New Delhi: Child trafficking in India has a new guise to wear: adoption. Poor families are duped of their children, who are declared orphans and put up for adoption by families who can pay in thousands.
Renuka, 18, lost her three younger sisters to an adoption racket. An Italian couple took the help of Preet Mandir, an adoption and child welfare agency in Pune, to adopt the sisters. CNN-IBN, in several reports since last year, had exposed Preet Mandir for selling children in the name of adoption.
The way it tricked Renuka’s parents proves it is still operating its racket. It promised to educate Renuka’s sisters but then asked their father, who can’t read, to sign on papers which said he was giving them away for adoption. The girls were then declared orphans.
“People from Preet Mandir came and took away my sisters. They said they would educate them. My uncle visited them twice but then people at Preet Mandir they said don’t come here again because the children are getting disturbed,” says Renuka.
Guidelines framed by the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), the watchdog on adoptions in India, say siblings should be kept together if possible, but a family court in Pune strangely forgot to mention Renuka when permitting her sisters to be adopted.
Preet Mandir, in a document, declared that Renuka’s parents were dead and their father had given all his children to the welfare agency before his death. The document said Rani was the eldest sibling in the family and Indian families had refused to adopt either her or her siblings because she was HIV positive.
CARA bought this lie and gave a no-objection certificate to Preet Mandir. “They took my father’s signature on a paper but he could hardly read as he had only studied up to Class III,” says Renuka.
Renuka’s parents are dead and her sisters are in a foreign country. Her grandfather Bhagwan Chougali takes care of her now. “I have everything in my house. I cook for them and I can provide for them but I can't do without them,” says Chougali.
Renuka’s was cheated of her sisters, and Lakshmi Solanki of her infant daughter. Laksmi gave Priyanka to Love Trust, a childcare centre in Buldhana, Maharashtra, temporarily after she was severely burnt by her husband.
“I am not in good health and so gave my child to the childcare centre but they put her up for adoption,” alleges Renuka. Priyanka’s parents are alive but a relinquishment deed by Love Trust has “freed” her for adoption. The trustees of Love Trust told CNN-IBN CARA guidelines allow them to do so.
“In a period of two months that they can come and claim the baby. Our basic aim is the baby’s adoption. We cannot keep the baby with us forever,” says Dr Seema Agashe, Gynecologist and Trustee, The Love Trust.
Snatched away in Satara
CNN-IBN then travelled to Karad and met Kisabai Lokhande, who had kept her granddaughters, Ashwini and Komal, at an observation home in Satara. She discovered days later that her girls had been moved to Preet Mandir.
“When I met them in Pune, my elder granddaughter Komal said not to worry for her because Preet Mandir was taking good care of them. Preet Mandir people said don’t worry about your granddaughters and don’t visit them because you are poor and will waste money on travel,” says Kisabai.
Preet Mandir then put out a newspaper notice, which said Kisabai had 30 days to reclaim her grandchildren and they would be given for adoption if she didn’t respond on time. Preet Mandir knew Kisabai would never see the ad.
Kisabai’s granddaughters were given to a couple in Spain who don't know they had been conned by child traffickers. “I miss them a lot. I have lost my appetite and I keep falling ill. I will do anything to get them back. I had sent them to the observation home so that they go to school, not abroad,” says Kisabai.
Poverty and illiteracy are endemic in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. It is a potent combination that makes this a preferred hunting ground for the baby snatchers.
Baby snatchers will spare none to keep the money coming. When Govind’s parents died of HIV, his anganwadi teacher took him to a child welfare home in Parbhani for care. “The people at the welfare home told us do not come here for at least four months. If you do the child will cry and insist on leaving the welfare home,” says anganwadi teacher Suprabha Manikrao Wakhde.
Within months Govind was transferred to Preet Mandir and sold to an Italian couple. The Parbhani Police says Govind’s adoption papers were in order and that his uncle had not responded to Preet Mandir’s 30-day notice period.
Govind's uncle, Dhondiram Solanki, alleges his thumb impression was taken on blank papers. I am illiterate and didn’t know what I agreed to. There is no question of me reading newspapers,” says Solanki.
The same kind of racket is being repeated in Andhra Pradesh. In Medak district, a racketeer tricked Lakshmi Malkiah and sent her daughters to the US eight years ago.
“A man called Sanjeeva Rao told me he would help me in getting my daughters into school but gave the children away. I came to know of this later. People abused me; they said I sold my kids,” says Lakshmi Malkiah.
Rao’s racket was busted and Lakshmi trace her daughters. She now meets them once a year for a few hours.
28 girls in limbo
Sister Theresa Maria was responsible for over 500 illegal adoptions uncovered in 2001, after which Andhra Pradesh placed a ban on foreign adoptions. Fathima was one of her victims. Unable to pay for her caesarian operation, Theresa kept Fathima’s baby as collateral.
“The Sister asked me to sign on papers which said my daughter will be given for adoption after my death. I didn’t know what I was signing on,” says Fathima.
Fathima’s daughter, Anusha, lives with her adopted family in Germany. Fathima hopes when Anusha grows older she will come back to meet her, but 28 girls in Theresa's Tender Loving Care Home are trapped. Sister Theresa won't allow Indian couples to adopt them and the Andhra government won't let them to go foreign families.