**UPDATE (July 26): The Ministry of Social Development has stopped all international adoption agencies from working in Kyrgyzstan, for now. According to a July 26 Vecherny Bishkek report, which includes a list of the agencies, four have been banned due to "grave violations." Six others have been suspended for two months.
Kids in Kyrgyzstan’s state childcare institutions are again at the center of the country’s lackluster war on corruption. Though a long-standing moratorium on international adoption in Kyrgyzstan was lifted last year, authorities seem bent on bringing it back after the high-profile arrest of a minister involved in the process.
The moratorium was originally instituted in February 2009 because of corruption in the adoption system and reasonable fears children were not being protected. (The campaign later drew sensationalist coverage in press reports, which played on fears of "Americans harvesting our children's organs”). Despite repeated promises to prospective parents to lift the ban, it dragged on because of chaos in government. For at least 65 American families who had already started the adoption process, the freeze left dozens of children in limbo for years. A fair number had congenital illnesses and needed treatment in the West. Some died waiting.
In 2011, new procedures were established for accrediting a limited number of international agencies to facilitate adoptions from Kyrgyzstan, prompting the end of the moratorium. A handful of adoptions have since proceeded.
Now it looks like this new system is already falling apart. The Prosecutor General’s office has demanded the Ministry of Social Development revoke the agencies' accreditation, CA-News.org reported last week. The news comes on the heels of the July 5 arrest of Minister of Social Development Ravshan Sabirov, after his assistant allegedly took a $10,000 bribe and demanded $20,000 to accredit an international adoption agency. Sabirov is charged with extortion.
Why Sabirov? That’s a good question in a country where graft is as pervasive among officials as it is in Kyrgyzstan. Extortion should be punished, of course, but that happens so rarely that when it does, many doubt official explanations. Indeed, some are wondering if this tussle is over control of a lucrative industry rather than a serious attempt to root out corruption. And Sabirov – an ethnic minority without a strong extended network of supporters threatening to block a road somewhere – is low-hanging fruit.
Moreover, how many of the accredited agencies paid bribes? (There are between four and 10 international adoption agencies accredited now, according to various reports.) Globally, there is a history of unscrupulous Western middlemen turning a blind eye to exploitation and profiteering, as they facilitate the adoption of vulnerable children from poor to rich countries. Public scandals elsewhere in Asia, although not yet in Kyrgyzstan, have revealed children being kidnapped from their parents, put in institutions and passed off as orphans available for adoption in return for hefty dollar donations.
In other words, does this latest development demonstrate that Kyrgyz authorities are admirably serious about preventing corruption in this sector and protecting the best interests of children? (After all, the Kyrgyz parliament has just approved the Hague Convention on international adoption, a significant commitment.) Or are they engaged in something much less honorable?
Besieged Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, harried by an oft-postponed vote of no confidence in parliament, has threatened to impose a new moratorium – a move that will likely earn him points among the many people suspicious of what a Westerner, or a local middleman, could end up doing to an adopted baby. He can wave the proposal as a feather in the cap of his long-promised anti-corruption campaign, but its effects on child welfare in Kyrgyzstan remain very unclear.