exposing the dark side of adoption
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Mother's pleas over stolen daughter


FATIMA still dreams of holding her daughter's hand, of holding her and hugging her. ''I will just cry, I won't need to speak'' she says, already moved to tears.

Fifteen years after her then two-year-old daughter Zabeen was snatched from outside her home and fraudulently adopted to Australia, Fatima hopes that day is closer than ever.

''I have seen it in a dream, I am holding my daughter's hand. I believe she will be back with me one day.''

Since 2005, Fatima has known her daughter is alive and living with her adoptive parents in Queensland, who were deceived about her origins.

But, despite entreaties to Indian authorities, police, and Australian officials, she has never been allowed to see her daughter.

Two months ago, after years of lobbying, she was allowed to talk to her daughter via Skype, albeit through a translator, as mother and daughter do not share a language.

They talked of Zabeen's infancy, of her long hair, and her gentle, placid nature as a baby.

Now, Fatima and her son Saddam Hussain have come to Delhi to plead with authorities to be allowed to see their daughter and sister.

''I know it cannot be the same as before, it is too long ago. But I would like for my daughter to come back to see us, to know her [biological] parents, to know her siblings and her culture. She should know where she has come from. Even if she just comes to visit once a year.''

In 1998, two-year-old Zabeen was sitting in an auto-rickshaw outside her home in Chennai, when she was stolen. Her brother, Saddam Hussain, then four, was sitting beside her.

''We were sitting eating fruit when a man just got in the rickshaw and started driving off. I tried to get him to stop but he would not, he just kept driving. I tried to stop him, but I was too small. When the auto slowed at a speed bump, I managed to jump out, but my sister could not.''

Zabeen's family combed the coastal southern city of Chennai looking for signs of their lost daughter. ''For two years, I could not do anything but think about my lost girl. I could not sleep or eat or cook.''

In 2005, police uncovered that a corrupt adoption agency in India forged records to make it appear Zabeen had been abandoned.

She and another child were falsely represented as siblings and adopted by a family in Queensland.

In Delhi this week, Fatima has been joined by more than a dozen relatives of stolen children from across India, seeking to highlight the practice of stealing or hoodwinking children from poor families, usually for adoption overseas.

Zabeen's adoptive parents, who cannot be named under Australian law, told Fairfax they were worried attempts might be made to forcibly repatriate the girl to India. ''We want to do something,'' her adoptive father said. ''But we are not going to do anything unless there is an agreement that they would not try to repatriate the girl against her and our will.''

Arun Dohle, an adoptee himself and a campaigner with European NGO Against Child Trafficking, said the family had only ever sought a sympathetic resolution with Zabeen and her adoptive family. ''We are not trying to force the child back.''

2013 Feb 20