Lies, Damn Lies, and Adoption

Over the past two months, I’ve posted a few items about fraud and corruption in international adoption, a subject I’ve reported on extensively. Of the many articles I wrote on the topic, one story in particular broke my heart—and illuminated how such frauds occur. I’ve just heard, again, from one of the principals in the situation, and I’d like to post his letter. Before I do so, here’s a summary of—and links to—the articles that offer background.

In brief: In 1998, Americans adopted 29 children from a town in Sierra Leone whose birth families now say they were stolen. At the time, the Americans believed they were saving desperate orphans from a brutal civil war. But the birth families have now testified that they were offered a free education for their children and were never told that those children would leave the country—much less that the children would be permanently taken away by foreigners.

In reporting that story, I ended up talking to people at every stage of the adoption chain. I interviewed one of the adopted children, Adama K., who spent a dozen years believing that, as her adoption paperwork stated, her birth parents were dead—until she found out her birth father was looking for her, and flew there to visit him. I spoke at some length with several of the adoptive parents, who were heartbroken at the idea that they might have taken children away from families that wanted to keep them. I spoke with representatives of the U.S. adoption agency, of the Sierra Leone child welfare agency (called "HANCI" or Help a Needy Child International), and of the Sierra Leone agencies. Some of those intermediaries maintained that the birth families are lying. Finally, I spoke and corresponded with a few members of the birth families, in some cases through translators over the phone.

The series is here:

One of my most persistent sources was the birth families’ central representative, Abu Bakarr Kargbo, who has continued to send me materials about the case. These adoptions have become a national scandal. As I completed my articles, a high-level, presidentially appointed commission was hearing testimony under oath. Abu Bakarr and his supporters told me that they were hoping for real justice from the commission. Others suggested to me that testimony was being taken just to let the families feel heard and that nothing would change.

Yesterday morning, Abu Bakarr sent me a letter of protest that he and the other two leaders in this pursuit are sending around. I have pasted it in, below. In the past, these families have occupied Sierra Leone government offices demanding justice. They say they will do so again. It has not been clear to me what justice they hope for, as I make clear in my articles, above. At a minimum, I think they want a government commission to investigate who they were, to name the malefactors, and to be able to see and talk with their lost children before they send them back to America forever. But I may misunderstand. I certainly have had evidence that some of them have not been entirely truthful.

Here’s what I am certain of: These 29 children should not have been solicited for international adoption during a civil war. And times of great crisis -- natural disaster, civil war -- are not times to adopt children who are said to be orphaned, no matter how much their pictures tug our heartstrings.

I will be keeping my eye on whether these families ever do receive justice, and if so, what that justice might look like.

Abu Bakarr's letter, below:

14th November, 2011.

The Inspector General,
Of Police,
George Street,

Dear Sir,


We the parents of Children trafficked by Help a Need Child International (HANCI) write to express dissatisfaction in the manner in which the Justice Adeliza Shower’s Commission of enquiry is handling the issue regarding our trafficked children.

Significantly, we are anxiously worried about the snail pace at which the Commission is moving, because according to the then Minister of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs Dr. Denis Sandy in his open remarks on the 1st of March 2011 stated that the Commission would last for three (3) Months, and now we are in the ninth Month already.

Furthermore, it is against this backdrop that we the Parents have decided to stage a protest on the 28th, 29th, and the 30th of November, 2011 in the diverse locations, State House, America Embassy, The British High Commission, and The E.R.S.G (UNIPSIL) in a bid to vent out our dismay.

Our contact Numbers as biological Parents are listed below should you want to contact us. We are looking forward to your Co-operation.

Yours Faithfully,

Abu Bakarr Kargbo

Mr. Sulaiman Suma

Mr. Kassim Kargbo