Vietnamese "orphan" Duong Quoc Tuan (SUN, July 1) was returned to his natural mother, Duong Bich Van, by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Richard Kuhn on June 25.
Tuan, one of 2,000 Vietnamese children evacuated by the U.S. government during "Operation Babylift," in the final days of the Saigon regime in April 1975, was the center of a custody battle between his natural mother and his American foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. David Pederson of Royal Oak.
Kuhn, in ruling that the rights of the natural mother took precedence over those of the foster parents, found that the Pedersons had failed to prove Mrs. Van an unfit mother. The Pedersons had attempted to prove that Mrs. Van had "abandoned" Tuan when she left him in a Saigon orphanage to ensure his safe passage to the U.S. But Henry Baskin, Mrs. Van's ACLU attorney, pointed out that she had never signed a legal release for adoption.
Judge Kuhn also took note of the fact that while Tuan was born Catholic, the Pedersons planned to raise him as a Lutheran.
"During the hearing, it became clear that the Pedersons had used stonewalling tactics to keep Tuan away from Mrs. Van," said Jess Fill, Baskin's assistant. "They received a letter in August 1975 stating that Tuan was not available for adoption, yet they proceeded with the adoption."
Just before the "fall" of Saigon (and the rise of Ho Chi Minh City), orphanages functioned like day care centers for parents unable to care for their children, due to the ravages of war. Most parents never intended for these children to be adopted.
Tuan's case was the second recent decision returning these children to their relatives. A similar case in Iowa was also decided in favor of the natural mother.
Fill, who was present when Tuan was returned to Mrs. Van, said Tuan was well-behaved and apparently not upset upon leaving the Pedersons, who do not plan to appeal the decision.
Tuan and Mrs. Van will live in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where Mrs. Van is studying nursing.