Babies in limbo

This article was published on 07.10.2006 in Adelaide Now.

ABOUT 20 South Australian families who have been waiting up to three years to adopt Indian babies remain in limbo after an adoption agency was accused of baby trafficking.

The State Government has also said the private agency – known as Preet Mandir – asked for exorbitant “donations” of $5000 on top of the usual $5000 fees from SA couples.

The Indian Government revoked Preet Mandir’s inter-country adoption licence in July, following an undercover CNN investigation where babies were sold to foreigners for $16,000.

That followed the adoption agency being investigated and cleared of tricking poor, vulnerable women into giving up children last year.

Preet Mandir has brokered around 40 babies for SA families since 2000. It is believed many would have paid the so-called $5000 donation.

The Opposition has accused the Government of gross negligence for failing to investigate the adoption agency when claims of coercing illiterate, unmarried mothers into giving up their babies first surfaced last year.

It also claims some adoption agencies in Sweden and the US blacklisted Preet Mandir in 2005 amid complaints about exorbitant fees.

Families and Communities Minister Jay Weatherill, who put a stop to the donations in 2003, admitted the Government had concerns about Preet Mandir but was unable to find evidence of wrongdoing.

But he said the Government had been vindicated because it took back control of the adoption process in SA in April last year, amid concerns of guideline breaches, including the charging of donation fees.

Until then, SA was the only state to have a non-government organisation running its adoption service.

Mr Weatherill also said Government bureaucrats visited India on two occasions in the past year – the most recent time in March – in a bid to build relationships with other adoption agencies.

“While we had our concerns about them (Preet Mandir) and we acted on the thing that we were aware of – that was the large donations – we didn’t have any cogent evidence of impropriety,” Mr Weatherill said.

“All the way along we’ve acted on our concerns about this organisation as quickly as we could when we had material.”

However, the Opposition questioned why the Government allowed the managing trustee of Preet Mandir, J.S. Bhasin, to meet SA officials from the Families and Communities Department in Adelaide in May.

A photograph of him and two SA bureaucrats features in the May-June edition of the Intercountry Adoption newsletter of Children Youth and Family Services.

“Over a year after the minister took over responsibility for overseas adoptions, he continued to deal with an agency accused of baby trafficking,” Opposition Families spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said.

“Despite these allegations, which have been around since 2005, the Rann Government still used this agency to help childless couples in SA adopt.”

Mr Weatherill said the Government acted as quickly as it could.

“We can only act on the basis of cogent material; it’s not as if we sat back and waited for that material to come to us . . . we actually flew to India – twice,” he said.

“The Opposition are having it both ways – they’re saying you shouldn’t have insourced because you’ll jeopardise relationships with Preet Mandir and they’re also saying you didn’t act quickly enough to get rid of them.”