Friday, March 20, 2009

When International Adoptions Go Terribly Wrong

Scott Carney traces the journey of one Indian boy snatched from the slums of Chennai and then passed off as a child who'd been given up by his parents to a couple in the American Midwest who eventually adopted him (via).

Ten years later, during which the boy's parents refused to give up their search for their son, they know exactly where their son is but can do nothing about it. Painstakingly recounted, bathed in empathy, Carney's essay makes for a harrowing tale.

It was every parent's worst nightmare. Sivagama and her husband, Nageshwar Rao, a construction painter, spent the next five years scouring southern India for Subash. [...] To finance the search, Nageshwar Rao sold two small huts he'd inherited from his parents and moved the family into a one-room concrete house with a thatched roof in the shadow of a mosque. The couple also pulled their daughter out of school to save money; the ordeal plunged the family from the cusp of lower-middle-class mobility into solid poverty. And none of it brought them any closer to Subash.

Five years after he was kidnapped, the police chanced upon a drunken brawl in a bar at which people were arguing about grabbing children off the streets and selling them to an adoption agency. The police found that the agency then placed these children in homes as far away as Australia, the US and Europe.

The ingredients in this international adoption cocktail cannot but lead to skewed incentives - desperate, childless couples with the ability to bear the cost of international adoptions, abject poverty and millions of disenfranchised parents in developing countries, and most importantly, no rules for how much money can be demanded for placements.

"This is an industry to export children," says Sarah Crowe, unicef's media director for South Asia. "When adoption agencies focus first on profits and not child rights, they open up the door to gross abuses."
The saddest part of this heartbreaking tale is where Subash's parents realize this has gone too far along, that they've lost their son. That even if they know exactly where he is, there is nothing they can do to bring his child back to his family.

When I tell Nageshwar Rao that I'll be traveling to the United States to make contact with the family, he touches my shoulder and eyes me intently. [...] With the few words of English at his disposal, he struggles to convey his hopes. Gesturing into the air, toward America, he says, "Family." He then points back at himself.

"Friends," he says.
Oh my god.

All the father now wants is at least some contact with his own son, to be his 'friend'. And it looks like even that might be impossible. No matter which way you look at this, every one comes up a loser.

The entire article is a must-read. The Interpol is now involved in the case, trying, with blood samples, to establish and Subash was indeed stolen from his parents. Carney has a blog (Updating (03/23/09) to add a direct link to his blog - The earlier link is to his main website.). I'm sure he'll be posting follow-ups to this story there.

At this point I don't even know what I'm praying for.


Nageshwar Rao's acceptance of what must be reminds me of one of the wise King Solomon tales.

Two women are fighting over a child, both claiming to be the mother. They go to King Solomon and present their case. The King says he'll hold a contest. He draws a line on the ground, tells the women to stand on either side. He gives the child to them, the hands to one woman and the feet to the other. He tells them to pull. Whoever succeeds in pulling the child to her is the mother.

The two women pull. The baby starts crying. Then, one of the women, unable to bear the child's cries, lets go. The other woman triumphantly turns to the King. King Solomon takes the child from the woman and hands it to the one who let go. Only a mother could do what she did, he says. Feel the child's pain.


Sands said...

am at a loss of words. Torn between the better life the boy has today versus the price his parents paid and are still paying not to mention the agony that the parents who adopted him endure. A true no win situation :( All thanks to a few people willing to go any lengths for money!

Sylvia K said...

This is such a heartbreaking story and one that I'm sure has happened many, many times and that will continue to happen as long as the money is there. I can only imagine the agony his parents have and are going through and my heart breaks for them. Maybe the boy will have a better life, but at what price? Thank you for posting this, Sujatha, it's one of those stories that everyone needs to read, but that no one wants to read. And it's not about the boy/children, it's all about the damn money! And yet we continue to sell our souls on a daily basis and never look back only forward to the next "deal".

Anonymous said...

This has been all over various boards and forums. What I found interesting was the opinion of several adult adoptees, that their adoptions did not, in fact, give them a better life...that while they may have had more material goods, the longing for knowing their origins etc. far outweighed any good, and that as adults, they have to deal with seriously messed up emotions, inability to bond with adoptive family members etc.
There is a fairly vocal anti-adoption movement around as well - they advocate fostering of children, instead of adoptions, which sever all ties to birth families. In the comment thread of Scott's story, there are a few links to anti-adoption blogs...very heartbreaking all around.


Jinksy said...

Having just read David Mcmahon's Vegemite Vindaloo, this post is particularly poignant. Guess for every happy ending, there will be a sad one...

Indrani said...

Hi Sujatha, a very touching post!
I wonder how may more stories are untold.

Sujatha said...

I'm not so sure about the 'better life the boy has today' comment by Sand. Is materially better always better than being with a poorer birth family?
Another thing which struck me was the adoptive mother's statement "Tears stream down the mother's cheeks. I can't tell whether she's furious or heartbroken. Maybe both. "To him, India does not exist," she says."
Why would she deny the kid that part of his heritage-was he too young to understand he came from a different country?
I wonder if the adoptive parents had their doubts about whether the children they adopted were really orphaned or discarded. Maybe, they sensed it, but let their desire to adopt the children override such twinges of conscience.

Nino's Mum said...

I came by this morning, read this and stared at the comments section, so... *I don't have an adjective for this* that I couldn't write. It's stayed in my system the whole day. Just wanted to say thank you for letting this story be heard.

Sujatha Bagal said...

@ Sand, I agree with Sujatha (from F-n-S). I'm not sure that he is better off with the adoptive family when there is his birth family fully willing and wanting and desperate to have him back, who never intended or imagined in their wildest dreams that they would lose his this way. It will be a major disruption in the boy's life, yes, but does that mean that parents who lose their children like this should just sit back and say he's better off without them?

@ Sylvia, thank you for reading and for linking up. It was good to exchange thoughts with you on this subject.

@ M, thank you for your comment - I'm dreading that kind of knowledge and unbelongingness in the boy's life. I hope to god it doesn't happen, that he is fully adjusted no matter where he ends up. If there is one person that bears no blame in this whole mess, it's that boy. And he might be the one that ends up with worst of the consequences. Just how unfair is that!?

@ Jinksy, are you planning to do a review? I hope you are. Would love to read your thoughts on it.

@ Indrani, yeah, that's a horrifying thought.

@ Sujatha, from the story I understand that he was 2 when he was placed. He must clearly understand that he came from a different country. I gave the adoptive mother the benefit of the doubt - I thought what she meant was that his India life is not something he knows of or remembers. Not that he doesn't know he's of Indian origin or that he doesn't know anything about his country.

@ NM, it's just that kind of a story, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I read this too and was really shaken. This sort of stuff keeps popping up. But my resolve to adopt has not wavered yet, because there are children whose parents don't want them and who need parents. Just need to make sure we get the process right-and that is what is so scary (apart from the idea of what kind if mother I'd make).

Ugich Konitari said...

Sujatha, The rules and laws for adoption, here in India itself are very thoughtfully made and stringent. I have experience myself, and I respect and applaud them. Maybe international agencies need to really check the antecedents of who they deal with in India. Authentic institutions follow rules and things happen slower.

Quick/fast/solvable-with-money is not always beneficial to the child. Amazingly, sometimes, he is never a factor ....

Anonymous said...

Looking at the issue from another angle, the monetary benefits associated with adoption are surely a huge factor in the existence of unscrupulous "homes" like the one profiled in Carney's article. There are actual physical costs associated with housing destitute children until a permanent ho,e is found for them - if there was a way to defray these costs exactly, without a means to make money, perhaps this incentive might go away? Plus add in the natural desire of adoptive parents for healthy children without disabilities, and you have child stealing happenning, since such desirable children are rarely given up by the extended family.

We have friends who are waiting for an adoption referral - they are Indians, living in the US, who chose to not go through an Christian adoption agency in the US, instead dealing directly with the agency in Bombay (which they can do - they are Indian citizens) - apparently the Christian adotion agencies from the US get first choice of babies from most homes in India - these friends are still waiting, a year or more after they put in an application.


Anonymous said...

Oh my god, this is so sad. Like the article says, everyone loses. It is heartbreaking for everyone involved.

Sujatha Bagal said...

@Ra, I admire you for it. You have good role models just in the blog world plus perhaps some in your personal life as well. I'm sure there are ways of making sure that the process is on the up and up.

And about being a good mother, I have no doubt you will be. Anyone who is as thoughtful as you are, as aware of your world as you are will be a wonderful parent. There is no one model of good parenting, of course, but I do believe that kids need parents who are involved and that I'm sure you will be. :))

@ Ugich, I am sure the laws are great in India, but when have good laws been an impediment to greed. I agree with you, sometimes the child is never a factor.

@ M, removing financial incentives is a way, certainly. But it might also mean that more altruistic people need to move into the huge gaps that will form in that sector. There needs to be a way to balance the need to make money and the need for transparency and accountability. Prospective parents need to be able to trace the child's origins with some certainty. I don't know a whole lot about the adoption process and the markets, but I do know that if all it is seen is as a way to make a quick buck, then the incentives are just wrong.

Also, why do the Christian agencies get a preference? Do you know? Am asking because I'm curious. I have nothing against them.

@ Siri, yeah.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this..reminded me of the excellent Indian movie 'Peck on the cheek' by Mani Ratnam. This one literally sent chills down my spine..


Sujatha Bagal said...

Mallika, I'd never heard of the movie. Thanks for telling me about it. Will look for it.

Anonymous said...

Its an excellent movie, you've gotta watch it..I don't understand Tamil completely, but its got subtitles,here's the title in Tamil 'Kannathil Muthamittal'