“Aren’t you interested in visiting Vietnam?”

“Don’t you want to look for your birth parents?”

“As soon as I save enough money, I’m planning to go to Bangladesh to search for my birth family.”

These are a few of the questions and comments directed at our 22-year-old son, who up to that time had never appeared all that interested in his birth country or family. Then things changed overnight. Soon after re-acquainting with his childhood friend, Lynn, who was adopted as an infant from India, our son was planning a trip to Vietnam, his country of birth.


It’s possible that hundreds of other Canadian families will have a similar experience in the next five to ten years. Approximately 2000 internationally adopted children per year have come to Canada since 1990. Many of those young people will want to visit their original country and possibly look for birth family.


During the 1970s and ‘80s, most internationally adopted children came from Korea, Hong Kong, India, Bangladesh, and Haiti. By 1996, Korea had established a post-adoption services program designed to help Korean families locate their internationally placed children and help adoptees find their Korean birth families. That same year, 85 adoptive parents and 77 adoptees from overseas, seeking information, visited the Social Welfare Society, one of the biggest international placement agencies in Korea. Some went with motherland tour groups, but the majority of young people went individually.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has also set up an adoption reunion registry run by the International Social Services, Hong Kong Branch. ISS Hong Kong kept good records and has developed a well-run reunion registry.

Open records

In 1996, BC adoption records were opened because of mounting pressure from birth parents and adoptees who wanted freer access to information identifying each other. It’s likely that Korea and Hong Kong reacted for similar reasons: Birth mothers and adopted young people may have pressured overseas social welfare agencies for information. Similarly, it’s highly likely that in five to 10 years, the Chinese government will have hundreds of young women requesting information about their birth families. As in the Korean case, the first wave of returning adoptees may not get any information, but the pressure will be on to set something up for the next wave of young adoptees.


In the case of China, due to the huge population, it seems like an impossible task to reunite a child who was “abandoned” with his/her birth family in a country of more than one billion people. However, it may not be as difficult as it first appears. Most Chinese adoptees have an approximate birth date and place. Some infants had notes attached to clothing with more detailed information about themselves and what the parent wanted for them. It would be easy for the Child Adoption Centre in China to set up a passive registry, where adoptees and birth mothers could register.

DNA matching

It is also possible to match a birth mother with an adoptee thanks to advancements in DNA technology. Helix Biotech of New Westminster states that “although Helix is currently conducting adoption tests for children originating from Central America, a DNA maternity test can be used to confirm a biological relationship for all adoptions, (as well as other purposes including paternity suits, estate disputes and immigration family sponsorship applications.)” In Central American adoptions, tests are used to detect fraud. However the identity of the child’s mother might be of future importance if the child wants to know the identity of his or her biological mother in the future.”

The Hague

As more countries sign and ratify the Hague Convention on International Adoption, the greater the possibility of future international reunions. Article 9 of the Convention states that countries shall “collect, preserve and exchange information about the situation of the child and the prospective adoptive parents….” Further on it states that countries shall “promote the development of adoption counselling and post-adoption services in their State.” Russia and China have signed but have not yet ratified the Convention. When China and Russia ratify, they will have to “collect and preserve information” on children placed for adoption. They will also have to set up post- adoption services, in other words, a registry. Romania, Peru and the Philippines have all ratified.

Our family

Getting back to our family story, our son did visit Vietnam in 1997. His Dad and I joined him for part of his journey, and the three of us visited Phu My orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City, where he had spent the first five months of his life. One woman who worked at the institution had been there for over 25 years, but records from 1974 to 1975 were destroyed or may never have existed due to the Vietnam war.

Birth family?

Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience to visit Vietnam and a privilege to spend time with the people who are, in fact, our son’s ancestors. The icing on the cake would be to find his birth mother, even a birth family member, and we haven’t given up trying. For our son, the desire to know who he looks like, how his birth mother is doing, and to let her know that he is fine, would be the icing. It’s been an exciting journey, and it’s not over yet.