Indian children stolen for adoption

Shaikh Azizur Rahman, Foreign Correspondent

  • Last Updated: June 28. 2010
Nagarani, with her husband and two children in the background, at their home in Pulianthope slum in Chennai. Their bid for a DNA test to confirm whether a boy adopted by a Dutch family is their son kidnapped 11 years ago was turned down. Shaikh Azizur Rahman / The National

CHENNAI, INDIA // When Nagarani and her husband, Kathirvel, reached the Netherlands from India this month, the couple believed they would be able to prove that a 12-year-old Dutch boy was their son Sathish, who had been stolen from their home in a Chennai slum 11 years ago. 

But a Dutch family court last week turned down the couple’s request for a DNA test on the adopted son of a Dutch ethnic Indian family, ruling that it risked inflicting severe emotional trauma to the minor.

“I am dead sure that Rohit is none but our Sathish. I went all the way to the Netherlands, I am disappointed that I was not even allowed to meet my son,” said Nagarani on her return to India last week,

“I am not angry with the Bissesars for taking my son into adoption. We felt very bad that the adoptive parents did not even want to meet us. I wanted to tell them that we became distraught after Sathish was lost. One day I hope Sathish will understand at least our pain we have lived through since we lost him.”

The struggle to retrieve their son by the couple highlights the plight of dozens of Indian parents who are searching for their children after they were apparently stolen by child traffickers and then sold into adoption in foreign countries, without the knowledge of their birth parents. 

According to Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save Childhood Movement, an Indian child-rights non-governmental organisation, 45,000 children go missing in India every year. Most of the lost children end up as prostitutes, bonded labourers or among the homeless population in big cities. Some of the missing children land in orphanages, and a percentage of those reach their adoptive families in India and abroad.

One night in 1999 when Nagarani and Kathirvel, who only use one name each, were sleeping with their three children in front of their slum hut, one-year-old Sathish was snatched from their bed. Months of searching for the baby proved futile, but the couple suspected that Sathish had been stolen by child traffickers to be sold abroad.

Then in 2005, when police arrested a gang of child traffickers in south India, it was found that they had secretly supplied the children, Sathish among them, to the Malaysian Social Services (MSS), a Chennai-based orphanage that had the permit to send children for adoption abroad.

The investigation revealed that in the previous decade MSS had illegally sent at least 350 Indian children abroad for adoption.

From the office of the orphanage, police recovered in 2005 photos of scores of children who apparently had been stolen from their parents, and Nagarani and Kathirvel identified one child, sent for adoption in the Netherlands, as their son.

As India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began investigating the case of Sathish, Against Child Trafficking (ACT), a Netherlands-based non-governmental organisation fighting for the prevention of child trafficking for international adoption, contacted the Dutch family in the city of Almere in 2006 and broke the news that their adopted son, Rohit Shivam Bissessar, may have been stolen from his original family in India.

The Bissessar family, who paid US$35,000 (Dh128,555) to adopt the child, have refused to take a DNA test, fearing that the child could be taken away. Nagarani and Kathirvel, with the help of ACT activists, last Tuesday filed a complaint with the Almere police against officials of the Meiling Foundation, the intermediary Dutch adoption agency that placed Rohit, and the Bissesars, accusing them of kidnapping.

 In the complaint to Dutch police the couple alleged that Dutch courts and legal authorities were “shielding the Dutch kidnappers” and that “the Netherlands have been promoting kidnapping of children from other countries to their land”.

The Dutch police is of the opinion that the Bissesar couple had no role in kidnapping and trafficking the child. In a Chennai court India’s CBI, following its investigation in the case of Sathish, charged the child traffickers and Indian MSS officials with kidnapping, fabricating records and sending him for illegal adoption.

There are more than 11.5 million abandoned children in India, according to Bachpan Bachao Andolan, and authorities regularly urge western countries to adopt children from the country’s hundreds of orphanages. According to India’s Central Adoption Resource Authority [Cara], about 1,000 Indian children go for adoption abroad yearly with most going to the US.

Cara guidelines say that a foreign couple adopting an Indian child should not pay more than $3,500 to the Indian orphanage. However, in reality, foreign parents often are forced to pay up to 10 to 12 times that to private adoption agencies that act as middlemen, making adoption a lucrative business in India.

The Child Welfare Committee of Tamil Nadu (CWC) believes trafficking and selling children into adoption in foreign countries is still common in south India.

“Last week we discovered that one Chennai-based orphanage, having licence to send children for adoption abroad, had virtually stolen five babies by fooling their birth parents, apparently to sell them into adoption to wealthy families – possibly in foreign countries,” said P Manorama, the chairman of CWC in Chennai, referring to the adoption agency Guild of Service, which is currently under investigation for its role in illegal adoption.

 “Children are continually getting lost and many are remaining untraced. We have reason to believe that kidnapping of children for business is still going on in the region.”