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Fear over Mali's missing children


By Martin Vogl

Adama Coulibaly has got his daughter back now, but he is still determined to find out what happened to her and how she went missing from the streets of Mali's capital, Bamako.

According to Mr Coulibaly, his four-year-old daughter Adjaratou was abducted from in front of his house in September last year.

Four months later, in January this year, Adjaratou was spotted by a friend. She was with a German couple in central Bamako.

The Germans had legally adopted Adjaratou and were due to fly with her to Germany in a couple of days.

Mr Coulibaly says he was sick with worry when his daughter went missing and he says he reported the disappearance to the police. There were also appeals in the local press. He says he did not stop there though.

"I went around looking for her, there were times if I saw a bag in a gutter, I would jump into the gutter and untie the bag," he recalls.

"Sometimes when I opened the bags I would find dead dogs, and once I opened a bag and it was full of chicken parts. The family was very, very scared. We thought she was dead."

'Some negligence'

The head of the orphanage Adjaratou was adopted from, Pona Hawa Camara, says the child was brought to her by a woman one evening and she reported the arrival to the police.

"The woman said that she'd had the girl for a week and that she'd taken the child from door to door and even to the head of the neighbourhood, and that no-one recognised her."

The head of the police department in Mali which deals with such cases, Ami Kane, says, however, that Adjaratou's arrival was never reported to them.

Ms Camara said she would give the BBC the date the child arrived at her orphanage and the name of the person who handed her over.

She now refuses to do this or to answer any more questions.

The German organisation that assisted in organising the adoption, Help A Child, refused to make a statement about the case.

In general, Help A Child says they simply went by the documentation they were given by the orphanage and that it is impossible for them to do their own investigation into where a child comes from.

The German Ambassador to Mali, Karl Flittner, says he thinks something went wrong either at the orphanage or at the Malian government department that deals with adoption.

"Our impression is that there was some degree of negligence on the part of the orphanage or of the Direction National de l'Enfance because the investigation into whether this child was really an orphan was apparently not carried out in the proper manner."

Mr Flittner says Germany will be reviewing adoption by Germans in Mali.

"From the German side, the co-operation with this Direction National de l'Enfance will be re-examined and we'll be particularly cautious before they give their agreement now to another adoption from Mali."

Adjaratou is not the only child to have disappeared from Bamako's streets.

Lack of confidence

There is no evidence linking these cases to international adoption, but given the publicity around the Coulibaly case, other families are worried.

Hawa Camera says her five-year-old daughter, Fatoumata Keita, was taken from in front of her house.

"I think that my child might not even be in the country any more. Because if you look at what happened to the Coulibaly child, the aim was to take the child away."

Many of the families accuse the police of not taking the cases of missing children seriously. The police deny this and say they investigate fully every case reported to them.

Senior Malian lawyer Lamissa Coulibaly, however, says, he does not have much confidence in the police investigations to try to find a child's family. He says the police lack the means to carry out these investigations thoroughly.

Mr Coulibaly also says there are also serious flaws in the adoption procedures in Mali.

"The children are declared as abandoned, but in fact they are not really abandoned. Sometimes you have some children who are declared abandoned and the natural parents can be found somewhere in the country."

Mr Coulibaly says the parties involved in organising an adoption in Mali are often more keen to get all the papers finalised than to check whether the real parents can actually be found.

The Malian government department that deals with international adoption says that Adjaratou's Coulibaly's case was a one-off and that they are looking into what happened. Mr Coulibaly and others in Bamako will be very interested to hear the results of this review.

For the moment no-one can explain how Adjaratou Coulibaly almost ended up on a plane to Germany.

2010 Aug 16