With regulations tightening in China, Western couples are increasingly looking to Vietnam for overseas adoptions.
But the trend is creating new complications, including illegal baby smuggling and diplomatic struggles between governments.
Vietnamese police said last week they had busted a baby-smuggling gang who were taking two infants — a one-month-old and a one-week-old — to sell in China.
Also detained was a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy who told police she had agreed to sell her unborn child to the group for the equivalent of about $500.
“This is the first time we have caught a human trafficking syndicate in a case where the baby was still in the womb,” a police officer told Agence France-Presse.
Police said the babies were to be sold for about $2,000 each to Chinese couples desiring male children.
In Sweden, police arrested as many as 40 people in a major baby-smuggling ring earlier this month, according the Swedish news Web site The Local.
Authorities say they know of at least 25 children the group attempted to smuggle out of Vietnam and into Sweden.
Legal adoptions have run into different difficulties.
The Ventura County Star reported the story of Southern California couple Steve and Julie Carroll, who say their adoption of two Vietnamese girls has been caught in the middle of a power play between the Vietnamese and U.S. governments.
The Carrolls flew to Vietnam last fall and adopted two girls, Madelyn Grace and Lillian Rose.
But when it came time to return home, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a visa for only Lillian Rose.
Madelyn Grace has been in foster care in Vietnam while the family tries to find a way to bring her home.
The Carrolls say the U.S. State Department is holding up the visa — and those of many other adopted babies — as a bargaining chip as it seeks to renegotiate the overseas agreement between the United States and Vietnam.
“Everything we know says the State Department is frankly using these babies as a tool in a battle that has nothing to do with these families or the children themselves,” Senator Barbara Boxer told the Star, after meeting with the Carrolls last week.
China has long been a favorite destination of Western couples seeking to adopt, but two years ago the Chinese government imposed new restrictions on foreign adoptions, forbidding them to unmarried people, couples over 50 and the obese.
The move infuriated many Western companies that arrange for foreign adoptions.
Also changing the landscape is the Chinese economy itself, which seems to be driving interest in Vietnam.
In a 2006 article, a Chinese official told the BBC that “the number of people applying for adoptions is soaring, but following the development of China’s economy and society the number of abandoned and orphaned children is less and less.”
Previously on Newsdesk.org:
“Families Asunder over International Adoption Woes”
Newsdesk.org, November 14, 2007
“Vietnam ‘baby-smugglers’ arrested”
BBC News, February 21, 2008
“Vietnam police bust baby trafficking gang”
Agence France-Presse, February 20, 2008
“Police in Vietnam arrest three for smuggling babies”
The Earth Times, February 18, 2008
“Couple seek senators’ aid in Vietnam adoption fight”
Ventura County Star, February 6, 2008
“Dozens indicted over Vietnam child smuggling”
The Local (Sweden), February 8, 2008
“China rules on foreign adoptions”
BBC News, December 20, 2006