CBI unearths child kidnapping racket, Australian family stunned (Lead)

August 25th, 2008 - 9:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Aug 25 (IANS) The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has unearthed a multi-million-rupee racket sending kidnapped children abroad for adoption, a CBI official said.The CBI has filed a case against the local organisation that has sent 120 children overseas, including three who have been traced to Queensland, Australia, and Wisconsin, the US, the official said.

A Queensland family said it was “absolutely devastated” by revelations that their adopted child may have been stolen from her biological parents in India and that they faced the risk of the adoption being revoked.

“This is a terrible predicament for a family that loves their adopted child and for the Indian family that has lost a child, and as a mother my heart goes out to them,” Queensland Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech said in a statement.

In the Tamil Nadu capital, the CBI official told IANS that a case had been registered against Malaysian Social Service, a Chennai-based private company licensed by the Indian government.

The company is suspected of having sent at least 120 children for adoption abroad, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

“Our investigations found a simple modus operandi. Street children were kidnapped and given for adoption abroad for sums ranging from as low as Rs.10,000 to as high as $10,000 a child,” the official said.

In 2005, the Madras High Court, hearing public interest litigations, had ordered the CBI to probe the matter.

The CBI is set to submit its investigation report to the high court “in a day or two”.

Inquiries revealed that the NGO had collected at least Rs.10 million by way of “adoption fees”, the official added.

The Indian Council for Child Welfare felt that the exposure of the racket was a “crying necessity”.

“Obviously, kidnapped children have been passed off by impostors claiming to be their mothers donating them for adoption. Their real parents may not even be aware where their children are and may not have received a single rupee as compensation,” said ICCW secretary Chandra Thanikachalam.

“While bringing the guilty to book may be a problem due to the absence of complainants, disturbing children living abroad with emotional moorings may prove counterproductive. None of them would like to return to a poverty-stricken life back home,” she added.

And legal experts said it might be impossible to prosecute foster parents based abroad for their unwitting role in the crime.

A TIME magazine report said nine-year-old Zabeen, now reportedly living in Queensland with her adoptive parents, was kidnapped in Chennai when she was two years old.

Australia’s adoption processes are rigorous and it only deals with countries that are signatories to The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption.

Figures from the Attorney-General’s Department show 327 or 10 percent of overseas adoptions between 1997-98 and 2006-07 were from India.

“Under Australian law, these children are Australian citizens and the children of the adoptive parents,” a spokesman told IANS.

Few Indian children are adopted by Australian families because the Indian law requires that 50 percent of children requiring adoptive families be placed with Indian couples within India.

The next priority is placing children with Indian nationals living abroad. Only a small percentage of children are adopted by non-Indian couples and tend to be older children or children with special needs.

When Australian couples have been approved to adopt from India, the Adoption Services Queensland makes contact with different Indian agencies to determine whether or not they will accept the couple’s file.

Australia has offered to assist with any investigations into alleged claims that “pretty” children kidnapped from Indian slums were adopted by Australian families.

Joining in the debate Monday, federal opposition leader Brendan Nelson has said Australia had a moral responsibility to return any children who may have been stolen.

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