Congo to let 150 adopted children leave country after two-year wait

An open air classroom is pictured at a school in Balumbu-Ngoy village in southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Habibou Bangre

By Aaron Ross KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo will allow some 150 children adopted by foreign parents, mostly Americans, to leave the country after spending more than two years in legal limbo, the interior ministry said on Monday. In 2013, Congo imposed a moratorium on exit visas to children adopted by foreign parents, citing fears that the children could be abused or trafficked. The government has also voiced concerns about adoptions by gay couples. Congo became a favored international adoption destination in recent years because it has more than 4 million orphaned children, according to the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, as well as lax regulation. The central African nation is mineral-rich but deeply impoverished. It has suffered through two civil wars and armed groups continue to plague its eastern region. Between 2010 and 2013, U.S. adoptions from Congo rose 645 percent, the U.S. Department of State said. Interior ministry spokesman Claude Pero Luwara said an inter-ministerial commission had approved the exit visas. In November, the commission signed off on exit visas for about 70 children adopted by European, Canadian and American families. Congo's government has come under intense pressure from those countries' governments to lift the suspension. "The dossiers that were released ... it was mostly American children," Luwara said, adding that the commission will consider about 900 more foreign adoption cases and plans to complete its work next month. Parliament is expected to take up a bill this year to lift the moratorium and regulate foreign adoptions. The U.S. Embassy in the capital Kinshasa could not immediately confirm the interior ministry's statement. A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in October found that the ban had spurred a black market in child smuggling, with more than 80 adopted Congolese children illegally transported out of the country and to the United States. (Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Katharine Houreld)