Charles adoption ring “bought” infants for just Lm112
Charles adoption ring “bought” infants for just Lm112
The ringleaders of an infant smuggling organisation, posing behind a Karachi-registered charity Called the New United Christian Foundation, would buy newborn children from destitute Pakistani families for just Lm112, and then sell them to Maltese couples for Lm5,500.
Concetta Charles, the Safi woman whose husband Dennis will spend seven years in a Karachi jail for child smuggling, would appear with a contract in hand and a bill for Lm5,000 upfront for a three-month old girl from Pakistan, a child allegedly nursed at the the charity Charles claimed she represented.
Childless couples would pay her flight costs to bring their children from Pakistan, and another Lm500 on receipt of a medical report. Among the conditions on contract, Charles would bind herself to bring to Malta “this girl, up to three months of age who is not black, who is free from any chronic or serious disease, defect or medical condition, physical or mental disability as certified by a medical clinic in Pakistan and a competent authority in Malta chosen by the couple.”
And yet, despite the New United Christian Foundation being a registered charity in Karachi, there was no doubt about how Charles and her Pakistani-born husband Dennis were procuring the children they sold to Maltese couples.
Just like the scene witnessed by police when they broke down the door at the Charles’s bungalow in the Gulshan-I-Iqbal district in Karachi, in March 2002: there they found 11 infants aged 15 days to one year, lying in appalling conditions. The babies had been confined to a single room, with nothing but an old, dirty mattress on the floor. They slept, fed and passed all their time there.
Thirteen passports and fake birth certificates were recovered, two belonging to a couple known as Samina and Iftekhar, who would pose as the children’s parents. Along with Dennis and the couple, his brother Derrick and mother Joyce are arrested, along with four nannies – hired to look after the babies until they could be take to Malta, a process speeded up by the Pakistani passports the children had been given in Hyderabad, 160km north of Karachi.
The children had been allegedly bought from poverty-stricken parents. Many were illegitimate, taken from Karachi social welfare centres. Some of their mothers were taking refuge in the same centres when their suckling babies were kidnapped by the smugglers.
One eight-week-old girl taken by the police was close to death and refusing milk, probably because she was being breastfed by one of the four nannies arrested on the day. The baby is crying and keeps fainting, police report states, refusing even water.
According to the preliminary inquiry by Judge Javed Qureshi, the recovery of the 11 infants is just the tip of the iceberg. Dennis Charles admits that at least 100 Pakistani infants were smuggled to Malta between 1998 and 2001. The Maltese ministry of social policy admitted to knowing of 39 Pakistani children adopted by Maltese couples.
Four of the recovered children had been identified by their parents after they were lodged at the Edhi Child Home. Sajjad Masih identified his two sons — four-year-old Johnson and three-year-old Shahzul — and a one-year-old niece, Erum.
A street cleaner, Sajjad told the police he wanted his children to become priests, and that his brother too wanted his daughter to become a nun. A neighbouring woman, Martha, told him she knew someone who take children to the United States to be brought up in the priesthood. Sajjad handed over his two sons and his niece to Martha. When some eight months later, he asked about the children’s wellbeing, Martha could not give him a satisfactory reply.
Similarly, Javed Masih, also a cleaner, told the police his wife was about to give birth to a child when a neighbouring woman, Maqbool, asked him to give the child to her daughter-in-law who lived in the United States, where she would take care of the child. Masih, a father of five and living in poverty, sold his daughter for Rs20,000 (Lm112) to Maqbool. At the time of handing over the girl to Maqbool, she was only eight days old.
Despite her husband already having jumped bail in 1998, Concetta Charles was still actively collecting cash from Maltese couples for the children being kidnapped from Pakistani families. In 2001 she laid out an agreement with the Sacco couple where she agreed to bring them a three-month old child for Lm5,500.
The agreement fell through and the couple sued Concetta and her husband to retrieve their monies. Both were unable to attend the court procedures. While Dennis was being held in Pakistan, Concetta’s lawyer pleaded that she was “psychologically traumatised” because of her husband’s incarceration and “notable financial problems”.
But the reality of private adoptions is not new. Childless couples often chose to bypass the onerous government regulations on adoption, which take time and often demand a thorough assessment of the interested parents. Even the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity is investigating private adoptions which occur after women give birth in private hospitals which do not register the children under their name. Instead, the mothers are registered as having been admitted for a surgical operation, while the child is handed over to an adoptive couple.
The ministry is now working on an Adoption Act after acceding to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Intercountry Adoptions, which set up a structure to combat and avoid the sale and trafficking of children through the Department for Social Welfare Standards.