For the past four years, 35-year-old Nirmala Thapa has been fighting to get her three children back from Spain after they were adopted illegally through a Nepalese children’s home.
“It looks like a hopeless situation for her. She was tricked into signing all the legal documents to give up her claim on her children,” Madhav Pradhan, director of Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), an NGO helping to protect children, told IRIN.
Thapa experienced financial hardship after her husband died and could not afford to send her six children to school, of whom three were younger than 10.
A local children’s home offered to shelter and educate her three youngest children and she was asked to sign a document. But Thapa could not read the papers, a legal document giving up her children for adoption. After several months, she learned her children had been sent abroad.
Despite her appeal for their return, the children’s home threatened her with arrest and legal action.
Local authorities refused to help, claiming that she had given up parental rights and that the adoption had been approved by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, which makes the final decision on adoptions, according to CWIN.
Sale of children
A recent report, A study on inter-country adoption and its influence on child protection in Nepal by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Swiss NGO for child relief, Terre des hommes Foundation (TDH), revealed that the sale, abduction and trafficking of children was taking place in an under-regulated environment.
The 62-page report was the result of six-month study conducted by researchers from a national NGO, the Centre for Research on Environment, Health and Population Activities and child rights advocates in Nepal.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
|Many mothers in Nepal have unwillingly given up their children for adoption|
“We are not against adoption,” said UNICEF Nepal representative Gillian Mellsop, but warned that an industry had grown up around adoption in which profit took precedence over the best interests of the child.
“In every case, the best interests of the individual child must be the guiding principle in making a decision regarding adoption. It should not be guided by the interests of those working with children, or others who profit financially from organising inter-country adoptions,” Mellsop said.
“Most of the children in centres don’t need to be there. They have family, extended family that may be able to provide care,” said TDH country representative Joseph Aguettant.
There are 15,000 children in orphanages or children’s homes across the Himalayan nation and a significant number of admissions are a result of fraud, coercion and malpractice, he said.
The inter-country adoption business in Nepal is a multi-million dollar industry, according to child rights activists.
In 2006 alone, a turnover of nearly US$2 million was recorded and is expected to be significantly higher for 2007, with 300-500 adoptions.
“The profiteers are largely the children’s homes running orphanages and corrupt government officials,” maintained one child rights activist, who asked not to be named.
Activists are concerned that the lucrative business of inter-country adoption of Nepalese children - with clients from Europe and the USA willing to spend as much as $25,000 per child – increases the risk of abduction, trafficking and the illegal sale of children by children’s homes.
“I spent nearly $30,000 to pay the agent in my country, the local children’s home, lawyers, and processing the documents,” said one Spanish parent, who did not want to be named.
“Our concern is that children are often falsely claimed as orphans and sold for adoption to foreign clients who are unaware of the malpractices of their local agents,” said Madhav Pradhan, director of CWIN. In the past year it has rescued more than 15 children from impoverished villages in western Nepal, whose parents were persuaded to send them to homes on the pretext of a sponsored education.
Government monitoring of the centres involved in inter-country adoption remains weak, while the absence of monitoring in rural areas has placed more children at risk, according to UNICEF and TDH.
“The government remains committed to fulfill its obligation towards the children and will therefore take appropriate measures in line with the international instruments,” said Punya Prasad Neupane, a senior government official and secretary of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare.
The government had initiated the drafting of an Adoption Act, which could introduce reforms to inter-country adoption, he explained.
However, activists doubt whether such reforms could introduce a strong mechanism to control the lucrative adoption industry, said CWIN’s Pradhan.