Buying babies? Here?? Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon spoke with the Children’s Authority about this criminal act. Part one of her interview appeared in the September 10 issue, and Part two in last Sunday’s.
A child cannot be adopted without the consent of his/her parents, and the involvement of the Children’s Authority (CA) and judicial system. Yet this has happened. How long is not known but the CA has become aware of money being paid to obtain a baby.
Whether this developed because of the difficulties with adoptions in the past or ignorance of the law, the Adoption of Children Act in effect since May 18, 2015 is clear: 9(1) “No person other than the Authority shall make arrangements for the adoption of a child”.
Christalle Gemon, Deputy Director – Care, Legal and Regulatory Services, Children’s Authority told the Catholic News, “What we find still happening [is] usually a young mother gives birth in the hospital and someone in the hospital would know someone on the adoption list, someone who wants a baby and they make that private connection so they say to the young mother ‘I know this couple, I know this woman who wants a baby’ and they do an exchange sometimes right there in the hospital.” There is an “exchange of money” as the baby is collected.
The discovery that something is amiss can also come about when persons approach the CA to “formalise adoptions” of children in their care for years. When these cases go before the Adoption Committee the background of prospective adopters is scrutinised and the question of ‘where did they get the child?’ comes up.
“You hear a strange story, they got the child from the hospital,” Gemon said. Case workers from the Adoption Unit are instructed to locate the birth mother and father because their consent is required. When they are found, another story comes out. Gemon gave an example, “The birth mother would break down in tears, ‘I was looking for my baby; I did not know where my baby was’ …we can’t imagine that happening but these are persons, who are not empowered, [and] living in extreme poverty, do not know what their rights are.” The mother reveals the last thing she was told was the baby was sick.
Gemon said the arrangement cannot be called an illegal adoption because it was not an adoption at all. She added, “Paperwork must come through us; we are the only body in Trinidad and Tobago that has the mandate to deal with adoptions so there is no private citizen who can go to a court and get an Adoption Order.” Legal guardianship of a child is not equivalent to an Adoption Order. There are persons taking the time going through the correct process and there are others “paying a sum of money and buying a baby”.
Anyone convicted of arranging an adoption is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment for two years. Clause 9 (3) states, “a person shall be deemed to make arrangements for the adoption of a child if he, not being the parent or guardian of the child, enters into or makes any agreement or arrangement for, or for facilitating, the adoption of the child by any other person, whether the adoption is effected, in pursuance of an adoption order or otherwise, or if he initiates or takes part in any negotiations of which the purpose or effect is the conclusion of any agreement or the making of any arrangement therefor, or if he causes another to do so.”
The CA became aware of illegal activity when biological parents seek the whereabouts of their children. Gemon said, “A gentleman came looking for his child. He was told the Children’s Authority was dealing with an adoption for his child and he is not giving up his child. He has not consented.” The Authority was not aware of the case and the father was advised to file a report with the police.
He pursued the matter and it was subsequently learnt someone working in a health institution knew someone who was on the list of prospective adopters and made the “connection”. Gemon went on, “We have had fathers breaking down and crying saying they were looking for their baby for years.”
In another scenario outside the public health sector, an individual approaches someone they know about a woman with a baby who wants to give the child up for adoption and they “make an arrangement”. Melina Humphrey, Manager Adoption Unit said a document is even prepared for the mother to sign stating she has given up her parental rights. When the person accepting the child goes to the CA to formalise the arrangement they cannot provide a birth certificate or information on the birth mother.
The CA responds to these cases explaining the correct process to be followed and advising of the necessity to find the child’s biological mother and father for consent to be given and a birth certificate obtained. “From there we can proceed with any application that they would want,” Gemon said. In cases where biological parents express an interest in having the child returned the matter goes to court for determination. Meanwhile, the Authority works with the parents to see how best it can support “reconnections with their children”.
The interest of the child is paramount in treating with cases where the legal process was not followed. “A number of things have to be considered, so it is not an automatic removal because that can be very traumatic for the child and may not be in the best interest of the child,” Gemon said.
Anyone interested in finding out about adoption can contact the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago Adoption Unit, 35 A Wrightson Road, Port of Spain; 627-0748 Ext 2096, 2153, 2164, 2170; Fax: 624-6313; E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.