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Courts should rule on stolen kids' fate


Courts should rule on stolen kids' fate

September 2, 2008

Julian Drape and Sandra O'Malley

THE Federal Government believes the courts are best placed to determine the fate of Indian children stolen from their birth parents and adopted in Australia.

It is believed at least 30 children adopted in Australia may have been stolen from their parents by a child trafficking ring operating in India between 1998 and 1999.

Canberra has been in touch with authorities in New Delhi to raise concerns about the allegations.

"This is cleary a tragic set of circumstances for the parties - and particularly the children - involved," Attorney-General Robert McClelland told parliament.

"In working to resolve these issues, we must not lose sight of the best interests of the child and the need to be sensitive to the concerns of both the Australian adoptive families and the birth families in India."

Mr McClelland said birth parents had rights under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption to seek the return of their children.

But the adoptive parents also had rights "to meet any such application".

But the primary concern was "the best interest of the child".

"These aren't issues for politicians to deliberate on they are heart-wrenching issues for a court to deliberate on and that is appropriate," Mr McClelland said.

The Opposition believes the government response leaves many questions unanswered.

Opposition legal spokesman George Brandis said Mr McClelland had failed to provide clarity about the respective rights of the parties involved.

"Although it appears to be the case ... on the core issue of whether the rights of and interests of Australia adoptive parents are to prevail over the rights and interests of the birth parents from whom these children were allegedly stolen, there is an inconsistency in Mr McClelland's statement," he said.

"Elsewhere he says the matter is to be referred to the Family Court so that the issue can be determined on a case by case basis."

Opposition justice spokesman Christopher Pyne says the government isn't doing enough to assist the Australian adoptive parents.

"All (Mr McClelland) is doing in reality is deferring the matter to the courts and hoping for the best," he told parliament.

He had not assured Australian parents they would not face expensive court action in India, had not promised government assistance, or said whether new legislation was planned to deal with similar situations in the future, Mr Pyne said.

When the claims were first raised, Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson suggested that the right thing to do in most cases would be to return the children to their rightful parents in India.

Senator Brandis and Mr Pyne did not say whether they supported this position.

"We look to the government to clarify its position," Senator Brandis said.

"It may be that in a proper case, depending on the length of time which the children have been members of the Australian adoptive family, the knowledge of the (birth family) ... and other considerations..., may be in a particular case that might be necessary."

The intercountry adoption program between Australia and India remains open but Australia is no longer dealing with the agencies allegedly involved in child trafficking.

2008 Sep 2