Sierra Leone to Investigate 1990s Adoptions

08/05/2012 – The government of Sierra Leone has authorized a police investigation into 29 adoptions conducted in the late 1990s during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war. Adoption agencies involved are reported to support cooperation with the authorities.

When ten American missionaries were charged with kidnapping 33 Haitian children after the 2010 earthquake, the dangers (if sometimes inadvertent) involved in international institutionalization and adoptions were highlighted.

Most recently, parents of children in Sierra Leone adopted by foreign parents in the 1990s have thrown their support behind a government investigation on their adoptions. Parents of the Sierra Leonean children say their children were put up for adoption without their consent.

The investigation will reopen a case pertaining to 29 children placed with the charity, Help A Needy Child International (HANCI), and adopted in 1997. It could also enable police to levy criminal charges against those responsible for any wrong-doing, the Washington Post reports, quoting a statement last month by Sierra Leone’s government. The investigation is scheduled to conclude in six weeks.

The children involved in the case were not all orphans. Parents say that they placed their children with HANCI to have better educational opportunities and safety during the civil war that ended in 2002. The biological parents of an additional four children removed their children from HANCI’s care before they could be adopted, the local Sierra Express Media reports.

Without proper consent from the parents, if the investigation proves supportive of this, the adoptions would be tantamount to trafficking in children—a violation of international human rights law and children’s rights.

After the civil war’s end, parents are reported to have gone to the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police, Criminal Investigation Department and the courts for assistance. Three HANCI officials were initially charged with adoption law violations, but these charges were ultimately dropped.

A commission to investigate the parents/guardians’ understanding and consent toward the situation, as well as the transparency of the HANCI adoptions, was sworn in in October 2010.

HANCI’s US partner, Maine Adoption Placement Services, affirms they had no knowledge of any wrongdoing.

According to the United Nations-supported Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, keeping children in their family homes or returning them to their parents is best; if this is not possible, then such measures as residential care or adoption may be considered—though family-based or small-group care is preferable to institutions.

The Guidelines’ “Care in Emergency Situations” further states, “No action should be taken that may hinder eventual family reintegration, such as adoption, change of name, or movement to places far from the family’s likely location, until all tracing efforts have been exhausted.”