Painful truth about adopted children

Date: 2008-08-26

Painful truth about adopted children

August 26, 2008
Siobhain Ryan and Sean Parnell

WHEN Julia Rollings first heard that the orphanage from which she had adopted her son and daughter was embroiled in a child-trafficking scandal, she was faced with a life-changing choice.

She could do nothing, safe in the knowledge that her children, Akil and Sabila, had been declared free for adoption by Indian courts, were Australian citizens and were in a place they called home.

Or she could find out for sure whether the story she was told - that Akil and Sabila's parents had voluntarily relinquished them because of ill-health - was true.

Two years ago, Mrs Rollings chose the truth, and the truth hurt.

An Indian friend she commissioned to look into Akil and Sabila's background found they had been sold by their drunk and violent father to the Madras Social Service Guild orphanage for $50 without their mother Sunama's knowledge or consent.

"We've all been caught up in a horrible situation not of our making," Mrs Rollings said. "All of us, Sunama, the children, are all victims of what happened."

Dozens of other Australian parents face similar painful truths about their children's histories. At least 30 children are thought to have been wrongfully adopted in Australia in the past 10 to 15 years after they were targeted by a trafficking network in India.

This time around, it is a different adoption agency in Chennai - Malaysian Social Services - that is the centre of the kidnapping scandal.

The Indian Central Bureau of Investigation has asked to question the Queensland family of a nine-year-old girl who they say was snatched from outside her Indian home as a two-year-old.

Like Mrs Rollings, the couple concerned were tricked into believing their child had been given up voluntarily.

And like Mrs Rollings, many more families will wrestle with the fear their child will be reclaimed by Indian parents.

Mrs Rollings said she and her husband, Barry, spent two years providing the paperwork and assurances required by Indian authorities for the adoption, only to find they had none of the same guarantees about their children's backgrounds.

"The authorities overseas should be held responsible for carefully checking all the agencies and making sure that their credentials are absolutely beyond any kind of doubt," she said.

The family has since visited Sunama to re-establish the relationship they were cheated of for so long, but Akil and Sabila will stay in Australia.

"I feel for Sunama to the greatest extent because she was the one who lost the children," Mrs Rollings said.

"And for the children, because they've had to come to terms with a fundamental part of their identity being changed."

For the nine-year-old involved in the latest scandal, however, the trauma is not over.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said yesterday it was too early to predict what would happen to the girl.

She said that while the Indian Government and the Supreme Court of Chennai had approved the adoption, the birth parents still had rights.

Ms Bligh was the minister responsible for adoptions when the Queensland case occurred in 2000. She said yesterday she could not recall any issues being raised with her about the Malaysian Social Services.

West Australian authorities had reportedly refused to deal with the agency because of serious question marks over its dealings five years earlier.

Brendan Nelson has suggested Australia had a "moral obligation" to return any stolen children, but federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland maintains the birth parents would need to apply to an Australian court for custody.

Mrs Rollings said Akil and Sabila had reacted as she had when they heard how they came to be adopted. "It was incredible grief for their first mother and what she must have gone through," she said.

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