A U.S.-Vietnam adoption agreement expired Monday with the two sides unable to resolve disagreements over fraud and corruption, disappointing hundreds of prospective parents who will have to seek children elsewhere.
The two countries said they will continue trying to iron out their differences, but for now the program will be suspended indefinitely.
Vietnam will continue processing adoptions for parents who had already been matched with orphans before the agreement expired. But the vast majority of the roughly 1,700 families that had cases pending will be disappointed, according to Vietnam's top adoption official, Vu Duc Long.
Long said he was still tallying the exact number and would release it later this week.
Chandra Wilmsmeyer of Memphis, Tennessee, is one of the hundreds of prospective parents whose cases were canceled Monday. She was disappointed that the two sides were unable to resolve their differences without suspending adoptions.
"Hopefully they'll be able to work out a new system quickly," she said. "Otherwise, there are legitimate orphans who are going to be in orphanages longer than they need to be."
Wilmsmeyer and her husband will now try to adopt in Russia, but had their hearts set on a Vietnamese child.
"We researched the country and the culture, and we fell in love with it," she said. "We really became attached to the idea that we were going to bring a child home from Vietnam."
Representatives of U.S. adoption agencies agreed that Vietnam's adoption program had problems, but argued that the vast majority of adoptions were legitimate. They had hoped that U.S. officials would allow valid adoptions to proceed while working with Vietnam to eliminate abuses.
"The U.S. approach has been to blame Vietnam and let the system fail," said Tom Atwood, president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption in Washington. "It is tragic for these vulnerable children that the U.S. government has not been able to manage this situation in a way that allows legitimate adoptions to proceed."
The two sides still hope to work out their disagreements, but it is not clear when that might happen.
"The U.S. has consistently been supportive of international adoption around the world," said a U.S. Embassy staffer who declined to be named, citing policy. "We will continue to work with the government of Vietnam to pursue the possibility of resuming adoptions."
But the U.S. will only agree to resume the program if it protects the interests of orphans, their birth parents and adoptive parents, she said.
Vietnam would go a long way toward satisfying U.S. concerns if it signs the Hague convention on international adoptions, which includes safeguards aimed at preventing fraud and corruption, she said.
Long has sent a proposal to Vietnam's legislative National Assembly recommending that the country join the convention.
"We hope that approval will be granted soon," Long said. "But we don't know exactly when. It's up to the deputies."
Vietnam announced that it would stop accepting new American adoption applications in April, after the U.S. government released a report that said Vietnam's adoption system was riddled with corruption, fraud and baby-selling.
Long said at the time that the U.S. concerns were overblown and that Vietnam was doing its best to eliminate isolated instances of wrongdoing.
The U.S.-Vietnam adoption program also was shut down in 2003 after the U.S. raised similar concerns about corruption.
The program resumed in 2006 after the two sides reached an agreement intended to ensure that adoptions were above board. But the U.S. says Vietnam has been unable to enforce the terms of that deal, largely because its central adoption authority lacks sufficient power to control orphanage directors.
Ben Stocking in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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