Kyrgyzstan: Adoption Reform Leaves Kyrgyz orphans, American families, in Limbo
Last November, Suzanne Boutilier was sitting outside a Kyrgyz orphanage, cradling the slight 6-month-old baby girl she was set to adopt. She sang to her daughter-to-be and kept returning to a Carly Simon tune with the chorus "Lovin' you is the right thing to do," and every time she came to the line "Even though you're 10,000 miles away," she would sob.
In a few days Boutilier would be back in California, and the baby she had been waiting five months to finish adopting would remain at the orphanage. Now, more than a year after she was first matched with the little girl by an international adoption agency -- and told she'd likely be able to bring her home in eight weeks -- she is still waiting. And by all accounts, there is no telling when her wait will end.
Boutilier's saga is one of approximately 65 cases in which families in the United States had in-process adoptions put on hold by the Kyrgyz government. The government halted all international adoptions early this year as it pondered ways to overhaul regulations and means to root out corruption in the adoption system.
With the government still mulling the issues, 65 American families are stuck in limbo and losing hope. Meanwhile, 65 Kyrgyz children -- many with special needs -- who could have homes, instead sit in orphanages at a time when, developmentally, every day is significant.
"We are trying to be very patient, because we know [the Kyrgyz government is] doing their best to make sure everything is legal. And we wouldn't want it any other way," said Ann Bates, a Pennsylvania pediatric nurse waiting to bring home the three-year-old girl with mild cerebral palsy she was matched with in June 2008.
The Kyrgyz government hasn't given any indication when or if the adoptions will be allowed to go through, according to the US State Department. The Kyrgyz Embassy in Washington did not respond to EurasiaNet's requests for comment.
The State Department told EurasiaNet by e-mail that an official in the Kyrgyz Prime Minister's Office said the government is still working on new adoption regulations, but did not know when they would be submitted to Parliament, or how long it would take for Parliament to approve them. If approved and then signed by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, it would take at least three months before they were implemented, and more for adoption agencies to be accredited under the new regulations.
It's unknown how a new regulatory framework would affect the 65 pending American adoptions. According to the State Department, the adoptions could be grandfathered in under old laws, if Kyrgyz courts intervene.
American adoptions from Kyrgyzstan had been rising steadily since 2004, hitting 78 in 2008. Nine US-based international adoption agencies had programs in the country that year. Prospective parents were attracted to Kyrgyzstan by the relative speed and smooth flow of the adoption system. Agencies listed that the full process would last eight to 12 months, while in China and some other nations, the process was lasting up to five years.
A slowdown in the Kyrgyz process began in the late summer of 2008. Families who had accepted the children they were matched with, whom many had visited, realized that they weren't getting the requisite appointments to finalize the process. They then contacted the US government and international adoption organizations.
In mid-November, the State Department cautioned individuals and agencies about beginning adoptions in Kyrgyzstan. The 65 families whose adoptions were nearly done continued to wait. Some, like Boutilier, an advertising copywriter, returned to Kyrgyzstan to visit their intended children. "There was that little fantasy in my mind -- what if things happened when I was there?" she said of her hopes the process would start moving again during her November trip.
But nothing progressed. In January, the State Department released a statement that no new adoptions from Kyrgyzstan should be started "because of serious, ongoing problems in the country's inter-country adoption process."
UNICEF, the UN's children's agency, held a retreat in January for Kyrgyz legislators to discuss inter-country adoption. With the quick uptick in adoptions from many nations in the past few years, the agency was urging the government to review and restructure its system so that "potential bad practices" did not arise. UNICEF officials also intimated that some had already occurred, according to a written summary of the discussions. The summary recommended that Kyrgyzstan suspend inter-country adoptions while it created a central authority for adoptions and considered signing a Hague Convention agreement on adoption practices. The UNICEF summary also stated that "cases where contacts between prospective adoptive parents and child to be adopted have already taken place should be allowed to be completed."
On February 2, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov placed an official moratorium on international adoption. About the same time, stories of criminal behavior at orphanages began emerging in the Kyrgyz press. In February, the 24.kg news agency reported that an orphanage was accused of child abuse and of illegally transporting children from the country using false documents. Rumors arose about local adoptive families being denied children so that lucrative international adoptions could occur.
Throughout these months, some of the 65 adoptive families received sporadic updates on their matched children, like pictures, measurements and health updates.
At the end of March of 2009, Suzanne Bilyeu, a Florida pediatrician, received a picture of the little girl she and her husband were paired with the previous June and panicked. The child's head was gigantic. Immediately, she suspected that the girl had hydrocephalus, and had had the condition for quite a while.
Hydrocephalus is a buildup of cerebral spinal fluid in the skull. The pressure of the excess fluid can cause brain damage, a host of other complications, and, if left untreated, death. With the help of her in-country adoption coordinator, she was able to get the child seen by a local neurosurgeon and eye doctor. They confirmed the diagnosis.
The child needed surgery immediately to remove the fluid from around the brain, according to Bilyeu. She needed a shunt, a tube implanted from the brain to the abdomen, to drain fluid to the abdominal cavity. It took two months to get her into a hospital, and then another two weeks once there for the surgery to occur.
The operation in May was successful, but the child is deaf and mute and has permanent vision loss, according to the local doctors, as recounted by Bilyeu. Based on the CT scans she was sent, and the fact that the child at 16 months cannot sit up by herself, crawl, pull to a stand or walk, she said brain damage is likely, but only time will tell.
Bilyeu agonizes over the child's condition and feels the lasting effects could have been prevented.
"This was a child that, had she been home with us, she'd be toddling around my house right now. She'd be in the pool with us today," Bilyeu said. "She would have had a shunt as soon as there was any change in her head circumference . . . and she would have been OK."
Bilyeu's story increases the anxiety of many of the other families. Some prospective adoptees with issues like cleft palates and cerebral palsy would benefit from early medical intervention. And according to studies, all would be helped cognitively and emotionally by living with a family versus being in an institutional setting.
In May, a Kyrgyz governmental delegation traveled to the United States and met with five waiting families and 11 who had already completed adoptions. It was a meeting organized by the US State Department and child welfare organizations.
MP Gulnara Derbisheva and Damira Niazalieva, along with Ekatrina Khoroshman of the Prime Minister's office talked to the waiting families about the children they were hoping to adopt. When the MPs returned home, they held a news conference calling for the 65 cases to be resolved. They also sent a letter to the prime minister requesting that he lift the moratorium so that these cases could be processed. In June, the Department of State sent a US adoption expert to meet with Kyrgyz officials.
Since then, the 65 families have heard little. According to the State Department, the criminal investigation of alleged corruption is still ongoing, and two adoption coordinators affiliated with US agencies were arrested and released on bail.
The families continue to wait.
"I don't regret my decision to adopt from Kyrgyzstan because that decision lead me to the child I now love. I'm daily amazed and inspired by the depth and vastness of the love I feel for her, even after having spent only 45 hours with her over the past 14 months," Boutilier said. "While there are days that I believe that my heart could not be more broken over this turn of events, I'm certain that my heart has never been more full."
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