This article was published on June 6th, in The Sunday Times.
An Indian mother faces a heart-wrenching court battle in Holland to gain access to her 12-year-old son, whom she alleges was kidnapped as a baby then adopted by an unsuspecting Dutch couple.Nagarani Kathirvel’s nightmare began in 1999 on a hot October night in the coastal city of Chennai, when she and her husband decided to sleep outside their slum hut with their three young children to keep cool.
She was awoken by an uneasy maternal instinct that something was wrong. There was no electricity and in the pitch black she could feel that her youngest child, 18-month-old Sateesh, had disappeared from the sleeping mat.
The family searched frantically for the baby, hoping he had simply crawled off. But Sateesh could not be found. For years Kathirvel kept her son’s name on the family ration card, believing that one day he would return.
Then in May 2005, there was a breakthrough: the local police busted a child-trafficking ring linked to an adoption agency, Malaysian Social Services, that had a licence to offer children for adoption abroad.
In the course of their investigation, the police discovered photographs of Chennai children who had been kidnapped. They contacted Kathirvel and she identified one as her son, allowing the authorities to trace him to the Netherlands.
India’s Central Bureau for Investigation took up the case, as did Against Child Trafficking (ACT), an organisation registered in Holland. It is feared there may be several similar stories, as Malaysian Social Services arranged more than 350 overseas adoptions.
Arun Dohle, a German working for ACT, broke the news to Sateesh’s adoptive Dutch parents that the child they thought they had adopted legally 11 years ago may have been stolen from his family.
“They were immediately receptive to the idea of contact with the biological parents and they were very upset with the adoption agency,” he said.
Sateesh is now called Rohit Shivam, and had been enjoying a happy childhood in the town of Almere, after being adopted by the Bissesar family, ethnic Hindus with roots in the former Dutch colony of Suriname. They paid £13,700 for the adoption.
At first, the Bissesars were co-operative and sent a picture of the boy to his biological parents. But after advice from a Dutch adoption expert they became fearful that the child could be taken away, and refused to take a DNA test.
Rohit, who speaks only Dutch, is also afraid of being forced to return. An initial court hearing earlier this year concluded that: “The child is at the moment not prepared to co-operate with DNA testing … He fears that his biological parents can claim him back at a certain point.”
Last week Kathirvel said that she was fighting for a DNA test and to at least have visiting rights and contact with her son. “I don’t feel any anger towards the Dutch couple,” she said. “But I would like him to know both sets of parents, and I want to tell him that his biological parents did everything to find him.”
Kathirvel is due in court in the Dutch town of Zwolle-Lelystad on June 15, where her lawyer, Esther Schoneveld, will argue for yearly visits and regular updates on the child’s development. Schoneveld said a reunion at this stage was unlikely.
“This is a very sad story and there will be no winners, no matter what the court decides,” she said. “It is tragic for everyone involved.”