Behind the facade | Pound Pup Legacy

Behind the facade

Date: 2005-05-21
Source: Frontline
A recent case in Tamil Nadu shows that the existing system has allowed child trafficking to take place for years under the guise of a perfectly legal adoption process.

ASHA KRISHNAKUMAR

P.V. Ravindranath (extreme right), his son Dinesh Kumar and wife Vatsala Ravindranath, who were running the Malaysian Social Service Society, at the Police Commissionerate in Chennai on May 7. The three were remanded by the Central Crime Branch in connection with the alleged child adoption racket.

ON May 3, 2005, the Central Crime Branch of the Chennai police arrested five people for kidnapping and selling about 350 children to an adoption agency in the city. Several lost children seem to have been given in adoption to families abroad over the last decade. Ironically, the police have found all the paperwork by the adoption agency to be clear. This highlights the need to look into the existing adoption system that allows for child trafficking under the guise of a perfectly legal adoption process.

Frontline investigation and documents available with it reveal that this is not an isolated case. Bending rules, circumventing norms, and following illegal and unethical ways to "source" children and sell them to foreigners under the guise of adoption is not uncommon among some agencies in Tamil Nadu.

The State has 21 licensed adoption agencies, of which nine are also recognised for inter-country adoption. In 1991, an adoption cell was created in Tamil Nadu and a State-level committee set up to review the activities of the voluntary organisations. Criteria were specified for issuing the licence for in-country adoption. But these norms are observed more in the breach. There are, however, some honourable exceptions.

The July 2, 2004 "Report of the Joint Inspection of Peace (Poor Economy and Children's Educational Society) Home, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu," by the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) after the agency's inter-country adoption (ICA) licence expired is revealing. It charges that:

"The agency has tampered relinquishment deeds (surrendered directly to the Home), created false siblings, followed various unethical practices, i.e. giving wrong information about Maheshwari, Arvindh and Aruna [some children in the agency at the time of the inspection].

"The entire recording seems to have discrepancy.

"While siblings Arvindh and Aruna were admitted at different times, the relinquishment deeds indicate that they were surrendered together."

A 2002 picture of Dr. J. Radhakrishnan, Salem District Collector at the time, receiving a female baby for the cradle centre in Salem.

According to the relinquishment deed, Maheshwari and her sibling were surrendered by their widowed mother. But the inspection team found that Maheshwari's father was alive; she was left there for better education; and the sibling she was paired with was actually not her brother.

"Several registers/records are not properly maintained.

"The registration of the Society is not proper...

"While more than 40 Indian parents have registered for children, the agency has not shown interest to complete home studies of the families."

Despite the severe indictment in the inspection report and a show-cause notice sent to the agency that got no reply, the CARA renewed Peace Society's ICA licence in April 2005.

According to a recent study, "Adoption Agencies and Institutional Practices in Tamil Nadu: A Sociological Study," by Sujata Mody for Malarchi Women's Resource Centre, adoption in Tamil Nadu is a complex maze of sleaze, with unethical and illegal "dealings." Says Sujata: "Even a very superficial investigation into inter-country adoptions from Tamil Nadu opens up a can of worms." According to the study, only NGOs (as elsewhere, except Andhra Pradesh) offer adoption services in Tamil Nadu. "If these `homes' of varying size and background have one thing in common it is the free flouting of norms and adopting various dubious methods to bend rules and `source' babies. Of course, as always, there are exceptions."

Most agencies, according to the study, are run as a "family business" and keen only on lucrative inter-country adoptions (ICA). In this there seems to be cooperation. For instance, agencies without an ICA licence transfer babies to those with one.

Babies missing from government hospitals have been traced to adoption agencies. For instance, in 1999, four babies missing from the Salem General Hospital were found at an agency in Chennai. The police filed a case in the Chengalpattu District Court against the agency's director. CARA immediately revoked the agency's ICA licence and the Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Department suspended its in-country licence. But the agency's in-country and inter-country adoption licences were revived after the police arrested five persons for stealing the babies from the hospital. The question of how the stolen babies landed with the agency remains unanswered.

The recent arrest by Chennai's Central Crime Branch of P.V. Ravindranath, Director of the Chennai-based Malaysian Social Service Society (MSSS, which had been placing children in adoption between 1991 and 2001), and his family members for their alleged involvement in kidnapping and selling children, has blown the lid off a major racket in child trafficking. A five-member gang was also arrested for kidnapping and selling about 350 children to the MSSS between 1991 and 2001. Even as scores of parents who had lost their children in the last decade are queuing outside various police stations in the State to see if their child figures in the list given by those arrested, the police are investigating the probable links the five-member gang could have with other adoption agencies.

Licensing of agencies is the single most important tool of disciplining and monitoring adoption agencies. The threat of withdrawal of licence is often the only way to ensure compliance. However, there is evidence that the procedures of licensing are flouted and officers are "pressured to issue licence." Says Sujata: "The licences of several agencies have been revoked. But soon enough, they have also been restored. This is an indicator of the weak regulatory and licensing system."

To promote in-country adoption, the number of agencies allowed to do ICAs is generally limited. But there are instances where the Department of Social Welfare in Tamil Nadu has been keen - indeed, in a hurry - to give inter-country licences to agencies. For instance, according to former CARA Chairperson Andal Damodaran, a Coimbatore-based agency, which was operating with an in-country licence for barely one year (the usual time is three years), was issued a CARA licence to do ICAs.

The agency, which was severely indicted by a Government of India inspection team last year (a copy of the report is with Frontline) for malpractices and improper records, was recently issued the ICA licence. According to the inspection team, the agency has indulged in "unethical practice" by tying up with a U.S. adoption institution, International Families Incorporated (IFI), to which it has proposed most of the children and from which it has received substantial donations.

Sourcing babies

Investigation reveals that babies are "sourced" from remote towns and villages. According to Sujata Mody, they are surrendered, abandoned, trafficked, stolen, bought, and even kidnapped.

Often, abandoned children are declared "surrendered" by fabricating documents so that they are free to be given for adoption without obtaining a certificate, which may take a little longer, from the Child Welfare Committee. According to a former member of Tamil Nadu VCA, some agencies "never get abandoned babies; they are always surrendered." A former employee of an adoption agency said that even the surrender documents are not always signed in the presence of a notary public as mandated by law; several documents are also signed by the same person. According to Chandra Thanikachalam of the Indian Council of Child Welfare, even if the scrutinising agency doubts the veracity of the surrender documents, it has no powers to initiate a probe.

Many agencies run short-stay homes for destitute and pregnant women, who are encouraged to give away their babies for adoption. According to Sujata Mody's study, a Chennai-based agency has a rehabilitation scheme for unwed pregnant mothers who, till giving birth, are even employed to take care of other babies in the agency. The agency says it conducts re-marriage for widowed/separated and deserted women, and has special facilities for the new-born. In fact, the agency explains that the high cost of adoption is because often it has to support women through pregnancy.

Many unwed pregnant mothers are directed to short-stay homes by government hospitals after an abortion has failed or is too late. Even agencies that do not have short-stay homes allow unwed mothers to live on their premises, until the babies are born. For instance, according to Sujata Mody, a Chennai-based agency admitted to keeping "pregnant women in difficult circumstances" at its home till they give birth. She says: "Usually, the babies are taken away for adoption and the women encouraged to leave the home."

According to former Tamil Nadu VCA member Vidya Reddy, while babies are generally poorly fed to look weak and sick so that they are rejected by Indian parents, once they get the VCA nod for ICA, they are fed well and cared for very well to be showcased to prospective foreign adopters. She says: "There is always a difference in weight before and after VCA clearance."

According to Sujata Mody, prima facie, there may be no reason to suspect the dealings and transactions in babies from unwed mothers in the short-stay homes. But there seems to be a conflict of interest here that offers scope for unethical practices. An agency staff member confirmed that poor women signed the relinquishment paper without realising the import of their act. Instances of mothers coming back to ask for their baby - even within the stipulated two-month period - are common.

The role of the Department of Social Welfare

According to Sujata, the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) "routinely conducts inspections and files inspection reports, sends out show-cause notices, gets a routine follow-up done, and then routinely renews the licence of the agency or, in some instances, even recommends it for inter-country licence." For instance, the inter-country adoption licences of two agencies were revoked by the Tamil Nadu DSW in 1999-2001, although they continue to hold the permit for in-country adoption. Serious charges of malpractices, including those of child trafficking, had been levelled against them. One of the licensed agencies, which houses orphans in Hosur, has been issued a show-cause notice for irregularities and anomalies by the DSW.

Despite large-scale fraud, the number of adoptions has increased in Tamil Nadu. Of the 1,742 adoptions done between 1991 and 2001, nearly a fourth happened in the last two years. According to Andal Damodaran, the number of children given in in-country adoptions has also increased. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of agencies with in-country licence has doubled, from 10 to 21, and two new agencies were issued inter-country licences.

At a workshop in Chennai, (reported in The Hindu, December 27, 2003), adoption agencies complained that there was not enough staff meaningfully to evaluate the foster homes, or follow-up on the child's progress. They agreed that the screening process was inefficient and the documentation improper and that procedures were violated. But they attributed this largely to inadequate funding and staff. They also agreed that some agencies were violating State procedures by changing the antecedents of the child, to please prospective parents. For most agencies, responsibility ends when they hand over the baby to the adoptive parents or, in some cases, "when they receive the money for the baby."

The adoption agencies seem to have no clear policy for charging for the babies they place in adoption although CARA has set certain rates. The adoption agencies in Tamil Nadu charge between Rs.3,000 and Rs.5,000 a month for a child. Aside from this, there is a service charge and a set of fees for home study, scrutiny, lawyers, and registration fee, which may add up to about Rs.8,000. Most agencies are unwilling to reveal the amounts they collect from foreign adoptive parents; they only admit to "charging more". Most institutions have tie-ups with government hospitals for treatment of the infants, but they conjure up large medical bills that are charged to the adoptive parent.

The DSW, according to reliable sources, has received several complaints by adopting parents. Adoption, insists, Vidya Reddy, should not be the main focus; it should be part of a larger welfare programme. But many agencies seem to run it as the main, even the only, programme.

In fact, agencies justify ICA for healthy babies on the ground that they run up huge medical and maintenance costs for the children. Some rationalise the high amounts recovered from foreign adoptive parents by saying that this "subsidises" Indian adoptions. Further, the agencies receive donations - in money and in kind - towards capital costs such as building and land. For instance, according to the Report given by CARA after it inspected the Coimbatore-based Peace Society on July 2, 2004, the agency has been getting huge donations from the Washington-based International Families Incorporated and in 2003-04, over Rs.27 lakhs from E.A. Rao, an NRI.

According to Sujata Mody's study, from 1998 to 2002, various adoption agencies in Tamil Nadu received from their foreign counterparts grants ranging from Rs.20 lakhs to Rs.2 crore.

Foreign adoptive parents pay their local agencies, which send the sums as "grant-in-aid" to their Indian counterparts. It is difficult to find out how much each parent in the foreign country has paid - but, according to some estimates, it ranges from $10,000 to $50,000. There is, however, a clear link between inter-country adoptions and foreign contributions. In fact, many agencies admit they cannot survive without doing inter-country adoptions.

In this context of funding, it is useful to note that none of the adoption agencies in Tamil Nadu now accesses the State government's Shishu Griha Scheme (SGS), which helps in-country adoptions. Under the scheme, agencies are given Rs.6 lakhs every year to take care of 10 children until they are given in adoption. According to Vidya Reddy, an important reason deterring agencies from accessing the grant could be the need for "greater accountability and governmental interference, which these agencies may not want."

Most agencies, under the guise of protecting privacy and pleading a lack of acceptance of adoption in India, continue to cover up their lack of financial accountability and lack of transparency. Inadequate funds are used as a pretext for remaining understaffed to be understaffed and poorly equipped. The lack of resources is cited as an excuse for deficient service, such as poor and incomplete home studies and shoddy follow-up of adoptive parents.

When contacted, a DSW official who did not wish to be named pointed out that ICA comes under CARA and "we have nothing to do with it."

The Tamil Nadu study raises some important questions: Are babies really surrendered by parents who face economic and social crises? Have enough efforts been made to counsel and support parents to keep the girl babies rather than abandon them? Have all avenues to unite the children with their biological parents been explored? Has serious effort been made to place babies with Indian adoptive families? Are CARA guidelines being followed? What is the real motive of these agencies? And, what if any is the role of the "cradle baby" scheme in this web of unethical and illegal adoption procedures?

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REPLY TO THE ALLEGATIONS RAISED BY ANDAL DAMODARAN & PREDECESSOR

 Dear Readers,

There are several cover stories published in Indian National Magazines, such as FRONTLINE and THE HINDU under the heading “ADOPTION MARKET”  about the adoption scandals by Geeta Ramaswamy, Shalini Mishra, Vidhya Reddy and Andal Damodaran.

 It is alleged that the existing system of adoption procedure has allowed child trafficking to take place for years under the guise of a perfectly legal adoption process.

 It is further reported by Andal Damodaran & others say that PEACE Society, Coimbatore has created false sibling indulged in various unethical practices and creating false relinquishment deeds, further the report said that most agencies are run as a “family business” and been only on lucrative Inter-Country Adoption (ICA).

 What about Andala Damodaran her self!  While she was a chair person of CARA simultaneously she held the General Secretary of Indian Council for Child Welfare and  Founder member of VCA, both are responsible for realizing a child for free for adoption and submit a scrutiny report of recommendation to the Court to issue Guardianship orders.  WHY?  Because she sit at CARA as a chair person favors some foreign agencies who benefits financially so that she instruct VCA to declare child free for adoption and match a baby to foreign nationals than instruct ICCW to give favorable report to the court to grant the guardianship orders.  With a vested interest she held all these posts and now she was ousted out from CARA pointing out at PRACE and other agencies.

 Truth is bitter digest. But all truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed, second it’s violently opposed and third it is accepted as being self – evident. Why blame the system, courts, orphanages, government and foreign agencies? Adoption is the birth right of an orphan child and institutionalization is the last resort for the child.

 Licensing formalities in India for in country and inter country go through process of refinery and most stringent ways. There are a great deal of requirements to be complied and a volume of paper work to be done. A thorough investigation and inspection of every record, books of accounts stipulations on child admission, child care management, relinquishment deed and many more are routine procedures, inspected by the State Government officials prior to grant a license. The state Government officials form Social Welfare Department and director of Social Defense and highly honored and wildly appreciated by NGO’s for their selfless services in monitor the NGO’s and extent their generous and timely help to save unfortunate child. Adoption procedures are highly monitored by state Government, District Social Welfare Board, Child Welfare Committee and the Family courts. Why bicker on such judicial bodies.

 I realize that a dignified silence is not adequate in this hour of crisis, when the reputation of the individuals and genuineness of the institution are under malicious attach by so called social workers and anti adoptniois who do not think any further than six inches form their sight for their personal benefits and vested interest. I have decided to break the vow of silence and answer the truthful activities of PEACE Society, and bring Damodaran false allegations, unethical and untruthful statements to light. Her intentions and thoughts are malicious, prejudice and vested in personal interest and glory. As we all know that truth is the safest ground to stand on.

 PEACE Society performances in Social Services is not only in country adoptions it also extends counseling, sponsorship, and even assisted in recent Tsunami areas by providing, mid day meals, school uniform and for many fisherman, fishing nets to work and earn their living. What was Damodaran done to these people? Did she ever spend even a rupee from her pocket to buy a packet of peanuts to those children stuck with Tsunami? I don’t think so. PEACE Society was thoroughly inspected and certified by the Register of the Societies as a bona fide   full-fledged  organizations, where registration and certified by the Register of the Societies as a bona fide full-fledged organization, where registration is in accordance to the registration act of 1975. Child Welfare Committee a judicial body form the Director of Social Defense, Tamilnadu Government has inspected and upon satisfaction issued a fit institution certificate, the Department of Social Welfare Government of Tamilnadu inspected and upon satisfaction issued an in country license to adoption, CARA upon satisfying issued an inter country license to do international adoptions. Now Damodaran goes on to say that all these recommendations are wrong?

 While Damodaran was a chairperson of CARA, she was simultaneously General Secretary of Indian council for child welfare at Chennai (ICCW), and also a member of VCA at Chennai (which are founder by her). This is highly objectionable and contradictory to CARA guidelines yet she some how manipulated this and when some NGO objected to this, she destroyed them.

 Some evil people want to monopolize the adoptions in India, extracts financial gains from adoptive parents and other countries such as US, Europe, Scandinavian and when innocent orphanages and individuals refuse to bribe them they plot a conspiracy to destroy. This is what exactly happened to PEACE and Dr.Rao. None of these evil and coward people who post false allegations on the internet and news carried, hugged kissed or changed a diaper of an orphan child or contributed a single rupee or a dollar to the betterment of orphan of children but they pose to be a renowned social workers who get grants form the government and pocket illegally.

 PEACE Society objected to the monopoly of the VCA at Chennai and refused to follow their dictatorial orders that are contrary to the CARA guidelines, and became a member of a newly formed VCA at Coimbatore. This was the beginning of the conspiracy to topple PEACE. This irritated and annoyed Damodaran. Her allied member’s monopoly and their dictatorship were shattered in Tamil Nadu and therefore she tried with all her malicious intentions to destroy the agency by bringing false allegations, baseless accusations as a chairperson of CARA. When all her tricks didn’t succeed she became a roaring lioness ready to devour the agency and its officials. She failed to know she is just an ordinary woman like any other NGO’s PEACE Society, in Coimbatore is the best agency in the state, and the state Officials appreciated the way records are maintained, and the care and felicities provided.

 Families for Children in Coimbatore founded by, built and financed by a Canadian women and till today she funds all salaries and daily maintenances to this agency and conducts all adoption affairs from Montreal as a founder member. This agency is very near and dear to Damodaran.

Many of PEACE Society social workers were ill treated by Mrs. Andal Damodaran & others when attended ACA meetings and consequently they resigned the job. Following is the resignation letter of our social workers:

       1.    N. Shankugha Vadivu MSW

In my Chennai trip I saw Mrs. Rosemary, Scrutiny Officer, Ms. Andal Damodaran & Gandhi Nathan. Ms. Rosemary asked me about Jayashankar, who took baby through VCA. She told me that Jayashankar family is wiling to go Consumer court. And she asked about twin babies in PEACE HOME what is our plan about twin babies? There are so many problems in PEACE HOME. “Do you know about its Inter-Country License” etc. is at Stake. PEACE is involved in corruption and facing a CBI investigation. Do you want to be in Jail-they have threatened me and since officers and experienced people like above telling like that. I feel something in surely wrong with PEACE so I do not want to get in to any problems. So I am rendering my resignation.

  1. Mrs. V. Priya MSW

I attended the VCA Annual General Body meeting on 20.09.2004. After the meeting Mrs. Ananthalakshmi Honorary Treasurer spoke to me in person. She said, “PEACE SOCIETY is not working according the ethics of adoption and it will affect the future of the children. Why are you placing twin children outside India? We can refer families to you. You are not following the proper procedure in adoption. You are new to this field so as a social worker you have to follow the ethics and we are here to see that you following proper procedure. You are a new social worker and you might not be acquainted with the procedure. New PEACE involved in malpractices and child trafficking business. There is a CBI investigation going on its better you do not get into legal problem as a Social Worker. Her allegations created an ambiguity in my mind whether I should continue my job. When I returned and verified the files and found no malpractices. But even though all the records and accounts are accurately maintained I do not want to get into legal investigation since I have long way to go in my earlier. So I am resigning from my job.

VCA at Chennai has written a letter on 06.05.2004 to The Director of Social Welfare, Chepauk, Chennai to derecognize PEACE Society.

 Mrs. Andal Damodaran has written a letter to State Government to de-recognize on the ground that “It is negotiable that when Tmt. Andal Damodaran was in Chairman Post of CARA the Certificate of the Recognition (Central Adoption Resource Agency, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, New Delhi) issued in Registration. No. 104/2003 Dated. 19-6-2003 for the period from 19-6-2003 to 18-6-2004 and Inter Country adoption Certificate issued by her”.

 There was only one VCA in the whole of Tamil Nadu, when a new VCA was recommended by the state Government  Mrs. Andal Damodaran has blocked the formation of the new VCA because she would lose her monopoly if a new VCA is permitte.

 Here is a naked proof from CARA Central Adoptiions Resource Authority an  autonomous body under the Central Government of Ministry of Women and Child of India, given a clean sheet that either PEACE or Dr. Rao are involved in any malpractice or its licens revoked or cancelled.  Please do not believe Andal  Damodaran  or her alies allegations.  They are frustrated nad vanity women who do not think anything good than to do bad to others who do good.

 Mother Theressa Charitable Trust under RTI regulation wrote a letter to CARA to clarify the allegations raised by Andal Damodaran are genuine or  false.  The reply from CARA is below.  In public interest the Mother Thressa Charitable Trust Secretary requested the following questions need to be answered.

        1.         Whether CARA  has any report or complaint against PEACE Society about it’s involvement in CHILD TRAFFICKING?

2.          Whether CARA suspended at any time the Inter Country license issued to PEACE Society?

3.         Whether PEACE has involved in any other malpractice that has come to CARA’s observation?

4.         Whether CARA has taken any action against PEACE Society to revoke it’s Inter Country license?

5.         Whether at present Inter Country license is in force for PEACE?

6.         Whether Dr. Epuri Raman the founder and the Treasurer of PEACE whose involvement in PEACE ha damaged the reputation of PEACE Society?

7.         Whether has known of any malpractices of Dr. Eputi Raman Rao in PEACE Society or any other organization?

CARA in its reply dated 27/04/2010 has given the following information:

 Whether CARA has any report or complaint against peace society about its involvement in Child Trafficking?

Ans: No Report has been received.

  1. Whether CARA has suspended at any time the inter country license issued to peace society?

Ans: No.

  1. Whether PEACE society has involved in any other malpractice that has come to CARA’S observation?

Ans: Procedural lapses were observed in some adoption cases during inspection done in the year 02.07.2004.

  1. Whether CARA has taken any action against PEACE Society to revoke it’s inter country license?

Ans: No

  1. Whether at present inter country License is in force for PEACE?

Ans: Yes. 

  1. Whether Dr.Epuri Ramana Rao, the Founder and Treasurer of PEACE Society who’s involvement in PEACE Society have damaged the reputation of the PEACE society?

Ans: CARA does not have information in this regard.

  1. Whether CARA has known about any malpractices of Dr. Epuri Ramana Rao in PEACE society or in other organization? 

Ans: No such intimation has come to the knowledge of CARA 

When Andala Damodaran was a CARA Chair person, she exercised all her powers in the absence of the CARA secretary formed a group of her own people “birds of same feathers flock to gather” and favored some orphanages in India and foreign agencies for both financial benefits and popularity to sustain her lively hood even after retirement.  (even now she enjoys those benefits).  Any RIPA or Indian orphanages opposed or exposed her, monopoly,  she deliberately de-recognized them or wrote letters to concerned government authorities to de-recognize by brining false and baseless allegations.  There are many RIPA’s (Orphanages) in India were targeted by her and even today they (orphanages) suffer a great loss.  Leave alone all India, in her own State Tamilnadu there are about 45 orphanages both in country and Inter Country licensed are targeted by her and they all want to voice with PEACE to legal action against her for destroying future and creating false allegation against them.  Not a single NGO  likes her in whole of India.

 Another quality of Anandala Damodaran is that she goes to every government, judicial and non judicial authorities tells All bad about the agencies and orphanages (NGO’s) who do not agree to her and write letters to black list them.  Thus she attracts and procures tens and thousands of dollars projects for her own personal benefit and glory. 

Hence from CARA’s reply it is very obvious that PEACE Society or Dr. Epuri Raman Rao, Founder and Treasurer of PEACE Society have not committed any irregularity in the adoption process.  I request the above information to be read by the readers about the clear record of the PEACE Society, Coimbatore and Dr. Epuri Raman Rao, Founder and Treasurer of PEACE Society. It will also highlight the truth about the allegations made by Andal Damodaran and others and definitely one day or other Mrs. Andal Damodaran has to face legal action by PEACE Society and Dr. Epuri Raman Rao for alleged untrue charges against PEACE Society.

Yours Sincerely

James

Mother Theresa Charitable Trust

Duped by Indian adoption agency, US family cautions couples

from: indiatimes.com

NEW DELHI: US-based Desiree and David Smolin were elated when they adopted two girls from Hyderabad. But their happiness was shortlived. Within weeks, the couple discovered that their two lovely daughters were not orphans, but victims of child trafficking.

That was 12 years ago. The Smolins now operate a website, in which they have catalogued international adoption injustices and offer advice to adopting parents, based on their own experience.

The Smolins, who have five sons, adopted nine-year-old Bhagya and 11-year-old Manjula from Action for Social Development (ASD), a Hyderabad-based adoption agency, Nov 18, 1998.

"The girls were terribly depressed and one of them had suicidal tendencies," Desiree told IANS in an e-mail interview.

The Smolins were saddened by the emotional state of the girls. Luckily, they got some information. The girls had told a friend at ASD about their past, which prompted the Smolins to probe further.

"When the girls finally began to open up after about six weeks, they told us that they were not orphans, but were stolen and sold to us. They were even threatened and forced to lie to the embassy official, who interviewed them," said Desiree, who still can't believe it after 12 years.

The Smolins then made efforts to locate Lakshmi, the biological mother of the girls. After repeated efforts and with the help of Gita Ramaswamy, an activist, they finally succeeded in tracing Lakshmi in 2004.

Lakshmi had sent her daughters to ASD in 1995 on the assurance that they would get a good education.

A year later, on a trip to the centre, she saw her daughters for the last time, through a one-way window. She was told they would study better if they did not see her at all as it would upset them.

Lakshmi made a request that her daughters be handed back to her, but was told that she would have to pay a huge amount of money for that. The girls, say activists, had fallen victim to the sinister plans of child-traffickers and were already out of ASD by that time.

Lakshmi did not hear of her girls after that, till Ramaswamy approached her in 2004 and told her that her daughters were alive and well, and were looking for her.

Thanks to Ramaswamy's efforts and the Smolins' generosity, the mother got to see her daughters again. The girls finally continued to live with the Smolins.

It was in 2001, after a series of adoption scandals came to the surface, that adoptions from Andhra Pradesh were regulated.

"The then director of ASD, Sanjeeva Rao, has been jailed three times on child trafficking-related charges. The last we heard is that he is currently trying to be relicensed," David told IANS.

In 2005, they filed formal complaints with both the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) in India and with the US State Department's division of Children and Families.

"We never received any reply from CARA, not even so much as an acknowledgment that CARA had received the complaint, let alone anything meaningful. We must believe that CARA received these complaints because neither the e-mails nor the post were returned to us as undelivered," Desiree told IANS.

Jagannath Pati, CARA's deputy director and public information officer, however, denied receiving any complaint on the issue. "I don't remember receiving any mails or letters from David and Desiree Smolin," he said.

The Smolins have reconciled, but they have a word of caution for parents going for adoptions. "Don't blindly trust your agency. Do your homework. Dig for dirt," Desiree said.

Standard lack of response

CARA also failed to respond to any of our written complaints asking for an investigation or even to acknowledge our letters. However, we do know they received our letters (sent by registered mail). 

It still amazes me that a government organisation - a country's central authority for adoption under the requirements of the Hague Convention, and tasked with overseeing all intercountry adoptions - would fail to respond in any way to repeated complaints of corruption that are brought to their attention. 

Julia

Pound Pup Legacy