Child rights activists in India are demanding a moratorium on foreign adoptions. Meanwhile, domestic laws have been strengthened to prevent the trafficking of children for illegal adoptions.
In 1995, Lakshmi, a poor, uneducated villager from Hyderabad last saw her daughters, Manjula and Bhagya, at the adoption agency which had promised a good education and a better life for them.
The dark side of overseas adoption
"A year later, I asked the agency for my children back, but was told that I would have to pay a huge amount of money for that," a forlorn Laskshmi, sitting with her husband Malkaiah, told DW.
The last time Lakshmi saw her daughters was through a one-way window at the agency. Employees of the agency assured her her daughters would study better if they did not see their biological parents. It would upset them too much, the case workers said.
Lakshmi's daughters had been sent to the United States. So, local activists pitched in and helped locate them.
"I don't know what they look like. The adoptive parents do not want us to talk to them. It has been 18 years and all we know is that they are abroad. I still long to see them but it has not happened," Lakshmi explained.
Like Lakshmi, another couple, Kathirvel and Nagarani, both daily wage laborers from southern India, alleged that their son, Satish, was abducted in March 1999.
"We lodged a police complaint but nothing happened. Many years later, we approached NGOs and finally got some help. They managed to locate our son who had been adopted by a family in the Netherlands," a troubled Kathirvel, the father, told DW.
In May 2007, a Dutch TV network published an extensive documentary about the case of Nagarani and Kathirvel and other possible stolen children sent to the Netherlands.
"I will fight the case until I exhaust all my finances. Up to now, I have not seen my son and I will not rest till he comes back to India," he added.
Stop adoption by foreigners, say activists
Child welfare experts claim that these cases are just a tip of the iceberg. They point to a spurt of middlemen who procure children using illicit methods and provide false information about them.
Over the past decade, scandals in Delhi and the Indian states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu have exposed severe breaches of adoption protocol and claims by parents who have lost children to foreign families. The promise of profitable adoption fees motivates orphanages to create a steady supply of adoptable children.
"This is a scandal. Just because the Indian government has failed at fulfilling its obligation to provide care and protection to children, it cannot just sell them abroad in the name of inter-country adoption under the guise of giving them a better life," says Arun Dohle of Against Child Trafficking, a Brussels and Netherlands-based NGO.
Dohle, who himself was "adopted" when he was a child, managed to track down his biological parents a couple of years ago and is now trying to help families in India in similar situations. "Many of these families are still fighting in court and they have not heard back from their children's adoptive families at all. Some of them want their children back."
Activists claim that traffickers sell children abroad by providing false information about them, falsifying documents, and making use of loopholes in the adoption guidelines.
"This entire process needs to be examined. This is trafficking and is happening under the garb of adoption," Enakshi Ganguly, director of Haq Centre for Child Rights, told DW.
Following the high-profile cases of abductions, new rules are being sought to be put in place by the Central Adoption Resource Authority. The directive to agencies is to follow an 80-20 ratio between domestic and foreign adoptions. If an agency has 100 children, it has to place 80 of them within the country - and will lose its license if it fails to do so.