Chanty has been waiting to have a child to call her own for over 20 years. Today, she proudly holds the paperwork from the court to say that Dany and Sambat are her legal children. For the first time in CIF’s organisational history, over the last few weeks five of our foster families legally adopted their foster children.
Chanty and her husband, Sinath, have been fostering Dany and Sambat for the last six years, since the boys were three months old. Chanty and Sinath are the only parents Dany and Sambat remember. A month ago, we caught up with Chanty and asked her what the move from being a foster family to an adoptive family would mean to her family.
“I will be their mum, and they will be my children, and no amount of money from anyone else will change that. I love the children and look forward to a good future for them; secure in the knowledge that we are their family.”
Many of CIFs families – and we as an organisation – have been dreaming of domestic adoption. Unlike guardianship through foster care, adoptions processed before a child is eight remove the rights of the birth parents and transfers those rights to the new families. For children like Dany and Sambat, abandoned soon after birth, this gives them a sense of identity and belonging. For Chanthy and Sinath, adoption gives them the security that no-one else will be able to make a claim for the twins. It also legitimises them as a family in the eyes of the wider community. This permanency and recognition are important in a society built around strong family ties and connections. Adoption welcomes the children permanently into wider family networks.
Another adoptive parent, Pheap, explains, “By adopting [our son] we give him a family for the future. We don’t want him to be alone and fall in with bad people”
Unlike Sitha, Pheap and her husband, Chantha, have three biological daughters. They choose to foster when they heard about CIF; they wanted to care for a child in need and wanted a son to call their own. Their son was only a few months old when he arrived in their care. He is now a bouncy, talkative five year old, who enjoys teasing his older sisters.
Pursuing Domestic Adoption
Domestic adoptions stalled in 2009, when International adoptions from Cambodia ceased over concerns about trafficking and child welfare. Uncertainty over domestic adoption procedures followed. At the end of 2016, the Ministry of Justice released an explanatory note about how to legally apply for domestic adoption. Now, domestic adoptions are gaining momentum again in Cambodia under an agreement between the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth (MOSVY) and the Family Care First initiative. The newly proposed Alternative Care Panel is overseeing potential adoption cases and will decide which adoptions are recommended to the courts, in line with best practice.
Any cases presented to the courts must demonstrate how a child came into care. It must show the process of trying to reunite them with their families, and what alternative care arrangements were made. Similarly, the cases also need to prove the suitability of families to be adoptive parents, as well as proof that the child can bond with the parents in question. CIF is uniquely placed to be one of the first NGOs to pursue adoption cases, since our workers have walked through the entire process with both the children and families in question. Our regular case meetings show how the child and foster parents have bonded together, growing as a family.
Menglang, who works for the International Office of Migration, is excited about the potential of domestic adoption. IOM is providing support to the Alternative Care Panel as part of Family Care First. Menglang believes that domestic adoption is an important step in creating permanency for children who have been part of Cambodia’s alternative care system. He states:
“It is best for children to grow up in the family environment and cultural environment where they belong. It helps them to develop a sense of belonging, to have their own identity and to have family connections that are important to social development.”
Where they belong
Back in our regional office, we chatted to Srey Mom and Arun as they waited for the court’s decision. They been fostering Chetra and Dara for over five years. The family love between all of them is shown in their little interactions and ways they speak to each other.
“We want to be able to adopt because we want to be able to pass on our inheritance and memories to the children. Even if we cannot adopt, we will still love the children and see them as our children.”
Srey Mom and Arun choose to pay the legal fees for the court hearing themselves before CIF had chance to organise it. “We wanted to be able to pay for the children to be part of our family from our income, so they are now ours. We did not want to wait for the organisation.”
Being able to pursue domestic adoption is fulfilling a dream for many of the children and foster parents in our care. They have each other to love and cherish, while they are children and into adulthood.
“By having these children as part of our lives, we are fulfilling our dream to have children
I hope we can adopt. I am looking forward to writing the names of the children in our family book.”