Prominent advocates of international adoption are assailing the State Department for its four-year suspension of adoptions from Nepal and have asked Congress to help reverse the policy.
The group leading the campaign, Both Ends Burning, released a report this week challenging the rationale for the suspension and issued an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday seeking his help.
"We believe hundreds, if not thousands, of Nepali orphans have wrongly been denied their right to a family as a result of the U.S. Government's suspension," said the letter. It contended that the State Department had provided "misinformation" about the extent of adoption fraud in Nepal.
The United States imposed the suspension in 2010 after reporting pervasive problems with unreliable documentation in Nepal's adoption system. The State Department said it was difficult to determine whether children being placed for adoption had, in fact, been abandoned and could be considered orphans under U.S. law.
Susan Jacobs, the State Department's special adviser on children's issues, said the department remains skeptical of the Nepalese government's willingness to be accountable. She noted that other Western countries also had halted adoptions from Nepal; the U.S. was the last to take that step.
"There were countries that never saw an adoption they didn't like, and even they pulled out because they were so appalled at what they were seeing," she said.
Both Ends Burning has called for congressional hearings on the matter.
In Nepal, authorities have sought to regulate adoption more closely, saying they will allow international adoptions only of children in 18 government-approved orphanages and shelters.
"We have some U.S. nationals applying with us for adoption but because of the restrictions from U.S. government we are not able to proceed," said Mahendra Shrestha, who heads Nepal's Intercountry Adoption Board. "We have had to return the children back to the shelters, and some of them have returned back to the streets."
The Both Ends Burning report delves into how U.S. officials handled adoption cases that were pending in 2010. After the suspension, the State Department continued processing the cases of 62 U.S. families who'd already been matched with Nepalese children, but it required 55 of the cases to be reinvestigated by the families at their own expense because of concerns about irregularities.
Those adoptions eventually were approved, but the report says the delay cost each family an average of $25,000 in extra expenses, plus more than six extra months spent by the children in institutions.
"The fact that no fraud was found in any of the adoption cases and yet Nepal remains closed today is simply wrong," said Kelly Dempsey, the group's counsel and director of advocacy. "The suspension should be lifted, the Department of State should be held to account for their actions, and reforms need to be pursued by Congress to make sure this does not happen again."
Between 2000 and 2011, when the last delayed adoptions were approved, 469 Nepalese children were adopted by Americans. There were none last year.
Among the last parents to complete an adoption — after months of delay — was Jenni Lund of Seattle, whose 6-year-old son Pukar is about to graduate from kindergarten.
Lund, an acupuncturist, spent four months in Nepal in late 2010-early 2011, living with her son while waiting to get clearance from U.S. officials. She described the experience as "beyond stressful" and said it caused major financial woes for her.
But she says she has no regrets.
"I firmly believe my child is so much better off here," she said. "I can't imagine having left him in an orphanage."
Among the groups supporting the Both Ends Burning initiative are the National Council for Adoption, which represents many adoption agencies, and the Congressional Coalition for Adoption Institute, which liaises with Congress on adoption issues.
Chuck Johnson, the adoption council's CEO, hopes adoptions from Nepal will resume but said steps should be taken to ensure good practices are in place.
"We don't want fewer safeguards," he said. "In fact, opening Nepal too quickly would be disastrous."
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., one of the leading adoption advocates in Congress, described the new report as "deeply troubling." She said it reinforced the need for a bill she has introduced — the Children in Families First Act — that would create a new State Department bureau to encourage initiatives, including adoption, to reduce the number of children worldwide without families.
Associated Press writer Binaj Gurubacharya in Katmandu, Nepal, contributed to this report.
Follow David Crary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP