Mumbai, June 15 2007: When a jobless and widowed Ramesh Kulkarni left his four children with a Pune orphanage four years ago, he was asked to sign a harmless-looking 20-rupee stamp paper for “admission procedures”.
NGOs and a Danish TV channel say it was a consent form for adoption, about which the young and impoverished father was kept in the dark.
On the strength of that signature, the children — aged between six years and nine months — were sold into adoption within months, an expose by Danish channel DR1 says.
And for four years since then, Preet Mandir — a government-approved adoption agency — allegedly fobbed Kulkarni off with some excuse or the other whenever he turned up to meet his children.
The Danish government has acted quickly and stopped adoptions from India, but Kulkarni’s tragedy is, lawyers and NGOs say, that he is unlikely to ever see his children even after the expose.
All four have been adopted by a single Danish family, since adoption laws say siblings cannot be separated except under exceptional circumstances.
“Legally, it will be difficult for Kulkarni to get his children back because they have been cleared by the state for adoption,” said Bharati Dasgupta of Catalyst for Social Action, an NGO that monitors the adoption scene in India.
“Now, they are legally the children of the Danish couple and residents of Denmark. Once adoption has been formalised, there is no way it can be dissolved.”
The sting operation by DR1 accuses two Pune adoption agencies — Preet Mandir and its affiliate Preeyadarshini — of “abducting” children and giving them away to wealthy foreigners against hefty “donations”.
“We wanted to find out if children can be bought from India. We used a hidden camera to expose the orphanage manager, Mr Kumar of Preeyadarshini,” DR1 editor Jacob Kwon Henrikson told The Telegraph.
“We posed as prospective clients and struck a deal with him — he asked us to pay $7,000 for each kid. In Preet Mandir, we got in touch with Ramesh Kulkarni.” The documentary was shot in Pune early this year.
Preet Mandir, which facilitates 7 per cent of adoptions from India, had already been blacklisted by some adoption agencies in Sweden and the US. It was accused of not looking after its children well and of charging exorbitant “processing fees” for adoption. Preeyadarshini is a satellite agency of Preet Mandir, run by the mother agency’s former employees, NGOs in Pune said.
An agency of the Union ministry for women and child development — the Child Welfare Committee, Solapur — had helped Kulkarni get his children admitted to the orphanage. This is part of the committee’s job.
The 35-year-old Kulkarni, now a restaurant waiter, alleged that when he arrived to meet his children a few months after leaving them at Preet Mandir, he was able to meet only two. He was told the other two were in hospital, and was advised he should keep his visits to a minimum to avoid “disturbing” the children.
Later, he said, his parents went to the orphanage to bring the children back but the agency demanded Rs 50,000 as the price for each child’s discharge.
A Preet Mandir spokesperson denied all the allegations. “We have documents to prove Kulkarni had relinquished his parental rights. This is just a way to malign us,” the spokesperson said.
“We have followed all the guidelines. The children — three girls and a boy — are very happy in Denmark.”