Thank you all very much for reading my column. I truly enjoy receiving and answering your questions. Please continue to reach out to me at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
This week, I’d like to talk about two very different issues, but both are important parts of the U.S.-Cambodia relationship. The first is about adoptions between our two countries. I wrote about this subject on my blog earlier this week, but it is so significant that I wanted to discuss it in this column as well.
There are many Americans who would like to provide a loving home to orphan Cambodian children, so the issue of inter-country adoptions between the United States and Cambodia is one that I have followed closely since even before my arrival in Cambodia. The need is clearly great, and as a father, it pulls at my heartstrings to know that there are so many children in this world who grow up without a loving family. I have met with many Cambodians and Americans to discuss this important issue, and it is heartening to me that in every instance those involved are concerned first and foremost with protecting the interest of the children. Everyone agrees that in order to keep these vulnerable children safe from predators and trafficking, we must work together to ensure that each individual child will be safely and legally cared for.
When inter-country adoptions were previously allowed in Cambodia, there were numerous challenges that made it difficult to ensure the safety and welfare of the children involved. Issues such as legal custody by living parents and difficulties in obtaining birth records made it very problematic to process inter-country adoptions. Cambodia deserves credit for recognizing these problems and for suspending such adoptions in 2009, which highlighted its commitment to prioritizing the wellbeing of children. Since 2009, the Cambodian government has focused considerable effort on reforming the Cambodian adoption system. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) has made notable progress toward implementing a comprehensive child welfare program, and in August, the government announced plans to resume inter-country adoptions in January 2013.
We commend Cambodia for declaring its ambitions, and despite the significant amount of works that needs to be accomplished in a short period, the United States is committed, has been committed, and will be committed to support Cambodia’s efforts to create a child welfare system and inter-country adoption process that fulfills the country’s obligations under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Additionally, we are reviewing if it will be possible to resume inter-country adoptions between the United States and Cambodia in January. The U.S. Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, Ambassador Susan Jacobs, is currently in Cambodia to meet with Royal Government officials to discuss protections that must be in place before inter-country adoptions between our two countries can resume and to discuss how the United States can continue to support Cambodia in this regard.
I welcome the opportunity to continue working with the Cambodian government in its efforts to implement a model child welfare system, so that when inter-country adoptions do resume between our two countries, we can all be sure that the health, safety, and wellbeing of the children come first. For the latest information on inter-country adoptions, I encourage you to check our website at http://cambodia.usembassy.gov/intl_adoption2.html
The second topic I’d like to touch on today is our military-to-military relationship. During my recent trip to Sihanoukville, some people asked me, “Besides Pacific Partnership, what else do the United States and Cambodia do to promote military engagement? Thankfully, I was able to point to the pier and say, “Do you see that ship? It is a U.S. naval ship with American sailors here doing dive exercises and drills with the Cambodian Royal Navy. And next week, several more ships are coming to do more exchanges as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Cambodia.”
Over the past few years, the number of military exchanges between our two countries has grown from just a few to over 170 every year, significantly strengthening the ties between our uniformed military personnel. We work together through subject matter expert exchanges; humanitarian assistance projects such as building medical clinics, maternity wards, and schools; and emergency preparedness exercises. Last week’s CARAT exercise, which we have done since 2010, allowed our two navies to focus on enhancing maritime security skills through activities such as maritime interdiction, diving and salvage operations, maneuvering, and disaster response. Aside from the drills, the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet Band offered a free concert for the residents of Kampot. U.S. and Cambodian sailors also had a chance to socialize with each other and build relationships through football (or soccer as we call it in the United States). I like to think that this relationship is a solid, positive example of how well our two countries work together.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my responses to your great questions. I want to be sure we continue this exchange, so please send your questions to me in English or Khmer at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov. Please also stay tuned to the latest developments on my blog at http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd/.
William E. Todd is U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia