News/US: Thai Govt. To Take Custody of Boy

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Subject: News/US: Thai Govt. To Take Custody of Boy
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue May 16 2000 - 07:56:51 EDT


Thai Govt. To Take Custody of Boy
By Robert Jablon
May 5, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Thai government will take custody of a 2-year-old
boy authorities believe was used as a prop in a smuggling scheme until his
grandparents can adopt him.

The boy's 22-year-old mother has agreed to relinquish custody of the child,
who is to be adopted by his paternal grandparents, said Oum Maolanon, the
Thai Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman.

"The decision will give confidence to the Thai community in L.A. in the
boy's well being once he returns home," he said Thursday. "It should
reassure them that Thailand is preparing to help the boy."

Thomas J. Schiltgen, director of the Immigration and Naturalization
Service's Los Angeles district office, confirmed the custody arrangment but
refused to discuss details.

Ladda Benjadeja, a social worker at a Thai government agency set up to help
combat trafficking in women and children in Southeast Asia, said the boy
will be housed at a children's home until his adoption is completed. She
said his mother is not capable of caring for him.

"Since it's our policy to have every child stay with their natural family
if possible, we contacted the boy's grandparents on his father's side. They
are well-off financially and they want to adopt their grandson," she said.

The boy, identified as Phanupong Khaisri, flew into Los Angeles on April 11
under a fake name, accompanied by a man and woman pretending to be his
parents.

Inspectors determined the Singaporean passports were phony and the adults
were neither his parents, legal guardians nor caretakers. INS officials
have said the couple apparently used the toddler as a decoy in order to
pretend they were coming to the United States for a vacation.

The boy was to have been repatriated on Thursday, but the INS issued a
delay amid concerns by local Thai leaders that he might be "rented" out
again as a "human prop."

The boy is scheduled to leave Tuesday, said Chanchanit Martorell, executive
director of the Thai Community Development Center, a U.S.-based advocacy
group. INS officials refused to confirm the date.

Thai community leaders say they don't want the boy to stay in the United
States but want to ensure he returns to a "safe environment," Martorell said.

The boy's grandmother, Thong Kaewpaengchan, 60, told Thailand's ITV
television network that the boy's grandfather had raised him since he was
an infant in the poor northern province of Chiang Rai after his father
committed suicide.

Two months ago, Thong said, her daughter came to fetch the boy.

"She ... told me that she would give him away to be an adopted child of her
friend in exchange for 10,000 baht ($275)," Thong said. "She promised to
take him back to us within a week, but both of them disappeared."

The mother has denied she sold or rented the boy to a smuggling ring,
saying she thought he was sightseeing with a friend.

"I did not know about his trip to America," Tabtim Kaewpaengchan told ITV.
"I only knew he was taking him out for fun."

Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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