NEW YORK (AP) — State Department officials have intensified their criticism of the government of Congo as they marked Friday's two-year anniversary of that African country's decision to block the departure of children adopted by American and European families.
At stake are more than 1,000 adoptions that were legally approved by the Congolese courts before the government announced that the issuing of exit permits was being suspended as of Sept. 25, 2013. According to the State Department, about 440 U.S. families are among those waiting for their adopted children to be allowed to travel.
State Department spokesman John Kirby, at a news briefing Thursday, said many of the children "are living now in institutional conditions, which potentially causes irreparable harm."
Michele Bond, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, told The Associated Press that she had visited one of the orphanages in Congo where about 20 of the adopted children were living, and sleeping two to a bed in bunk rooms.
"There was nothing for them to play with," Bond said. "These are very long periods of time in which small children are just sitting and waiting in very deprived circumstances compared to what they'd have if they were living with their families."
Last week, Congo's ambassador to the United States, Francois Balumuene, met with some of the waiting American families at his embassy in Washington and issued a statement suggesting that the exit permits would be issued once Congo's National Assembly enacts a proposed law creating a new adoption process.
Bond was dismayed by the statement.
"It's a very unfair suggestion to say these children who have been adopted already should wait until a new adoption law," she said. "That's an extremely long delay."
Among the waiting families, hopes were raised earlier this year when the State Department told them that Congolese authorities had formed a commission to review pending cases and perhaps expedite the issuance of exit permits. However, Bond said only a handful of the permits were issued, primarily in cases involving urgent medical needs.
For many families, the long wait has been immensely challenging. Some parents relocated to Congo to be with their children, while congressional supporters of the families said at least 10 of the children died and others have suffered serious health problems during the delay.
Initially, the Congolese government attributed the suspension of exit permits to allegations that some children were abandoned by their adoptive parents and others were "sold to homosexuals." More recently, authorities in Congo indicated that they view their entire adoption system as beset by corruption and falsified documents.
Among the waiting families are Evan and Elizabeth Clements of Lamar, Missouri, who were matched with a baby boy in Congo in June 2013, but were unable to get an exit permit for Elijah when the adoption was formally approved in December.
"My best thoughts on what is going on is that the (Congolese) government is using any and every method to stall these kids coming home," Evan Clements said in an email. "I personally feel like the only way to get our children home is to have the United States government step up in a big way."
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