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Adoption is a confusing process at the best of times. But in Cambodia, it’s even more so. Most people are aware of the current ban on inter-country adoption, and are surprised to discover that foreigners living in Cambodia are frequently able to adopt Cambodian children.


In Cambodia, as in most countries, there are two different types of adoption. The first is national adoption, where a person or couple living in the country adopts a child from the same country. The second is inter-country adoption, where a person or couple from one country adopts a child from a foreign country.

National adoption in Cambodia is governed by the 1989 Law on Marriage and Family, which provides that adoptions can actually take place within Cambodia’s borders, regardless of nationality. This is subject to the court’s discretion.

Inter-country adoption in Cambodia is currently illegal, after being banned in 2009 following a series of child trafficking scandals, the US deciding not to recognize Cambodian adoptions , and objections to Cambodia’s ratification of the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption in 2007. Determined to bring adoptions into line with the convention, Cambodia itself banned adoptions between Cambodia and any other state until its laws were reformed.

The law was meant to be in place by April this year, but is still very much in the drafting phase. The lack of clarity can create a nightmare scenario for adopting parents who want to take their family back to their home country with them, be it permanently or for a temporary visit. It can be difficult for foreigners to adopt if there are indications that they have moved to Cambodia for the sole purpose of using the national adoption process, when in reality it should be an inter-country adoption.

For those who do succeed in securing a national adoption, many countries, such as the USA, France, Germany and the Netherlands currently refuse to recognize a Cambodian national adoption. Expats with no long-term plans to stay in Cambodia would be advised to hold off considering an adoption until the new law is finalized and international adoption agencies are established here.

As for those parents who have gone through with national adoptions, it is still uncertain as to whether or not they will be able to convert them into inter-country adoptions under the new system.



The work of a handful of attorneys at BNG Legal, this blog's mission is to keep the world up-to-date on legal issues in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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