Couples sent stolen children by Indian adoption agency

Date: 
2008-08-23

John Lyons

AT least 30 children brought into Australia for adoption may have been stolen from their parents as part of a child-trafficking network in India.
Some children are believed to have been stolen from the streets by gangs who sold them for as little as 10,000 rupees ($280 each) to an
adoption agency, which sent them to wealthy countries such as Australia.

A major investigation by Time magazine, to be published this weekend, has found that a gang of criminals kidnapped "pretty" children from the poorest parts of southern India, gave them new identities and sold them to adoption agencies.

The federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said last night he had asked his department to contact Indian authorities and liaise with the Australian Federal Police to seek more details.

"I will ensure that any matters arising from the inquiry will be duly acted upon, and will engage with state and territory governments in their areas of
responsibility," he told The Weekend Australian.

One case at the centre of the scam is that of a nine-year-old girl now living in Queensland under a new name.

The girl, then called Zabeen, was snatched as a two-year-old by a gang using a motorised rickshaw as she played outside her family home in Chennai. She was stolen while her mother, Fatima, walked around the corner to the local market.

Her mother acknowledges that the chances of her regaining her daughter after seven years are low.

She told Time: "If she wants to come back, we will embrace her. But if it is her desire to stay where she now is, we will only wish her well."

The Queensland couple who adopted her are believed to be devastated at the revelation that she was stolen.

The girl was adopted through the Queensland Department ofFamilies, Youth and Community Care.

The adoption occurred in 2000 despite the fact that serious questions were raised five years earlier about the Indian adoption agency, the Malaysian Social Services. The concerns were enough for the West Australian Government to refuse to deal with the agency.

The Queensland minister in charge of the Department of Families Youth and Community Care at the time was Anna Bligh, now the Premier.

Ms Bligh last night pledged to co-operate with any investigation into the situation and how stolen children might have ended up in Queensland.
Three weeks ago, India's federal police body, the Central Bureau of Intelligence, sent an Interpol request to Australia tointerview Queensland authorities and the couple who adopted the girl.

MSS was an adoption agency and orphanage based at Tiruverkadu in the northwest of Chennai. According to the magazine, the CBI believes Australian parents were tricked by MSS and will face no charges over their adoptions.

But the CBI insists that the biological parents should be allowed to see their children again in India.

Indian police allege that MSS renamed the children and fabricated histories for them, complete with photos of fake mothers supposedly offering them for adoption.

The police investigation began in 2005 after two men began arguing in a bar in Chennai and were heard making claims about child-stealing.

Police later raided the offices of MSS and discovered the files of 120 children who had been sent abroad for adoption, including 13 who had been sent to Australia.

Police matched photographs from those files with those of missing persons from surrounding areas.

More than 30 parents tried to match their children to the MSS files, but Indian police restricted their investigations internationally to five cases, including the case of Zabeen in Australia. About 50 children were sent by MSS to The Netherlands, where the Dutch Government has established three inquiries and overhauled adoption procedures.

Lawyer D.Geetha, who is representing parents whose children were adopted overseas by MSS and other agencies, estimated that at least 30 of the almost 400 Indian children brought into Australia in the past 10 to 15 years were trafficked.

"The Australian Government needs to appoint some kind of investigation about all the children who came through this agency, look at their background, look into their documents," Time quoted her as saying.

"These children are going to want to find their parents. The communication is being lost."

Mr McClelland said it was important to note that Australia no longer dealt with MSS. But the adoptions by childless Australian couples continued to some states and territories - including Queensland, the ACT and Tasmania - even after other states became alarmed at the way MSS operated. Time reveals that Western Australia stopped dealing with MSS after a family had their MSS adoption of a five-year-old girl cancelled in 1995 when an Indian court found the adoption agency had lied about the girl being abandoned.

The girl had a family but the orphanage claimed they believed the girl had been hallucinating when she insisted she had an uncle she could live with.

Another warning sign came in 1999 when one of MSS's staff was arrested over the theft of four babies from a hospital. MSS's licence was suspended but later restored after authorities could not prove that the agency knew the babies had been stolen.

The journalist who travelled to Chennai to track down the story, Rory Callinan, said yesterday: "The thing that got to me the most was that so much scrutiny was paid to the parents here in Australia who wanted to adopt but very few checks seemed to have been done into the source of the children".

The owners of MSS, PVRavindranath and his wife, Vatsala, were arrested over the operations of the agency.

Mr Ravindranath died in 2006 and Ms Ravindranath has insisted that MSS did not know the children were stolen. She is on bail.

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