While I was reporting the story, Sierra Leone President Ernest Koroma appointed an official commission to look into the families’ charges. By all accounts, the group painstakingly heard testimony from anyone even remotely connected with the case: birth families, HANCI officials, police, and many more. Kim Kargbo, an American missionary who lives half-time in Sierra Leone and had helped bring together some of the Makeni children with their birth families, and who had testified in front of the commission, told me that she felt that the commissioners listened carefully and fairly and were genuinely concerned about the welfare of the children and the facts of the case.
The families had high hopes for the commission’s findings. As a skeptical journalist, I had my doubts that the three appointees would do any serious digging. But then, to my surprise, last month the commission released its findings and concluded that the “so-called adoptions” were fraudulent. In the commission’s words, the biological families “cannot be said to have genuinely consented” to the adoptions, as they did not understand the concept of giving up their children forever; had never signed any agreement to relinquish their children; and were never informed that their children would be sent to the United States. Further, the commission concluded, HANCI had failed to inform either the parents or the Sierra Leone court system that those children would be sent to live with American citizens permanently. The commission instructed the nation’s police to reopen a criminal investigation, using all the sworn testimony filed with the commission, “with a view to preferring criminal charges” against the wrongdoers within six weeks. The wrongdoers weren’t named, but the commission did order that HANCI be shut down and its books audited at HANCI’s own expense.
Finally, the commission advised Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Social Welfare to make contact with the United States government in order to help the birth families make contact with their long-lost children. The families say they do not expect those children to come back permanently—but they are desperate to see and talk with them again, and to find out how those children are.
Still hoping for change
12 hours ago