An Indian mother faces a heart-wrenching court battle in Holland to gain access to her 12-year-old son, whom she alleges was kidnapped as a baby then adopted by an unsuspecting Dutch couple.As an adoptive parent, I don't ask the question, "What would you do," lightly. This is, in many ways, the adoptive parents' nightmare, that our child is not legal ours and in fact may legally belong to another. That our attempt at the most ethical adoption fails all ethical standards. That ideals of fairness and justice favor the return of our child to her first family. That we were complicit, however unknowingly, in a corrupt adoption. That our family may be ripped apart just as that first family was ripped apart.
Nagarani Kathirvel’s nightmare began in 1999 on a hot October night in the coastal city of Chennai, when she and her husband decided to sleep outside their slum hut with their three young children to keep cool.
She was awoken by an uneasy maternal instinct that something was wrong. There was no electricity and in the pitch black she could feel that her youngest child, 18-month-old Sateesh, had disappeared from the sleeping mat.
The family searched frantically for the baby, hoping he had simply crawled off. But Sateesh could not be found. For years Kathirvel kept her son’s name on the family ration card, believing that one day he would return.
Then in May 2005, there was a breakthrough: the local police busted a child-trafficking ring linked to an adoption agency, Malaysian Social Services, that had a licence to offer children for adoption abroad.
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India’s Central Bureau for Investigation took up the case, as did Against Child Trafficking (ACT), an organisation registered in Holland. It is feared there may be several similar stories, as Malaysian Social Services arranged more than 350 overseas adoptions.
Arun Dohle, a German working for ACT, broke the news to Sateesh’s adoptive Dutch parents that the child they thought they had adopted legally 11 years ago may have been stolen from his family.
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At first, the Bissesars [adoptive parents who are ethnic Hindus] were co-operative and sent a picture of the boy to his biological parents. But after advice from a Dutch adoption expert they became fearful that the child could be taken away, and refused to take a DNA test.
But I also think its important for adoptive families to consider another perspective -- if we know, like in this case, how do we tell our child that we refused contact? That is more likely to rip our family apart than a legal return of the child. Yes, a child might be frightened about being returned, as this child is: "Rohit, who speaks only Dutch, is also afraid of being forced to return. An initial court hearing earlier this year concluded that: 'The child is at the moment not prepared to co-operate with DNA testing ... He fears that his biological parents can claim him back at a certain point.'” But that fear can be addressed, in part by explaining the truth -- that the biological family isn't asking for the child back:
Last week Kathirvel said that she was fighting for a DNA test and to at least have visiting rights and contact with her son. “I don’t feel any anger towards the Dutch couple,” she said. “But I would like him to know both sets of parents, and I want to tell him that his biological parents did everything to find him.”I'm always touched by these cases where, despite their loss, the biological family is merely asking for contact, for information. They are parents of this child, just like we are, and they don't want to do anything to hurt the child. They seem quite aware of the trauma associated with a return at this late date -- they ask to share, not possess.
Can't we match their graciousness? Ask yourself not only what you would do as an adoptive parent, but what would you do in the shoes of these parents?