Corruption in international adoptions

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NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

Number of Orphan Immigrant Visas Issued to India, FY 1990-2008  

News reports of adoption
  irregularities in India

"Stricter norms for domestic, international adoption," Himanshi Dhawan, Dec. 30, 2010, The Times of India.

"CBI files case against Preet Mandir official," May 18, 2010, The Times of India.

PUNE: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against a managing trustee of city-based Preet Mandir and some state government officials for their alleged involvement in an 'inter-country adoption racket'.

"Maharashtra officials linked to adoption scam: CBI," Aditya Kaul,  May 18, 2010, DNA India

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) suspects the connivance of government officials with a Pune-based foundation in a racket involving the kidnapping of children of poor families and putting them up for adoption.

"Minnesota couple caught up in apparent adoption fraud," David Shaffer, December 21, 2009, Star Tribune.

A MN couple were excited to become parents of sisters from India, until lies about their true age reverberated halfway around the world, raising fresh questions about an international adoption treaty and the United States' commitment to investigate alleged corruption in the orphan pipeline.

"Meet the Parents: The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption," Scott Carney, March/April 2009, MotherJones.

A Midwestern kid's family believes his birth parents put him up for adoption. An Indian couple claim he was kidnapped from them and sold. Who's right?

"Stolen and Sold," Sally Sara, February 22, 2009, ABC News.

What would you do if you discovered your adopted children were stolen and trafficked, and not willingly given up by their parents, as you’d believed? South Asia correspondent Sally Sara investigates the insidious trade of children in India, and joins an Australian family in their moving search for the truth. Sara reveals that dozens of Australian families are oblivious to the true background of their adopted youngsters, because of bureaucratic bungling and government ineptitude both here and in India.

"Inside story of an adoption scam," Arun Dohle, November 13, 2008.

This article examines India’s international adoption process, focusing in particular on Preet Mandir, a children’s home in India that placed 518 children for adoption between 2004 and 2006, most internationally. This article outlines evidence that Preet Mandir was sending children without their birthfamilies’ permission; bribing India’s central authority in order to retain its license; and doing so for profit. Extensive detail includes names of the countries and Western adoption agencies involved.

“Australia takes a stand on Indian adoption agencies,” Michael Cavanagh, Robert McClelland, Julia Rollings, September 2, 2008, ABC Online.

Report on Australian government’s decision to freeze adoption through agencies whose conduct is in doubt. Some Indian children have been abducted and sold to adoption agencies and then adopted by unknowing Australian families. Interviews Julia Rollings, who discovered that she had adopted two children whose birthfather had secretly sold them for adoption while their mother slept.

“Stolen Children,” Rory Callinan/Chennai, August 21, 2008, TIME Magazine.

In-depth report on a child-stealing ring in India that procured children for international ado.ption, processed through Malaysian Social Services (MSS) in Chennai. After the ring was revealed by accident, TIME reports, “Officers raided the premises and found the files of 120 children who had been sent overseas for adoption, including at least 13 dispatched to Australia. The pictures were then compared with those on missing-children reports in local police stations.” Reports that the MSS staff renamed stolen children and fabricated histories for them. Includes an interview with Fatima, whose two-year-old daughter Zabeen was snatched off the street and adopted by Australians, which she learned only seven years later. Other children apparently went to the Netherlands. “TIME has learned that Australian authorities had plenty of warning that MSS was a suspect agency and could have ended adoptions from it well before Zabeen's was processed.” Children in MSS’s orphanages were neglected, underfed, and ill.

“An adoption nightmare,” Russell Goldman, May 14, 2008, ABC News.

Alabama-based David and Desiree Smolin and their five sons decided to adopt difficult-to-place older girls from India after hearing there was tremendous need. But six months after bringing home their two new teenage daughters, the Smolins learned that the girls’ mother had been persuaded to place them in an orphanage temporarily, and that they had been put into adoption against her will. The girls were threatened and forced to lie to embassy officials who interviewed them prior to their adoption. “"The agency told us the girls were eager to be adopted and eager to come to the U.S.," Desiree Smolin told ABCNEWS.com. "But in reality, the girls were in terrible, terrible emotional shape. They were avoidant and deeply depressed; one of them was suicidal. I had never seen people so emotionally disturbed in my entire life." Includes pictures of the girls reunited with their birthmother after a long search. Quotes a government official saying that such stories are “not uncommon.”

“India nurtures business of surrogate motherhood,” Amelia Gentleman, March 10, 2008, New York Times.

An enterprise known as reproductive outsourcing is a new but rapidly expanding business in India. Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners HAVE been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe, as word spreads of India’s relatively liberal laws and low prices.

“CBI confirms CNN-IBN’s report on illegal adoption,” December 19, 2007, IBN Live.

CNN-IBN report following up on its earlier investigation of illegal adoptions through Preet Mandir, an adoption agency in Pune, India. Says that India’s “Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was asked to investigate Preet Mandir. The CBI says it took the testimonies of unwed mothers who said they willingly handed over their babies for adoption. But one such mother says the CBI never questioned her.” Implicates several of India’s agencies with suggestions of corrupt actions regarding international adoption.

“Children snatched & stolen, racket is called adoption,” Parul Malik, October 21, 2007, CNN-IBN.

In-depth report on orphanages that defraud Indian families out of their children and sells them into international adoption, operating in the poor Marathwada region of the state of Maharashtra. Names orphanages Preet Mandir, Andhra Pradesh, Love Trust, and Sister Maria Theresa’s Tender Loving Care Home. The fraud includes asking illiterate Indian families to sign papers to allow their children to be educated and fed at the orphanage; without their knowledge, the papers also say they relinquish their children for international adoption.

Includes interviews with family members who were defrauded out of their children, including Renuka, age 18, who lost her three younger sisters to an Italian family; Lakshmi Solanki, who gave her infant daughter Priyanka to a childcare centre in Buldhana, Maharashtra, temporarily after she was severely burned by her husband; Kisabai Lokhande, who discovered that her granddaughters, Ashwini and Komal, had been adopted by Spaniards; Dhondiram Solanki, whose nephew Govind was “sold” to an Italian couple; Lakshmi Malkiah, whose daughters were sent to the US and who can now visit with them only once a year for a few hours; Fathima, whose daughter was kept because she couldn’t pay for her caesarian, and was adopted by Germans.

“Missing Children: The Business of Adoption,” Sanjay Dubey, July 7 2007, Tehelka.

A report about a kidnapped boy named Mohit in Delhi whose parents found him in an adoption home and the home’s reluctance to return the child. The Delhi Council for Child Welfare (CCW) where he was found, called Palna, is accused of flouting the guidelines for receiving lost or missing children and of profiting by putting them up for adoption to foreign nationals who are willing to pay more than Indian families, despite a long list of waiting Indian couples and despite the legal requirement to offer orphans to Indians first. “Over 34,000 children have gone missing in Delhi in the last 20 years (as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data). Most of them aren’t as fortunate as Mohit. In last three years alone, 6,687 children in Delhi have been declared untraceable by the Crime Branch’s Missing Persons Squad.” Quotes a social welfare official as saying that most private social welfare agencies disregard the law and make it difficult for parents to find their children. “These agencies have thus separated innumerous (sic) children from their natural homes… in their urge to mint money through adoptions.”

The Big Racket of Small Babies,” Ambujam Anantharaman, June 12, 2005, Boloji.com, printed through an arrangement with Women’s Feature Service.

Report on the Malaysian Social Service Agency (MSSA). In May “the Chennai police arrested some MSSA members for kidnapping poor children, changing their physical appearance (changing their hairstyle etc.) and then selling them for profit to foreigners.” P. Ravindranath, his wife Vatsala and son Dinesh Kumar, who have been in charge of MSSA since 1991, have been arrested along with six others. Police suspect that those who have been arrested “could be behind the kidnapping and trafficking of over 350 children from 1991 to 2002… This huge gap between the small expenditure incurred and the huge income earned has given rise to unscrupulous elements prepared to go to any lengths to get children for adoption.” Some of these kidnapped children have been traced to overseas adoptive homes.

“A tussle in Andhra Pradesh,” Ravi Sharma, May 21—June 3, 2005, Frontline Volume 22, Issue 11.

After a series of adoption-trafficking scandals led to the arrests of a number of adoption agency officials, Andhra Pradesh was the first Indian state to ban private agencies from placing children for adoption. Andhra Pradesh is also the only Indian state to allow the relinquishing of a child "for reasons of poverty, number of children and unwanted girl child" by its biological parents. “While social activists concerned with trafficking in young children are for continuation of the present system, the placement agencies are moving heaven and earth to have the situation reversed.” “According to Sister Theresa Maria, coordinator of Tender Loving Care Homes (TLCH—an agency shut down because of an adoption fraud scandal) the ban on relinquishment has not served its purpose, and, on the contrary, has resulted in an increase in the number of children being "abandoned and thrown in dustbins and on roads."

But according to the WD&CW Department, between April 2001 and the middle of December 2004, the number of abandoned children was comparatively low... The ban on agencies was a fallout of the 2001 scandal when the lid was blown off a racket in the procurement of babies, mostly female and belonging to vulnerable communities like the impoverished Lambadas, and their lucrative `sale' (for $15,000-50,000) to foreign parents... The shenanigans of 2001 amply proved, as did similar scams in 1996 and 1999-2000, just how easy it was for agencies to circumvent and infringe the laws governing intercountry adoption (ICA).

“Behind the Façade,” Asha Krishnakumar, June 3, 2005, The Hindu.

Police discovered that hundreds of lost children were kidnapped and sold to an adoption agency in Tamil Nadu, Chennai, India, which then legally sold the children into foreign adoption. The arrest of a five member trafficking gang has uncovered a widespread national issue in trafficking missing children into adoption. “A Frontline investigation and documents available with it reveal that this is not an isolated case. Bending rules, circumventing norms, and following illegal and unethical ways to ‘source’ children and sell them to foreigners under the guise of adoption is not uncommon among some agencies in Tamil Nadu.” Maternity homes and hospitals coerce or take babies from new mothers (as happened in 1999, when four babies missing from Salem General Hospital were found at a Chennai agency) in order to give them to western couples for large fees. CARA, the Indian agency responsible for overseeing adoption and child welfare, is accused of improperly licensing agencies with documented histories of wrongdoing in adoption. “An agency staff member confirmed that poor women signed the relinquishment paper without realising the import of their act.”

“10 convicted in child adoption case,” Special correspondent, August 31, 2005, The Hindu.

Sister Teresa Maria Kattikaran, coordinator of Tender Loving Care Home, and 9 others are sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and fined in a case related to the adoption racket discovered in 2001. They were convicted of cheating and forging documents in order to sell children into adoption.

“Behind the Façade,” Ashsa Krishnakumar, May 21-June 3, 2005, Frontline Volume 22, Issue 11.

The adoption fraud in India has been found to extend to the government’s processes for accrediting and licensing agencies, according to the article. The only way to ensure compliance is to threaten an adoption agency with license withdrawal, but this rarely happens and in some cases officials are pressured into licensing agencies that are fraudulent. Documents are often fabricated and babies are stolen or bought from remote villages.

“The Adoption Market,” Asha Krishnakumar, May 21-June 3, 2005, Frontline Volume 22, Issue 11.

In-depth report into trafficking for international adoption within India. “A Frontline investigation lays bare a multi-billion-dollar, countrywide racket in inter-country adoption of children, run by private adoption agencies that exploit the loopholes in the rules.” Babies are stolen from government hospitals by agents who are paid thousands of dollars for the infants at orphanages that turn a massive profit in adoption fees to western parents looking to adopt. Children are often bought from families or the parents are tricked into giving them up. Mothers are told that their babies died during childbirth. Others are lied to, told that they will be able to see their children after the adoption. The children’s identities and papers are then altered and forged to allow them to be adopted in western nations.

“In 1999, the country was shocked by the revelation of an inter-country adoption racket in Andhra Pradesh when S. Peter Subbiah of Good Samaritan Evangelical Social Welfare Association was found buying and selling babies. Around the same time, similar stories emerged from Tamil Nadu's Salem district, from where the police arrested five persons on complaints of stealing four babies from the government hospital. The babies were found in an adoption agency in Chennai. The commodification of children should have ended with such revelations. But it has not.”

“The Adoption Nightmare,” Dionne Bunsha, May 21-June 3, 2005, Frontline Volume 22 Issue 11.

Examination of accusations against the orphanage Preet Mandir, which conducts seven percent of all foreign adoptions from India, that have not been looked into by the Indian government. Charges high donation fees for prospective adoptive parents, and often requests increased donations when the foreign parents arrive. Legally, although Indian parents should be given priority in adopting Indian children, such parents face long waiting lists; foreign adoptions clear sooner, for higher fees. “How come certain adoption agencies have an endless inflow of babies while others have very few? Aren't the police supposed to be in touch with all agencies while referring abandoned babies?" asks an ACA member. Certain agencies have links with government officials all along the chain, which makes their work easier, whether it is having babies referred or getting the reams of paperwork done.” Mothers’ poverty is exploited.

“A challenge in India snarls foreign adoptions,” Raymond Bonner, June 23, 2003, New York Times.

An activist group led by Gita Ramaswamy argues that the foreign adoption system in India is riddled with corruption and encourages trafficking in baby girls, who are often seen as a burden by poor families. In some cases, the police say, babies have been sold by their parents for as little as $20. Quotes Ramaswamy as saying that “what really drives baby trafficking… is demand from rich Western couples. Poor women do not go around offering their babies, she said, but are persuaded to sell by offers of what to them are irresistible amounts of money.” The group is blocking a number of foreign adoptions. Article notes that the orphanage Tender Loving Care Homes, run by Sister Maria Theresa in Andhra Pradesh, was closed after it was discovered to be at the center of a baby-selling ring, procuring children for international adoption “for huge monetary considerations.”

"Adoption: probe reveals more shady deals," Aniket Alam, December 26, 2002, The Hindu.

Police investigations into the child adoption racket which rocked the State last year have shown that some of the "adoption'' agencies had actually "kidnapped'' children and sold them for money.

The chargesheet filed against Tender Loving Care (TLC) at the Nampally city court states that between 1999 and 2001, the TLC received Rs. 3.33 crores for inter-country adoption, mainly to the US. Similarly, Rs. 55 lakhs was collected from Indian parents during this same period.

“Sale of infants: Police to grill Amala in Hyerabad,” T.V. Sivanandan, April 29, 2001, The Hindu.

State police officers are questioning an Indian former film actress regarding her possible involvement in an adoption racket. Amala Akkineni was the honorary president of St. Theresa’s Tender Loving Care Home orphanage, said to be involved in baby buying.

“A Business in Babies,” Ravi Sharma, April 28, 2001, Frontline Volume 18 Issue 9.

Investigation of suspect adoption international chains. Begins the story in poor rural villages in India, as the ethnic Lambada give up or sell their female children to middle men who promise to get them an education and then pass the children off to adoption agencies for international adoption. “Shocking instances of trade in female babies came to light following the arrest of Christopher Vinod of Hyderabad by the Andhra Pradesh Police on March 22. He was traveling by car to Hyderabad with three female babies. On being questioned, he was not able to tell the police about either the antecedents or destination of the babies. According to the police, he confessed later that he was taking them to the St. Teresa's Tender Loving Care Home (TLCH), a recognized adoption centre in Hyderabad.” Also looks at other homes that were similarly suspect, including John Abraham Memorial Bethany Home, the Good Samaritan Evangelical and Welfare Association, and the Action for Social Development. Reports an allegation that one child-buying ring turned in their rival Christopher Vinod. Reports that some babies who supposedly died had no death certificates and suggests they were sent into international adoption.

“UNICEF Wary of Post-Quake International Adoptions,” February 9, 2001, UNICEF.

UNICEF said international adoptions should only be a last resort for children left unaccompanied after the earthquake in Gujarat. It warned that child traffickers would be preying on the children for profitable sale into adoption. Asks that alternatives such as the extended family and friends in the community must be given first priority.

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Last page update: February 23, 2011