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June 27, 2005
Samoa has rushed through legislation to tighten up on foreign adoptions following the death of a child who had been in the care of an American agency.
Last year a One News investigation revealed Samoan parents had put their children up for adoption with the organisation Focus On Children, not realising they would never see them again. Parents thought the children would stay in America only for their education and that the adoption was not permanent.
Now the agency is once again in the spotlight - this time in the midst of a police investigation.
Avea Sioka was struggling to bring up six children when the family placed baby Heta and three of her siblings with Focus On Children.
Speaking through an interpreter Avea said the family's only intention was to give them a good future that they couldn't afford to give them.
Baby Heta had been at what is called a nanny house since last year waiting for her adoption to be finalised. But earlier this month her parents took their children back from the agency after allegations they had been mistreated.
When the Sioka's got 17-month-old Heta back they said she was vomiting, had diarrhoea, was very skinny and weak and almost couldn't walk.
After a week she was no better so her parents took her to the hospital where she died.
Dr Stanley Dean head of clinical services at Apia Hospital said Heta was undernourished, had a skin infection and a respiratory tract infection.
The toddler's death prompted urgent changes to Samoa's adoption laws.
Now anyone arranging adoptions has to prove a child can't be cared for in Samoa and each adoption must be personally approved by the Attorney General.
"It is to discourage those foreign adoptions of our children by people that have no blood connection," says Prime Minister Tui'lapea Sailele Malielegaoi.
Following Heta's death Focus On Children, the agency in whose care she was placed, is at the centre of a police investigation into not only Heta's death, but the treatment of other children in its care.
One News tried to speak with the agency's American directors, Scott and Karen Banks who are living in Samoa, but they refused to comment.
Other families also withdrew their children from the nanny house after finding them ill and hungry.
Alafaio Alafaio says when he first saw the condition the children were in he was very sad and then he got very angry and wanted revenge.
The Alafaio family told One News that after they withdrew the children the Banks' tried to persuade them to put their children back up for adoption.
Some Samoans support the agency, saying international adoptions give poor children a chance of a good education.
The Focus On Children programme has arranged about 100 adoptions of Samoan children and High Chief Duke Purcell says they have done a lot of good for most of the kids they have taken.
But regardless of that support the directors of the programme are now banned from leaving Samoa and the agency is in tatters as the police investigation continues.