February 23, 2009
With respect and admiration for Julia and Barry's integrity and
concern for their children
Australian families caught up in India adoption scandal
February 22 2009
It is a confronting thought for any unsuspecting family that their
adopted child may have been trafficked.
But the truth is hundreds of Indian children have been stolen and sold
for adoption, and some have found new homes in Australia.
It is impossible to get an accurate picture of the true extent of
child trafficking in India, but one thing is clear - it has been going
on for years.
In Indian terms, there is big money to be made and the temptations are
In the late 1990s the child traders were brazenly kidnapping babies
and young children from these streets.
One lawyer claims that out of the 400 or so Indian children who found
new homes in Australia in the past 15 years, at least 30 were stolen
from their birth families.
The issue is complicated further by the fact it is remarkably easy for
anyone posing as a parent to "surrender" a child to an orphanage -
presumably for an under-the-counter fee.
The big flaw in the system is that the orphanages oversee the
surrender of children without any adequate checks by government, an
open door for the traffickers.
The orphanages can then make thousands of dollars in fees for every
child that is sent overseas.
Sold by their drunken dad
For 10 years, in a small Indian village north of Chennai, Sunama lived
with an agonising loss; Missing from her home are her two eldest
In 1996 they were taken away and sold by their drunken father for the
equivalent of $50. The children, aged two and three, were traded by
The loss was unbearable for Sunama, who did not even know if her
children were dead or alive.
But Akil and Sabila were happy and healthy on the other side of the
world, in the suburbs of Canberra.
Akil, now 15, and his 14-year-old sister had become part of the
Rollings family of eight children, including six adoptees.
Julia and Barry Rollings had always believed that Akil and Sabila had
been given up by their sick parents.
But soon the Rollings began reading reports that the MASOS orphanage,
where they adopted the pair, had been caught up in a kidnapping
They started to doubt the story they had been told about Akil and
"That really was the hardest part trying to decide whether we should
look or whether we should just leave things as they were," Ms Rollings
"It was the realisation on the crux of that decision, that if we set
forward, if we walked through this door, that's it ... There's no
turning back. That we are then duty bound to follow through to the
"That unknown was pretty damn scary."
The Rollings felt they owed it to their children to search for their
biological mother, despite the dangers.
"My overriding fear was that we might lose the children, that there
may be some legal avenue that we could end up in a situation that
whatever our motives for searching might be, that we might find
another family that were demanding the return of their children," Ms
They managed to track down Sumana and ABC1's Foreign Correspondent
accompanied the families on their emotional journey.
Stolen in the street
Thirteen-year-old Jabeen was also kidnapped in India, but family
reunifications have not worked out like in the Rollings case.
It was late in 1998 and Jabeen had only been out of her mother
Fatima's sight for a moment, as she walked along the street.
The traffickers were looking for good-looking children they thought
would be attractive for adoption.
She was snatched from the street by a woman travelling in an auto
rickshaw and the traffickers changed the child's name. They claimed
she had been surrendered by her mother.
Jabeen was adopted by an unsuspecting Australian couple who are now
aware of the truth, but have chosen to maintain their privacy and the
case is now before the courts.
Geetha Devarajan, the lawyer for Jabeen's biological parents Fathima
and Salya, claims Jabeen was sold by traffickers to an orphanage
She says corrupt orphanage officials forged the relinquishment papers.
"Children are so vulnerable in that situation, especially poor
children who come from a difficult background," Ms Devarajan said.
"This will not happen to any upper class, any well-to-do family. It
only happens with poor families.
"The easy target is children who are on the street playing or sleeping
and where the parents are working or the parents don't have a proper
residence where they can protect the children from these kinds of
"They just take the child and disappear and once these children get
into these orphanages it's a big screen where nobody can penetrate."
The MSS organisation has now been banned from adopting children, but
it still canvasses charity support from Australia.
ABC reporter Sally Sara visited Jabeen's orphanage and confronted the
director, who is now facing charges.
Reporting on the scandal from Chennai, Sara also found there are many
Indian families who would love to adopt a child, but the laws around
domestic adoption are so Draconian that most give up and foster kids