KATHMANDU, Feb 24: After desperate searches, a downtrodden Dalit family from Nuwakot district has retrieved its lost children, who were nearly adopted by an American couple.
Rajan Nepali, 27, who works as a manual laborer in Kathmandu to feed his family, had sent his children--son Kaushal, 7, and daughter Karuna, 3, -- to the Helpless Children Protection Home (HCPH) orphanage at Ranibari through one Basanta Raj Upreti, an acquaintance, in 2008.
“I was addicted to drugs because of which my wife Maya left me,” Rajan said. “After she left, I was unable to look after the children. I sent them to the orphanage, expecting that they would be taken care of for some time.” He was planning to take back his children once his wife returned to him.
But things did not work out as Rajan expected. After some time, he luckily saw his children’s photos in a vernacular newspaper. An illiterate man, he could not read what was written below the photos. So he got someone else to read it to him.
Then to his utter surprise and dismay, he learnt that his children had been put up for inter-country adoption.
The names of his children had also been changed from Kaushal and Karuna to Dharma and Ahimsa. “I was ready to stay away from my children for some time because of my poverty,” he said. “But I was not ready to lose them forever.” By then, Maya had returned to him. The two then tried to get back their children.
Rajan and Maya met Sabitri Basnet, who runs HCPH with her husband Jitendra, a retired police inspector. They requested Sabitri to return their children. But she somehow persuaded them to take back only their son, Kaushal. “We were satisfied at getting back at least one of our children,” Rajan said.
Sabitri, meanwhile, continued with the process of handing over Karuna for adoption by foreigners. A few months later, Carlos and Kyla Romanach, an American couple, approached Sabitri’s HCPH and adopted Karuna as their foster daughter.
It was then that the Romanaches came to know that Karuna’s brother Kaushal had been reclaimed by his biological parents. After two weeks, they returned Karuna to Sabitri, refusing to adopt a child having biological parents. Meanwhile, Rajan and Maya had come to learn of their daughter being adopted by the American couple.
Rajan and Maya again visited Sabitra. This time, Sabitri refused to let them take back their daughter. Then they approached the Central Children Welfare Board (CCWB) in Lalitpur for help. With CCWB’s intervention, Rajan and Maya finally got Karuna back.
Sabitri Basnet, 60, who claims to have been running HCPH as a social service, says that Kaushal and Karuana were brought to her as orphans by police on July 2, 2008. She produced a police document stating that Kaushal and Karuna were found abandoned somewhere in Naxal. “I did not know for sure that they had parents at all,” she maintains.
Even if Sabitri is telling the truth, questions about her assertions abound. Why did she not take Kaushal and Karuna to the Children Search Center (CSC), which tries to find the biological parents before allowing children to be put up for inter-country adoption?
Why did she hand Karuna over to foreigners after having sent her brother back to their biological parents?
Some five years ago also Sabitri was in the news for sending the two children of one Nirmala Thapa of Dhading, to America. Sabitri had assured Nirmala that the children would be properly taken care of. As in the case of Rajan, Nirmala learnt of her children being put up for adoption only after seeing their photos in a newspaper.
Sabitri’s HCPH is one of the leading orphanages involved in adoptions. A former Baal Mandir employee, Sabitiri was the first to send children abroad after the government lifted a ban on inter-country adoptions in 2008 following promulgation of a new set of regulations.
A year earlier, the government had banned inter-country adoptiond following widespread allegations of malpractice.
Sources say that HCPH was initially not included in a list of orphanages qualified to work on inter-country adoptions, which the government compiled with the objective of controlling malpractices. CCWB, which made the list, had accused HCPH of not maintaining required standards for the inter-country adoptions. Sabitri, however, got her orphanage included in the list, using her wide-ranging nexus with influential individuals.
Acting on the recommendations of a committee it formed to oversee the entire inter-country adoption process, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) has deleted Sabitri’s HCPH from the list of orphanages eligible for inter-country adoption.
According to Upendra Keshari Neupane, a member of the committee, the document Sabitri’s orphanage produced for the adoption of Rajan’s daughter was full of shortcomings.
Neupane, who represents the Children NGOs Federation (CNF) on the committee, demands that the government further probe Sabitri’s adoption activities. “Delisting alone is not enough,” he argues.