The Two Faces of Intercountry Adoption: The Significance of the Indian Adoption Scandals
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Unfortunately, the fears of the activists for the fate of children sent to America were accentuated by the case of a three-year-old girl named Priyamvada, who was under the care of Sister Teresa’s TLC orphanage. An American woman named Gail Hunt had obtained approval from CARA prior to April 2001, but the family court refused
guardianship (as in Haseena’s case). As in Haseena’s case, an Indian couple selected the child for adoption, but the case was stalled as the foreign adoption petition was appealed. Gail Hunt had originally applied to adopt Priyamvada as a single mother, but in the interim she married an individual named Steven Showcatally. Unfortunately, in March 2004, as the appeal was still pending, Showcatally was charged with homicide in the death of the couple’s adopted Guatamalan toddler, Gustavo.
The reported facts evidenced a classic and fatal case of battered child syndrome involving serious head injuries. On Tuesday, March 16, 2004, Showcatally brought Gustavo home from daycare, and became frustrated with the child’s diarrhea, which required him to repeatedly bath and change the boy, who was soiling his clothes and
towels. Showcatally called Hunt on the telephone, and reported to her that there had been an accident in the tub and that Gustavo’s head was swelling. Hunt reportedly told Showcatally to meet him at the hospital. Gustavo was brought to the operating room shortly after arrival, but died that evening. When investigators pointed out that
the child’s injuries were inconsistent with Showcatally’s story that he had dropped the boy once while washing him in the tub, he admitted that he had dropped the child twice more intentionally, after the accidental drop. Showcatally reported that he had called his wife when he noticed that “the baby’s eyes were twitching and rolling back
in his head.”
Oddly, TLC pushed for an emergency hearing regarding Gail Hunt’s petition to adopt Priyamvada around April 1, 2004, less than two weeks after the death of Hunt’s son Gustavo. The story of Gustavo’s death, and the link to Gail Hunt and the Priyamvada case, broke in the Indian press a few days later. Somebody had located the
United States news stories about the death of Gustavo, which included Gail Hunt’s name, and made the connection. The Indian press appeared indignant that TLC and/or Hunt would seek to push the adoption of Priyamvada forward under such circumstances. The assumption of the Indian press seemed to be that there had been an
attempt to sneak the case through without informing the authorities in India of this change in Hunt’s home situation. After the story broke in India, Sister Teresa announced that she was withdrawing the petition for foreign adoption. Sister Teresa’s claim was apparently that this was in response to the death of Gustavo, rather than in
response to the negative publicity. Sister Teresa then told the press she would be releasing the child for in-country adoption, with the suggestion that the child be placed with relatives of one of the nuns, who wanted to adopt her. The activists, however, had their own candidates, a couple who had earlier come forward to adopt the child.
Thus, the battle over Priyamvada would continue as the agency and activists recommended different Indian adoptive families. Sister Teresa did not explain why it was so easy to find a domestic adoptive placement now, despite the legal determination several years earlier, when Priyamvada was much younger and hence more
adoptable, that there were no such placements available.