Mohammad abu Ghosh/AP

Kidnapped Children Cloud International Adoption

March 24, 2009 07:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
What would you do if your adopted child’s biological parents never intended to give their child away?

Adoption Scandals, Foreign and Domestic

In February 1999, in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Sivagama and Nageshwar Rao’s son, Subash, was stolen, sold and sent abroad. His parents gave up the two huts they’d inherited, moved to a concrete one-room house, and took their daughter out of school, all so they could pay investigators to find their son. More than a decade later, Scott Carney, a writer for Mother Jones living in India, met Subash’s parents, who had already traced their son’s abduction to the Malaysian Social Services agency. The orphanage has since closed, but police documents have established that the MSS conducted 165 international adoptions between 1991 and 2003.

Subash’s parents have police reports, hair samples, photos and other documents all proving that a child renamed Ashraf by the MSS, who lives in the American Midwest under a new name, is their son. They even have a confession from his kidnapper, who earned approximately $236 for his sale, but Subash/Ashraf’s parents aren’t asking for his return; they only want a relationship with him. Nageshwar Rao says, “I don’t want my son to live his life thinking that we abandoned him.”

Carney, an investigative journalist, sees the core problem. In addition to adoption being a cash cow in poor countries, Carney says, “American families don’t want kids who have lived in orphanages for too long.” He adds, “When they show up in those facebook, flipbook photos that adopted parents get, they really aren’t very saleable.”

Carney traveled to Wisconsin to meet with Subash/Ashraf's adoptive parents, who for the moment aren’t interested in opening up relations with the boy's biological parents. Responding to a follow-up e-mail, Subash's adoptive father asked Carney to pass on his “condolences” to his adopted son's parents.

Asked in a Mother Jones interview if he would adopt from India, Carney replied that he wouldn’t trust that documents weren’t fraudulent. He would have no way of knowing if the child’s parents had really given their consent. “The flip side of the problem,” he says “is that there are a lot of children in India who really need homes.”

In late February four employees of the Wyoming-based adoption agency “Focus on Children” were put on probation for their involvement in an adoption scandal. The federal government charged them with “aiding and abetting the improper entry of an alien.” These workers and others tricked the biological parents of 37 children in Samoa into signing adoption papers. They were told their children would receive an educational opportunity and that they would be returned.

Patti Sawyer, a single mother from Wisconsin, told ABC that when she met her daughter the agency told her she’d been abandoned in a bathroom. Sawyer said, “In reality, she was from a very happy family, eight brothers and sisters.” Sawyer said, she told her daughter that her parents in Samoa love her; she plans to take her to meet them when she finishes school: “She has two families.”

On hearing of the kidnapping scandal, Michael Nyberg made a different decision. He chose to return his adopted daughter, Elleia to her parents. He watched as they rounded the corner to meet her and said, “To see the tears when they saw that little girl, and to know how much they missed her. It was just a great experience.” Nyberg has developed a close relationship with Elleia’s parents, saying they are like family now.

New statistics from the State Department might put some baby thieves out of business, but it’s also bad news for millions of real orphans who need loving homes. According to the Washington Times, which cited the department’s report, there were only 17,438 foreign adoptions in 2008, which is more than 5,000 less than in 2004. The forecast for the fiscal year of 2009, beginning Sept. 30, predicts this number may fall below 12,000.

Linda Brownlee, executive director of the Adoption Center of Washington, told The Washington Times, “People don’t add to their family when they are worried about losing their job or their home. But you have to remember that while we get hit here, [children] get hit harder there.”

Related Topics: Guatemalan baby trade; stricter adoption polices

In Guatemala, recent DNA tests confirmed what’s long been suspected: babies are being stolen and put up for adoption by corrupt state agencies.

Gunmen abducted Ana Escobar’s 6-month-old daughter, Esther, in March 2007. Escobar was eventually reunited with her daughter, but similar stories and complaints caused the Guatemalan government to review all current adoption cases in May.

According to the San Francisco Tribune, the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption has toughened requirements for potential adoption agencies and strengthened “protections against child trafficking.” Vietnam put its adoption requests on hold in 2008 after an embassy report cited cases where “orphanage officials told [birth parents] that the child will visit home frequently … or send remittance payments from the United States.”

Opinion: “Would you return your adopted child?”

As of March 20, a poll on the blog Lilsugar shows that 76 percent of respondents said they would return their child if they discovered he or she had been “adopted under false pretenses.”

Reference: Hague Convention on Adoption


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