Monday, March 23, 2009

Global adoption at a tragic price

Here's a very compelling, and heart-wrenching piece in Mother Jones about a kidnapping racket that is delivering Indian children to unsuspecting couples in western countries. Many of these children are from poor families in Indian slums, and while their lives are not perfect, their loving parents are very much alive – and desperately searching for them, in many cases giving up securities and assets just to be able to afford it.

The particular couple that Scott Carney details in his piece has tried for several years, in vain, to find their missing son. Little did they know that Subash was ten thousand miles and two oceans away in the American Midwest. For almost a decade, an Indian orphanage had been paying a couple hundred dollars per child to willing kidnappers, and shipping off children to unwitting couples located anywhere from the US to Australia.

The bureaucracy surrounding global adoption laws, and the incompetence of the Indian legal system ensured an ideal cover for this deplorable kidnapping conspiracy. This sort of child trafficking is not limited to India, of course.

Put together the amount of money involved, too many middlemen and little oversight, and you end up with child trafficking in developing countries. It’s little surprise, then, that of the three hundred suspected adoption cases handled by the same orphanage, only three are being examined by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation; all of the cases are about a decade old.

Due to the number of years that have gone by, and the belief that life would probably be better for their children in western countries, the few Indian couples who have been fortunate enough to learn the whereabouts of their kids choose to not re-claim them but merely ask permission to communicate.

When Carney approached Subash’s adoptive parents with the details of the investigation, adequately aided by police reports and photographs, they remained skeptical and unwilling to correspond with the Indian family. So, this case literally hangs on a standoff between the American and Indian parents, orchestrated by a journalist. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.

An Interpol request has finally reached the attorney general, and there’s hope that the FBI will make a request for DNA samples to confirm the boy’s identity. However, assuming that the adoptive family would probably go to court, Carney reasons that the case could be stalled for years till the boy turns 18.

The western agencies that arrange these adoptions aren’t totally guileless in this process. Many don’t bother to gather sufficient information about the source of the children or the authenticity of the organizations delivering them. And from the recent case involving the American agency, Focus on Children, we know some have their very own child-snatching schemes.

Inexplicably, the Hague Convention on international adoption does not set any standards on how to deal with kidnapped children.

Carney zeroes in on a point made by the lead Indian investigator in this case, “If you didn't have to pay for a child, then this would all disappear.” Many have suggested that capping adoption fees paid by western countries could alleviate issues of child trafficking for this purpose.

The money is the huge incentive, no doubt. Orphanages in India, and in other popular adoption destinations are charging huge sums of money for these stolen kids. And understandably, unwitting - or witting - western agencies and parents would comply, as long as they deliver them a child with little complication.