Several weeks ago Karin posted on my behalf as I'd wanted to post anonymously. My daughter did not want her story shared but she now feels differently. As her birth mother has also said she is happy about me sharing their story I am no longer remaining anonymous.
My two youngest children, Akil and Sabila, were taken from their mother by their father in 1996 when aged around 2 and 3 years old. They were sleeping on the pavement in an area of Chennai, India that has recently been associated with child trafficking in the 1990s. Their mum, Sunama, awoke to find her husband and children gone. After spending some time searching she contacted her brother in a distressed state. He helped her return to her hometown. A few days later her husband returned, drunk and telling everyone he'd sold the children to a man in Chennai for $40 US. The father was beaten badly by neighbours and he left town. That was the last Sunama knew of her children until we contacted her 10 years later in mid 2006.
We adopted our children in 1998, understanding them to be relinquished for adoption as their parents were sickly (TB was mentioned) and unable to care for them. My son was around 5 years old and told my friend in India he remembered his father beating him often. In 1999 the director of their orphanage was arrested, though nothing seemed to happen following this arrest. We had been assured that he was a reputable and trustworthy man so this stunned and concerned us. In 2005 when we returned to visit India with our children we asked him to search for the family but as we no longer trusted him we didn't expect results.
A few weeks after our return to Australia this man was arrested again, this time for arranging the adoption of two boys who had been placed in an orphanage for care and not relinquished for adoption. Given this, and our knowledge that other adoption scandals were being uncovered in Chennai, we decided we couldn't trust anything we'd been told about our children. Through my contacts in India and overseas we initiated a search and located Sunama within a couple of months. She remarried and had 5 more children. Her current husband knew about our children as he had known the first husband and the story of the children being sold.
They are a poor, illiterate Moslem family living in a run-down area of Chennai and they welcomed contact. We did all contact through a trusted mediator as we didn't know what situation we'd be walking into and I wanted to protect my children from having two families fighting over them. My kids are happy and positive about being adopted and part of our family but also wanted to know about their first family. We wanted to reassure ourselves everything had been proper in our adoption and nobody had been exploited. When we found out our true situation we felt we needed to do what we could to find the best outcome for everyone.
Yesterday I returned from 2 weeks in India with Akil and Sabila. We met Sunama, Babu and their children on our first day. They were warm and I felt instantly comfortable with them. Sunama kept touching Akil, Sabila and me and then kissing her fingertips in an affectionate gesture. They had written to us through my friend after I had sent them photos. They said "It is so nice to see the children grown up and happy with your family. They are your children now and you have our good wishes." The family invited us to stay with them in their home, so we spent 4 days and 3 nights with them - with no shared language or culture. I know a little about Hindu society but next to nothing about Islam in India. I was hesitant about going off with them but I also recognised it might offer something incredible for my children. After a few minutes I decided we would go, trusting my gut feeling that this family could be trusted.
We spent the first night and day in their home, one concrete room measuring roughly 3 by 5 metres. They have one electric light and a ceiling fan but no plumbing, no water, no floor coverings or furniture except a wooden table (bed for my daughter and myself) and two plastic chairs. Ten of us slept in this room. They are very poor but their welcome and attention was lavish. We were given many honours and shown off to the neighbours and community, who were told that we were overseas visitors who had been sent to stay with them! Sunama told me through my friend that all her neighbours are jealous. The following day we all went to a run-down hotel in a nearby Moslem beach town and we spent three more days alone with the family.
I am struggling to find the words to describe this experience. I can't hope to paint a picture of it by email and I think the only way to get most of it down would be a book. The children and I adore this family and they welcomed us with love. I have promised to stay in contact and to return in two years time. They asked for nothing but we found out that they'd pawned their daughter's nose ring for money so that they could welcome us generously (we are bloated from all the food forced on us). Our families have agreed on a plan that will see their situation improve â€“ something we want to do but were certainly not expected or asked to do.
I have decided to go public, with Sunama, Akil and Sabila's permission, as I have read so many sad stories of families torn apart by exploitation in the name of adoption. Ours instead is a story that shows there is another possible resolution when two families work together for a better outcome.
Julia Rollings at IAT, with permission