Ecosse: Adoption trap

Later this month Malcolm and Pauline Dixon will find out if they have defeated the government and can start a family, writes Jackie Kemp.

All they wanted was an ordinary family life - the kind most people take for granted. Cautious, do-it-by-the-book Malcolm Dixon and Pauline, his wife, did not foresee that their lives would be transformed to the point where they would mount a legal challenge against a government minister.

Later this month the Dixons will discover whether a historic legal action in the High Court in London has been successful.

They have challenged Margaret Hodge, the children’s minister, over the way she stopped their adoption of a Cambodian child.

They may yet achieve their dream of filling their tranquil country garden with the sound of a child’s laughter. But they have embarked on a high-risk strategy that could see them, and other families involved in the campaign, facing an expensive legal bill for the judicial review they have pursued.

Malcolm is a quiet Scot with a simmering fury at the way he and Pauline have been treated which is immediately apparent when you meet him.

“This has been a really awful experience,” he says. “Our life has been on hold for the past 10 months since the ruling. One of the things I resent is the implication that we have unwittingly allowed ourselves to become involved with a criminal gang who are child trafficking. That is completely untrue.

“The way we are seen as ‘desperate’ people who will bend any rule to get hold of a child. That’s not who we are.” The Dixons, together for 15 years but childless because of infertility – they went through seven failed attempts at IVF – have been trying to adopt a Cambodian child for three years. Almost a year ago the emotionally draining process finally seemed to be on the verge of a happy outcome. After visiting several orphanages, they had been given permission to adopt from the Cambodian Children’s Relief Centre, an independent voluntary agency.

“In adoption terms you are now officially pregnant,” a friend told them. At long last the prospect of a baby joining them in their farmhouse amid the rolling Sussex downs, looked like it was becoming a reality. “It
didn’t seem as if anything could go wrong,” Pauline says.

However, their euphoria was abruptly deflated. No sooner was the ink dry on the adoption paperwork than the British government slammed the door on all Cambodian adoptions. “Hearing that we weren’t going to be allowed to adopt after all was like a bereavement,” Malcolm recalls.

The decision came in July last year, following a “sting” on an ITV current affairs show in which an undercover reporter persuaded an impoverished woman to offer her baby for sale. The moral panic that ensued was exacerbated by events in the United States. There, Lauryn Galindo, a woman who had arranged 800 Cambodian adoptions over four years, appeared in court accused of paying mothers as little as a bag of rice for their babies.

The $3,500 (about £2,400) “voluntary” donations American families believed they were making to Cambodian orphanages were diverted to a portfolio of beachfront properties in Hawaii.

Galindo’s scam was uncovered after Judith Mosley, an American mother, made an emotional pilgrimage to the orphanage that had been home to her adopted daughter. On arrival, Camryn, her daughter, ushered her back to their car and directed the driver down dirt roads and into the countryside.

“We pulled up outside a house,” Mosley recalls, “and down the stairs came a lady who had a baby in her arms. The translator said: ‘This is your daughter’s sister. And that’s her nephew.’ ”

The truth eventually emerged. Camryn’s parents had died when she was a child. Raised by family members she had never lived in an orphanage.

“All her paperwork was bogus,” says Mosley. “My mind was just spinning.”

The fallout from the Galindo case reverberated around a world that had seen adoption as a partial solution to the huge problem of Cambodia’s 670,000 orphans.

Sunday Times
May 8th 2005