Posts for category ‘adoption’

Two Radio Appearances for Adoption Story
| March 13, 2009 | 3:28 am

The response to “Meet the Parents: The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption” has been overwhelming. People from all over the world have been writing in expressing their support for Nageshwar Rao and Sivagama and wishing for a positive ending. Several people have pledged money, and an adoption agency in New Mexico has offered to help with legal services. I saw Nageshwar Rao and Sivagama two days ago and they were very happy that the story had come out, but were still very sad that they have had no contact with the family in America. “We just want them to call,” he told me again.

In the next week I’m going to post an update on Mother Jones about the case and show how the adoption agency in Amercia has been invovled in several questionable adoptions here in Chennai. In 1999 an adoption agent in this city is said to have been involved in as many as 20 similar cases. These children are presumably all across America.

In the meanwhile, I’ve done two radio appearances that you might enjoy listening to.

The first, was on Here and Now, a nationally syndicated program across the United States that devoted a full half-hour to the topic.

The second, was a shorter (and unfortunately, less coherent) piece that aired on Free Speech Radio News.

(photo: funkypancake @ flickr)

Meet the Parents: When Adoption Means Kidnapping
| March 9, 2009 | 2:50 am

Meet the Parents
After hours hunched behind the wheel of a rented Kia, flying past cornfields and small-town churches, I’m parked on a Midwestern street, trying not to look conspicuous. Across the way, a preteen boy dressed in silver athletic shorts and a football T-shirt plays with a stick in his front yard. My heart thumps painfully. I wonder if I’m ready to change his life forever.
. . (Read the story at Mother Jones)

Between 1999 and 2002 dozens, if not hundreds, of children were kidnapped off the streets of Chennai by a corrupt orphanage and sold into the international adoption stream. In August, I reported on the story of Zabeen who had been picked up by an employee of the orphange Malaysian Social Services, and wisked away and held until she was ultimately sold to an adoption agency in Australia. A few days after I met Zabeen’s parents, I met Nageshwar Rao and Sivagama, in the Puliantope slum on the North side of Chennai. Their story bore distrubing similarities to what happened to Zabeen. On February 19, 1999, according to my investigation, their son was snatched away from them while he played at a nearby waterpump and sold to an unsuspecting American family who believe they were adopting, not buying, a child. In October I followed court documents and leaked files from police sources to the American mid-west where I found the pre-adolescent boy who seemed to be the spitting image of Nageshwar Rao.

That story, which appears in this month’s issue of Mother Jones, is my first attempt and understanding the vast and lucerative market in kidnapped children. These incidents are not confined to a few corrupt orphanages and officials. They are part of a global problem fed by first-world parents’ desire for children and the handsome fees that they pay agencies to arrange adoptions.

It is difficult to know for sure how far the corruption goes up the ladder. Do American adoption services know when the children they bring to America have been ripped away from their birth parents? Or do they simply not ask the right questions when confronted by suspicious circumstances? In some cases, such as when the French agency Zoe’s Ark attempted to smuggle 103 children of Chad, the charges of kidnapping stick without much problem. But in others the orphanage director’s commitment to doing good puts blinders on their eyes when things start to go awry.

In the case of Nageshwar Rao and Sivagama’s child Subash, the adoption agency in America is at least implicated in not trying to rectify the situation once they learned of the allegations against MSS in Chennai. They didn’t even bother to notify the adoptive families that there could have been a problem despite admitting to knowing about the scandals when they first surfaced a decade ago. In fact, my subsiquent investigation of their case shows that at least two other suspicious adoptions handled by that agency. In the story that appeared in Mother Jones we chose to disguise their identity, but in the coming weeks as I sort through more documents, we may decide it is in the public interest to reveal that agency’s name for other journalsits and enforcement authorities to follow up on.

Nageshwar Rao (center) spent so much money on finding Subash, that he wasn’t able to afford an education for his daughter Sasala, 17 (right)

Underneath their reluctance to tackle the issue of smuggled children is the disturbing underlying assumption that as long as adopted children are put in good homes, they are better off living in America than they would be growing up in a third world slum. The crime of kidnapping is easy to overlook when the so-called “victim” gets the benefit of a Western education, health care and a loving family to watch over him. This logic has allowed the FBI and attorney general’s office to drag its feet in processing an INTERPOL request to collect DNA samples that could conclusively prove the child’s identity. It has also let State Authorities in charge of policing adoption irregularities look the other way.

But ignoring the problem only makes matters worse. Children who need adoptive families are crowded into orphanage dirty cribs two at a time, and are often malnourished and dying. However, western families don’t want sick children. They want cute kids who won’t cause them problems. So the orphanages look outside their walls for a fresh supply. The children kidnapped off the streets of Chennai had homes and loving parents and are exactly the sort of comodity that will draw in substantial adoption fees. The adoption industry has done little to help India’s actual needy children, rather it just treats adoption as a business, and tries to source the best possible products for its customers.

Previous reports in America on child kidnapping an adoption irrecularities have fallen on deaf ears. They have been relegated to the realm of urban myth in the same way we tend to think that kidney thieves don’t exist. But other countries are taking notice. After reports in TIME magazine and ABC, The Australian government is taking issue seriously. Officials have begun investigating the role of MSS and other orphanages in illegal adoptions and are currently looking at 30 possible cases of kidnapping and adoption fraud form Chennai. Lawmakers are informing adoptive families who have fallen victim to predatory adoption practices and will likely encourage reunions with the stolen children.

I’m hoping that this story in Mother Jones is a first step in raising awareness of the problem faced by internaitonal adoptions and kidnapping. At some point we need to stop looking the other way, and ask tough questions about our own complicity in creating incentives to support kidnapping rackets.

Kidnapping for Profit: The Ugly Side of International Adoptions
| August 30, 2008 | 10:58 am
The only memento that Salia has of his daughter Zabeen is a small photocopy of her face.

For the last week I’ve been working on a story about kidnapped children who have ended up being sent abroad by international adoption agencies. This story came out in this week’s edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and Asian Age. This is only the beginning of my research into this issue, there is a lot more to come.


‘Maybe now, we will get justice’

NOVEMBER 11, 1998, was like any other day in Chennai: hot and humid. Fatima, a young housewife with three children left her house for a grocery run across the street while two of her children, Zabeen, 2, and Sadaam Hussein, 4, played in an alley.

A three-wheeled auto rickshaw pulled up at the alley entrance and the children peeped inside. A woman reached down and grabbed Zabeen and Sadaam and dragged them into the rickshaw. The driver, a man, sped away but Sadaam managed to break free. He ran home to an empty house and cowered under a small wooden bed.

“I can still remember their faces,” says Sadaam, now 15.

While his parents searched the neighborhood, the kidnappers were meeting with the owners of Malaysian Social Services.

Police records indicate the MSS orphanage admitted Zabeen under the name Suji and claimed that her mother had abandoned her and another child.

“The documents were obviously forged,” says D. Geetha, a human rights lawyer who is representing Zabeen’s family. “The woman who signed it wasn’t a relative, it was her kidnapper.”

According to court documents the kidnappers sold children to MSS for 10,000 rupees ($280) each. Since 1991, MSS has sent almost 300 children to Australia, the Netherlands and the United States.

The orphanage demanded large donations to manage the international adoptions and collected almost $250,000. Zabeen was sent to Queensland under her new name.

“They took my child because she was beautiful,” Fatima says.

Indian orphanages are often overcrowded, but many of those children may not be as attractive to foreigners as healthy children raised by their parents.

The next five years were the stuff of nightmares. Fatima and her husband, Salia, immediately filed a report with the local police, but were not encouraged by their response.

“They barely looked at the report, it wasn’t a priority for them. There were no detectives, nothing,” Salia says.

Instead, Salia and Fatima stopped working and spent their days scouring the city for news of their daughter.

“We had to sell the jewels from my dowry and most of our property just to keep going,” Fatima says.

Then, in 2005, as news reports of adoption scandals rolled across India, a police officer asked Salia to pick out Zabeen from some photos. He identified her immediately.

The police officer told him that his daughter was safe in Australia, but that it would be difficult to bring her back. The news gave Fatima some relief.

“Every day I searched the streets for some sign of her. I had gone mad. But once the police told me that she was OK, I began to feel better. I could sleep again,” she says.

Now after almost 10 years, what they want most is news of their child. “If I could only see her and know that she is in a good place, getting a good education that is enough for me. She can stay in Australia, but we should still give her a choice to come back to her family,” Fatima says.

Until then, all they have of Zabeen is a small, photocopied picture of her aged two.

“Maybe now that the world is watching, we will get justice,” Salia says.

[Link to article in the Sydney Morning Herald]

[More photos of Zabeen’s family here]