Un­feel­ing U.S. agen­cieS con­fiS­cate chil­dren from in­dian par­entS

Le­gal ex­perts, doc­tors, and in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists al­leged that the US child PRO­TEC­TION AGEN­CIES WERE BI­ASED AND USED flAWED TECH­NIQUES TO DE­TECT ABUSE.

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert -

Also, In­dian fam­i­lies in the US are largely ed­u­cated and know how to re­search and dig for an­swers. This makes their case stronger. How­ever, there’s no doubt that with the lack of fi­nan­cial re­sources and fam­ily sup­port, the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence is very trau­ma­tis­ing for them,” Heather Kir­wood, a lawyer and long time cam­paigner against mis­di­ag­no­sis of Shaken Baby Syn­drome (SBS), told this reporter. Kir­wood as­sists the SBS ac­cused for free. She has helped dozens of In­dian fam­i­lies and was one of the ex­perts who briefed the Swedish au­thor­i­ties on SBS, af­ter which the Swedes have dropped SBS as an in­di­ca­tor of abuse.

AFive years ago, the state child pro­tec­tive ser­vices in New Jersey took away the oneyear-old son of an In­dian par­ent, Ku­mar (name changed on re­quest), un­der the false al­le­ga­tion of child abuse. Ku­mar, a soft­ware en­gi­neer with a prom­i­nent multi­na­tional com­pany, had moved to the US with the dream of a bright and pros­per­ous fu­ture. He was still wait­ing for his first pay cheque when one fine day his son rolled over from bed and suf­fered an in­jury on his head. Ku­mar and his wife rushed their son to the hos­pi­tal. But soon they lost the tod­dler to the child pro­tec­tion agency and sub­se­quently faced a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Mor­ris County Pros­e­cu­tors Of­fice in New Jersey.

“If you are an out­sider here and some­thing like this hap­pens, you are up against a flawed, bi­ased and a very strong sys­tem. They will not lose and if they see they are los­ing, they will try to ne­go­ti­ate,” he told The Sun­day Guardian. While peo­ple like Ku­mar, sooner or later, prove their in­no­cence, their chil­dren are kept in fos­ter homes with strangers un­til the case is set­tled. Dur­ing this time, the ac­cused par­ents are not al­lowed to visit their chil­dren for more than one to two hours, once or twice a week, sub­jected to per­mis­sion granted by the state. It took Ku­mar six months to prove his in­no­cence and get back his son. Speak­ing to this newspaper, Amer­i­can lawyers and re­searchers claimed that if the de­fence is re­ally strong it still takes six to seven months to get jus­tice. In the case of loose de­fence, the process may ex­tend to over a year, where the par­ents may even face the threat of their child be­ing given up for adop­tion.Sev­eral me­dia re­ports have reg­u­larly ac­cused the US state fos­ter care of sex­u­ally and phys­i­cally abus­ing chil­dren. While the US au­thor­i­ties claim to do a rig­or­ous back­ground check be­fore reg­is­ter­ing a fos­ter home, par­ents have of­ten com­plained that their chil­dren have been re­turned to them with bruises and nu­tri­tional de­fi­ciency, caused by ne­glect.“I have re­searched and talked to many In­dian par­ents and re­alised that more of­ten than not these fos­ter homes do not treat the child well. In one such case, the fam­ily was veg­e­tar­ian and the child was placed with a non-veg­e­tar­ian fam­ily. The child was starv­ing when she came back to her par­ents,” noted Ai­yar. Le­gal ex­perts, doc­tors, re­searchers and in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists this reporter talked to claimed that cul­tural dif­fer­ence is the big­gest hur­dle that these ag­grieved In­dian par­ents face in courts. The style of mar­riage com­bined with re­li­gious and cul­tural be­liefs, and lin­guis­tic bar­rier make it harder for In­dian par­ents to chal­lenge the ex­perts favour­ing child pro­tec­tion agen­cies in the court­room.

“In­dian par­ents have a diffi- cult time ex­plain­ing their cul­tural as­pects to the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers. As the re­sult of a lan­guage gap, there’s a bro­ken un­der­stand­ing of the sit­u­a­tion. The in­ves­ti­ga­tors level ac­cu­sa­tions of child abuse against them, not sat­is­fied with the ex­pla­na­tions given by the ac­cused In­di­ans,” Pro­fes­sor Vivek Sankaran, who is a part of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan In­no­cence Project, which is ap­peal­ing SBS con­vic­tions, told this reporter. In many of the cases, as noted by Ai­yar in her re­port, par­ents have al­leged that the in­ves­ti­ga­tors and pros­e­cu­tors have cul­tural bi­ases against them. In one such case, the in­ves­ti­ga­tor ac­cused the par­ents of child abuse be­cause the cou­ple had an ar­ranged mar­riage.“Ar­ranged mar­riage leads them to imag­ine that the hus­band is re­pres­sive, and hence the par­ents must be abu­sive to their chil­dren. In fact, if the baby sleeps in the same bed with its par­ents or par­ents do not pro­vide the bay with proper toys, it works against them, and these in­stances are cited to prove that the par­ents are abu­sive,” Ai­yar noted. In an­other case, a child pro­tec­tion so­cial worker grilled the mother of a child over her re­li­gious and cul­tural be­liefs, al­legedly to pro­voke her into mak­ing some state­ment that might go against her and her hus­band. In or­der to come out as a good par­ent, the mother stated that she and her hus­band loved their chil­dren but at the same time were strict with them to dis­ci­pline them. This was taken as an in­stance of abu­sive be­hav­iour by the in­ves­ti­ga­tors. “They crit­i­cise In­dian child­care habits and even traits that is com­mon for us In­di­ans, like chil­dren cry­ing or mak­ing noise. These are con­sid­ered to be a men­tal dis­or­der and are di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with in­ap­pro­pri­ate par­ent­ing,” said Ai­yar. In their stan­dard for­mu­la­tion, the di­ag­no­sis of Shaken Baby Syn­drome is based on an out­dated the­ory that claimed that “in ab­sence of any other sign of abuse, shak­ing could be proved by three neu­ro­log­i­cal symp­toms—bleed­ing in the retina, brain swelling, and bleed­ing be­neath the outer layer of mem­branes sur­round­ing the brain—also called ‘the Triad’.” De­spite scores of dis­missals, ac­quit­tals and re­ver­sals of con­vic­tions, child abuse pae­di­a­tri­cians are still de­fend­ing the the­ory and rou­tinely snatch­ing away ba­bies from the par­ents. A Pak­istani sci­en­tist, Dr Ayub Om­maya re­futed the the­ory and claimed that “SBS falls in the realm of faith and not sci­ence”.“It is a bat­tle among the ex­perts. Facts are not in dis­pute, but the in­ter­pre­ta­tions are. Tod­dlers tend to fall down or bump their heads. That does not mean the par­ents ag­gres­sively shook their kids or abused them. Sci­ence re­jects the the­ory of SBS, but these ex­perts de­fend it. In such cases, find­ing a right lawyer who can chal­lenge the ar­gu­ments with facts and lit­er­a­ture is the key,” Mark D. Free­man, a Penn­syl­va­nia-based lawyer who rep­re­sented sev­eral falsely ac­cused In­dian fam­i­lies, told this reporter. Ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts, there’s an en­tire branch of medicine fo­cus­ing on SBS, which would largely dis­ap­pear if it was found that this di­ag­no­sis is base­less. They al­leged that the ad­vo­cacy groups work in li­ai­son with them and are only try­ing to pro­tect their vested in­ter­est.

“The prob­lems started when funds started flow­ing from Wash­ing­ton DC to the states for en­sur­ing that no child is abused. Over the years, the en­tire in­dus­try has de­vel­oped around it,” Su­san Gold­smith, an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist from Ore­gon, told this newspaper. Su­san has made a doc­u­men­tary called The Syn­drome, show­cas­ing the ev­i­dence that SBS is a mis­taken the­ory and only ends up send­ing in­no­cent par­ents to jail.Gold­smith fur­ther said that the group or lobby de­fend­ing SBS the­ory comes down heav­ily on ex­perts and doc­tors who op­pose or chal­lenge them.“Swe­den-based SBU ( Statens Fered­ning för Medicinsk Och So­cial Utvärder­ing) an­a­lysed over 3,700 doc­u­ments on SBS and found only two to be of mod­est sci­en­tific stan­dards. Child abuse pae­di­a­tri­cians have op­posed their find­ings and even threat­ened the pub­li­ca­tion of the re­view,” she claimed.Ex­perts have al­leged that the sys­tem­atic fail­ure of child pro­tec­tion agen­cies to reg­is­ter le­git­i­mate cases is due to the fed­eral fund­ing stream.

In­ter­est­ingly, ac­cord­ing to Su­san’s doc­u­men­tary, The Syn­drome, the Na­tional Cen­tre for Shaken Baby Syn­drome, which sells teach­ing pack­ages for par­ents, made a net profit of $2,372,627 from prod­uct sales be­tween 2011 and 2013.

Mean­while, tak­ing a leaf from his ex­pe­ri­ence, Ku­mar sug­gests that every In­dian fam­ily mov­ing to the US for short to mid-term as­sign­ments must do proper re­search on this topic, main­tain strong com­mu­nity sup­port, and im­me­di­ately seek the help of a well-qual­i­fied at­tor­ney to deal with in­ves­ti­ga­tors. He also said that keep­ing the In­dian em­bassy in the US and the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs in the loop may help in at least the repa­tri­a­tion of the child to In­dia, while the case is still drag­ging on in court.

Five years ago, the state child pro­tec­tive ser­vices in New Jersey took away the one-year-old son of an In­dian par­ent, Ku­mar (name changed on re­quest), un­der the false al­le­ga­tion of child abuse.

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