Children taken from Liberia adoption agency run by nonprofit

Date: 2009-04-11

David Shaffer

MINNEAPOLIS -- The government of Liberia has removed 35 children from an adoption agency in that country operated by a Minnesota nonprofit and is considering further action against the organization.

The removal of the children from the West African Children Support Network on March 25 was part of an ongoing investigation of the adoption agency founded by Liberian-born Maria Luyken of Eden Prairie, Minn., a Liberian government official said.

Liberia ordered all international adoptions suspended in January, and announced it was investigating WACSN and a Wisconsin-based adoption agency to assure that the children were cared for properly and adoption laws were followed.

Joseph Geebro, Liberia's deputy minister for social welfare, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the government is drafting a letter to Luyken stating its objections to her operation. He said the investigation of WACSN is continuing, and he would not discuss details.

Susan Grant, director of Save the Children UK in Liberia, which has assisted the social welfare ministry, said in an e-mail that 35 children ages 1 to 14 were removed from WACSN's compound in Monrovia, the nation's capitol, and taken to another center for care.

International adoptions from Liberia had been growing since the county ended its civil war in 2003. International groups have criticized the country's adoption process and raised an alarm about child trafficking. Canada has halted adoptions from Liberia, but 249 Liberian children were adopted in the United States last year. The U.S. Embassy in Liberia continues to accept adoption-related orphan visa applications from U.S. citizens, but no orphan visas are being issued while Liberia has a moratorium on adoptions, according to the State Department.

WACSN is a Minnesota nonprofit, according to federal tax records, and has been one of the leading U.S. adoption agencies in Liberia.

Grant said it is believed that WACSN recruited children through another orphanage and transferred them to its Monrovia compound. "The family tracing and reunification process has begun," Grant said of the 35 children.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is speaking Friday in Minneapolis, said in January that gross mismanagement, extortion and abuse existed in the country's international adoption system, and that many children in orphanages are not orphans, but children taken from living parents on the promise of support or a new life in America. The government has proposed new adoption laws.

In January, the government removed 32 children from Acres of Hope, a Madison, Wis.-based adoption agency that also operates an orphanage in Liberia. The children were returned a few weeks later to the Acres of Hope orphanage, said Dave Reto, officer manager in Madison, Wis., who described the incident as a misunderstanding.

WACSN officials could not be reached for comment, but one of its supporters recently returned from Liberia and blogged in the agency's defense at dekkenga.wordpress.com.

"If you were to read the papers and listen to the news from Monrovia, you would only hear the awful lies about WACSN and Maria. Our hope is to be a voice to help people see the truth," wrote Seth Dekkenga of Sioux Falls, S.D., who with his wife is seeking to adopt a Liberian child.

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