New Delhi, May 23 (Calcutta Tube) US-based Desiree and David Smolin were elated when they adopted two girls from Hyderabad. But their happiness was shortlived. Within weeks, the couple discovered that their two lovely daughters were not orphans, but victims of child trafficking.
That was 12 years ago. The Smolins now operate a website, in which they have catalogued international adoption injustices and offer advice to adopting parents, based on their own experience.
The Smolins, who have five sons, adopted nine-year-old Bhagya and 11-year-old Manjula from Action for Social Development (ASD), a Hyderabad-based adoption agency, Nov 18, 1998.
‘The girls were terribly depressed and one of them had suicidal tendencies,’ Desiree told IANS in an e-mail interview.
The Smolins were saddened by the emotional state of the girls. Luckily, they got some information. The girls had told a friend at ASD about their past, which prompted the Smolins to probe further.
‘When the girls finally began to open up after about six weeks, they told us that they were not orphans, but were stolen and sold to us. They were even threatened and forced to lie to the embassy official, who interviewed them,’ said Desiree, who still can’t believe it after 12 years.
The Smolins then made efforts to locate Lakshmi, the biological mother of the girls. After repeated efforts and with the help of Gita Ramaswamy, an activist, they finally succeeded in tracing Lakshmi in 2004.
Lakshmi had sent her daughters to ASD in 1995 on the assurance that they would get a good education.
A year later, on a trip to the centre, she saw her daughters for the last time, through a one-way window. She was told they would study better if they did not see her at all as it would upset them.
Lakshmi made a request that her daughters be handed back to her, but was told that she would have to pay a huge amount of money for that. The girls, say activists, had fallen victim to the sinister plans of child-traffickers and were already out of ASD by that time.
Lakshmi did not hear of her girls after that, till Ramaswamy approached her in 2004 and told her that her daughters were alive and well, and were looking for her.
Thanks to Ramaswamy’s efforts and the Smolins’ generosity, the mother got to see her daughters again. The girls finally continued to live with the Smolins.
It was in 2001, after a series of adoption scandals came to the surface, that adoptions from Andhra Pradesh were regulated.
‘The then director of ASD, Sanjeeva Rao, has been jailed three times on child trafficking-related charges. The last we heard is that he is currently trying to be relicensed,’ David told IANS.
In 2005, they filed formal complaints with both the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) in India and with the US State Department’s division of Children and Families.
‘We never received any reply from CARA, not even so much as an acknowledgment that CARA had received the complaint, let alone anything meaningful. We must believe that CARA received these complaints because neither the e-mails nor the post were returned to us as undelivered,’ Desiree told IANS.
Jagannath Pati, CARA’s deputy director and public information officer, however, denied receiving any complaint on the issue. ‘I don’t remember receiving any mails or letters from David and Desiree Smolin,’ he said.
The Smolins have reconciled, but they have a word of caution for parents going for adoptions. ‘Don’t blindly trust your agency. Do your homework. Dig for dirt,’ Desiree said.
(Sugandha Pathak can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)