To nail orphanage’s lies, adoptive parents seek to find kids’ biological ones

A group of Danish and American parents who adopted children from the now-closed Shejar Chhaya adoption centre are engaging lawyers, approaching NGOs to trace their adopted children’s roots.

Over the past several years, many foreign nationals who adopted children from the Shejar Chhaya adoption centre in Vasai – shut down six months ago for fudging inmates’ records – have approached it with queries about their adoptive children’s biological parents, only to be told they were either untraceable or deceased.

However, Shejar Chhaya’s shutdown has led these parents to doubt the replies they received. Now, a group of such parents – mostly from Denmark and USA — are back in India to ascertain the actual fate and whereabouts of their adopted children’s biological parents.

Lending strength to their search is the result of investigations into Shejar Chhaya’s functioning by government agencies, which showed that most children had been “procured like commodities” by the centre and put up for adoption – an astounding 900-plus over more than two decades.

Kirsten Korning from Aarhus, Denmark who adopted Jamuna as a seven-year-old from Shejar Chhaya in 2004, says her suspicions about Jamuna’s biological parents being alive were born when the child would talk about her parents and siblings, and their home in a jungle.

“There is a discrepancy in what the paperwork given to me by Shejar Chhaya states, and what my daughter recollects. The shelter said Jamuna’s mother had died and her father had admitted her in the orphanage, but my daughter remembers waving goodbye to her parents when she was taken in by the adoption centre,” Korning, a single mother, told Mirror.

She added, “Jamuna remembers her mother clearly. Moreover, friends who visited Shejar Chhaya spoke to some of the caretakers there, and were able to ascertain that Jamuna’s parents are very much alive.” Jamuna, now 17, is fluent in Danish and is learning to speak English. Korning said her daughter, who is planning a career as a caregiver or teacher, is keen to trace her biological parents.

“In the beginning, when I got her home to Denmark, she would talk only about her days in the orphanage. It was only much later that she opened up about her parents. She talked about how she was raised in the jungle, and had two sisters who bullied her. She spoke of her parents as well, further confirming that they were alive,” she said.

There are at least a dozen such parents who have either engaged lawyers or sought help from NGOs to try and trace their children’s roots. Korning and some of the parents have now formed a group and engaged Patrick Boch, a Pune-based advocate.

In the past few weeks, Boch has made several trips to government offices and to Shejar Chhaya to get all paperwork on their adopted children. “As the children grow up, there is a desire to trace their roots. My clients want me to trace their adopted children’s parents, and I am doing everything possible,” said Boch.

Tracing their biological parents is proving to be a tough ask, primarily because after it was shut down in February, Shejar Chhaya’s trustees haven’t handed over documentation on children put up for adoption to the government.

Sources in the Department of Women and Child development (DWCD), Thane, revealed that after closing down the home, they had sought permission to seal the shelter, confiscate all documents and prosecute the trustees.

“The permission is yet to arrive from our headquarters. Trustees of Shejar Chhaya have challenged our decision to shut it down with our superiors. Now, with parents of adopted children seeking to trace their roots, we are pushing for the trustees to hand over all records,” said a senior DWCD, Thane official.

Korning is clear that it is Jamuna’s decision on what she wants to do if her biological parents are traced. “I keep asking her if she wants to settle in India, or maybe both of us could move here after her parents are traced. She immediately wanted to know if it’s possible to charge her iPhone in her parents’ jungle home! She just wants to know that they are safe and happy. She wants their photographs, and to keep in touch with them,” she said, laughing.

In all this, Father Francis Gonsalves, who used to run the shelter, said he would help parents and their adoptive children in every possible way. “I have been busy with the ongoing case. As soon as I get time, I will dig up all documents pertaining to the children and help them trace their parents,” said Gonsalves.

Korning and others like her, though, have little faith in Gonsalves’s promises, saying they have tried contacting him over the last few months for help, but in vain.

Murky dealings

Shejar Chhaya, a Vasai-based orphanagecum-adoption centre, was raided by DWCD and the Child Welfare Committee on February 10 this year. They rescued 42 minors, and found that the facility was running an adoption racket, in which infants were procured from unknown places and later put up for adoption.

Amajority of the children were given to foreign couples, violating adoption guidelines which state 80 per cent of the orphans should be given to Indian couples, and 20 per cent to foreign ones in case there are no takers in India.

Investigators also alleged that most children had been “bought” from single mothers and later put up for adoption. They also claimed all related paperwork was missing.

In a detailed report, investigators pointed out that Shejar Chhaya was “treating children like commodities” and making a fast buck. The facility’s license has been suspended, and its trustees have challenged the action with the Commissioner, DWCD.