took place, and said the Vietnamese authorities were
moving to centralise the adoption process, for which they deserved
fee to Helping Hands for an adoption is $11,100 (€7,580), of which
$9,000 is “humanitarian aid” and is paid directly to the local
authorities. Necessary documentation accounts for $153 , while $1,903
goes on local administration, transport, etc.
$1,903 is what we are accountable for,” she told The Irish Times .
“We can account for that down to the last cent.”
acknowledged she had no way of knowing how the $9,000 was spent, other
than what she saw in improved facilities in institutions and income
supplements for local families.
have seen changes on the ground. For instance I went to one of the care
centres, which houses elderly people as well as children, and the people
said, ‘you’re the woman who brought the music’, because the local
government had bought them all radios.
our reports since 2006 we have been making recommendations around
accountability and transparency in humanitarian aid,” she said.
agreed $9,000 was an enormous amount of money in Vietnamese terms.
According to the latest Vietnamese government figures, the minimum
monthly wage ranges from $51.56 to $67.25, depending on area.
O’Driscoll expressed doubts about these rates. “We pay $25 for a
taxi into the city, and hotel rates are western rates,” she said.
“The $9,000 is something that has to be sorted out. But Vietnam is
still one of the cheapest countries to adopt from.”
area of concern in the reports was the issue of consents from the
child’s natural family. “We made recommendations on the child’s
dossier and consent in our reports to the adoption board and the
Department of Health. We are recommending that all the consent documents
are in place before a referral, so the children would come with a
completed dossier and the adoption board could look at it.
is trust involved in any adoption. We have to put in systems to enable
Vietnam to do the job. In the provinces we have been dealing with we
have found them very trustworthy.”
she has no unease about any existing adoption? “No. In our experience
they have been stringent around the paperwork.” She acknowledged that
record-keeping for children coming into institutions had not happened
until now, but said Helping Hands had helped establish a system to
ensure records were kept for every child.
a background in childcare Ms O’Driscoll was a member of the adoption
board for eight years. Helping Hands was set up in May 2006, and she was
appointed chief executive. She then resigned from the board, as she
considered her membership would be a conflict of interest.
agency has received €1.6 million from the HSE since it was set up, and
employs eight people, of whom four are in Vietnam. “We apply for
funding on an annual basis and send in our audited books and reports.”
what does she expect to happen now? “That is up to the Department of
2009 The Irish Times
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