Indian mum demands return of stolen daughter

An Indian family is demanding the return of their daughter, who was kidnapped and then adopted out to an Australian family 15 years ago.

By Michael Edwards

February 23, 2013 / abc.net.au

Zabeen was snatched from near her home in Chennai in 1998 - a story all too common in India, where hundreds of stolen children are put up for adoption abroad each year.

She has lived in Australia since she was three and has had only limited contact with her biological family.

But they now want the Australian Government to intervene and force her adoptive family to return her to India.

Zabeen's case may not be isolated, and her adoptive family is not giving up without a fight.

Zabeen was playing with her brother Saddam when the pair were abducted by a man in a car.

Saddam managed to escape but has carried the burden of his sister's disappearance ever since.

"I was there when the man kidnapped [my] sister. My mother has always held me responsible for that," he told 7.30.

"Whenever she missed Zabeen she always beat me. It's in my heart what happened. I can never forget."

For Zabeen's mother Fatima, the pain at times has been almost unbearable.

For a long time she assumed her daughter was dead, but it turns out she was alive.

"I received a phone call from the police saying they had found our daughter. The police had arrested the kidnapper," she said.

"I was so angry with him. I said 'do you not have children? How could you do this to us?'"

The family was told Zabeen had been snatched by criminals making $5,000 at a time selling children to disreputable adoption agencies.

After a police investigation she was eventually traced to Australia.

"I said I want my child back. The policeman said it is not possible because she is in Australia," Fatima said.

"He told me not to worry, that she is in a good place, Australia is a good place. But I told them that even if it is good, I want my child back."

Fatima and her family have been fighting to get Zabeen back since 2005.

The Indian adoption agency that bought Zabeen from her kidnappers was raided by police in 2005 and its president was charged over the scandal.

It has also been a gruelling saga for Zabeen's Australian family, who legally adopted two girls from India.

They live in Queensland and have never spoken publicly before, but agreed to speak with 7.30 on condition of anonymity because of Australia's adoption laws.

"It hasn't been proven completely that they've been stolen, not beyond any doubt," her adoptive father said.

"They became Australians about a year after we brought them back in 2001. The accusations began to surface about 2005.

"Naturally we wanted evidence but there was nothing more than unsubstantiated claims. But the claims have kept coming ever since."

He says police have never been able to provide clear-cut evidence the girls were stolen.

"When the police inspector phoned, I said to him 'are you telling me ... that you have strong evidence that our girls were stolen?' And he went very quiet and wouldn't answer," he said.

Zabeen's adoptive mother says she was "absolutely shocked" by the claim.

"We didn't want to take somebody's child away," she said.

"We wanted to make a home for a couple of children that didn't have a home, that were in orphanages, which our two girls were."

But despite the legality of Zabeen's adoption in Australia, Fatima says a crime took place when was abducted.

She says the Australian Government should acknowledge this and allow her have to have her child back.

Yesterday in New Delhi, Fatima met officials at the Australian High Commission and demanded access to Zabeen within 90 days.

She said if that did not happen, she would file a criminal complaint against Australian authorities and Zabeen's adoptive family.

The Australian High Commission says it assured Fatima that her concerns would be passed on to relevant authorities in Australia.

But they gave her no assurances she could have access to her daughter.

Zabeen's adoptive father says he asked a lawyer to contact the family to try and reach a resolution.

"We got a lawyer to write ... to say that provided that a DNA test showed that their kidnapped child was in fact our eldest daughter, then perhaps we could agree that she would stay here until she's 18, and in the meantime we would send them reports of how she's going, we would send them photos, and at a suitable time we'd put them in contact," he said.

"That letter was sent off but we never received a reply.

"So our view is that the ball is in their court. We made the effort to do that and at least to mitigate their undoubted suffering, and we've heard nothing in reply."

The last contact Fatima and Saddam had with Zabeen was via a conversation on Skype.

They say she has largely forgotten how to speak Tamil and they describe her as thoroughly Australian in her clothing and mannerisms.

Zabeen's adoptive father says he will fight "tooth and claw" to keep her in Australia and says he has received legal advice that she is unlikely to be returned to India.

"She's a complete Australian and we don't think she should be forced to go back into a situation where she doesn't speak the language, she doesn't understand the culture and she doesn't know any of the people," he said.

"We've been told that the chances of an Australian court ruling that an Australian citizen who has grown up here and has no memories of the other country... are almost non-existent."

But Fatima still wants her child back.

"I request of them that they bring my daughter back. Let her see that her parents are alive. That her father and sisters are there," she said.

"Let her see our family because we are her parents - they might have treated my child well but they should bring her back to meet us."

Isolated case?

Activists are concerned Zabeen's case is far from isolated and that potentially dozens of abducted children could have ended up in Australia.

Anjali Pawar from the Sakhee Children's Rights Group says Zabeen's case is a criminal activity.

"Fatima or her family never gave this children to any adoption agency. It's a direct kidnapping," he said.

"It's a crime that happened on Indian soil and through that crime that child went to international adoption.

"Even though this child was adopted in a legal way [in Australia], it is illegal."

Arun Dohle, who works for a European non-government group that has dealt with the cases of hundreds of abducted children, says he knows of at least one other case where Australian parents have adopted an Indian child who had been abducted.

He says he is almost certain there are many more.

"The police only investigated those cases where the parents had formally filed a complaint of a missing child," he said.

"I know of many more cases from police reports of that there are many more abducted children but nobody is investigating. They should be investigated."

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