Adop­tion or traf­fick­ing? Fears grow for Uganda’s ‘or­phans’

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY AMY FAL­LON

When Agatha Na­mu­sisi, 64, let her grand­son leave Uganda for med­i­cal treat­ment abroad, she as­sumed he would re­turn, but more than a year later she says he has dis­ap­peared.

“They are nowhere to be seen,” Na­mu­sisi said of the seven-year old boy and his Ugan­dan carer who trav­eled to­gether to the United States in May last year, af­ter an Ari­zon­abased Chris­tian char­ity ar­ranged for surgery to cor­rect his crip­pling spinal de­for­mity.

The case is just one ex­am­ple of in­ter­na­tional adop­tion gone wrong through misun­der­stand­ing, neg­li­gence or even crim­i­nal­ity, a trend that has Ugan­dan law­mak­ers wor­ried, with a 400 per­cent in­crease in or­phans go­ing to the U.S. alone be­tween 2006 and 2013.

African Chil­dren’s Char­i­ties (ACC) paid for Na­mu­sisi’s grand­son, Mo­ham­mad Luwasi, to travel to the U.S. and re­ceive pro bono surgery af­ter read­ing a news­pa­per re­port about his plight.

Be­liev­ing him to be an or­phan, on the ba­sis of al­legedly false doc­u­ments, the char­ity took cus­tody of the boy and, ac­cord­ing to Dick­son Og­wang at the Ugan­dan em­bassy in Washington, plans to have him adopted there.

But Luwasi’s fa­ther, 29-year old car­pen­ter Isha Sse­mata, says he wants his son back.

“I miss him,” he said. “I don’t want any­one to adopt my child.”

A se­ries of un­for­tu­nate events led to Luwasi’s predica­ment. Af­ter his wife died Sse­mata couldn’t af­ford to look af­ter his dis­abled son, so took him to live with Na­mu­sisi, the grand­mother. She too was pover­tys­tricken, so when a char­ity of­fered to pay for his treat­ment, she seized the chance.

Now fa­ther and grand­mother fear he may never re­turn.

“I signed pa­pers I could not read, but I knew they were to help get this boy from here to Amer­ica for treat­ment,” said Na­mu­sisi.

In Uganda, there is no word for “adop­tion” in the Western sense, im­ply­ing per­ma­nence. Rather, send­ing chil­dren abroad is seen as sim­i­lar to en­rolling them at board­ing school or an ap­pren­tice­ship.

‘Du­bi­ous cir­cum­stances’

In May, Uganda’s par­lia­ment de­bated the “du­bi­ous cir­cum­stances” in which “hun­dreds” of chil­dren leave the coun­try de­spite an es­ti­mated 80 per­cent of so-called or­phans hav­ing liv­ing rel­a­tives and the ex­is­tence of a do­mes­tic adop­tion pro­gram.

A gov­ern­ment re­port is soon to be pub­lished into al­leged cor­rup­tion and de­cep­tion in in­ter­na­tional adop­tions.

The gov­ern­ment has sig­naled its in­tent to close a le­gal loop­hole en­abling for­eign­ers to adopt while leg­is­la­tors warn that some cases “bor­der on traf­fick­ing,” a term used by a num­ber of of­fi­cials to de­scribe Luwasi’s case.

ACC Pres­i­dent Vikki Kattman de­nies traf­fick­ing Luwasi — whom she called “Lewis” — and said there was no in­ten­tion to put him up for adop­tion.

“We will legally re­turn Lewis to Uganda when it is ap­pro­pri­ate,” Kattman said, de­clin­ing to spec­ify a time­frame. ACC in­sists it op­er­ates legally in Uganda, a claim dis­missed by Moses Binoga, head of the coun­try’s anti-traf­fick­ing task force.

Luwasi’s case is due in court in Kampala, where Ugan­dan of­fi­cials will ar­gue for the boy to be re­turned to Uganda.

James Kabo­gozza, as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner for youth and chil­dren in the min­istry of gen­der, said in­ter­na­tional adop­tion had be­come a busi­ness with “lawyers, chil­dren’s homes, even adop­tion agen­cies,” all ben­e­fit­ing.

Kabo­gozza ar­gued that lo­cal adop­tion should al­ways be the first op­tion.

Oth­ers blame prospec­tive par­ents for “blindly be­liev­ing” adop­tion agency claims that the chil­dren are or­phans.

In fail­ing to prop­erly scru­ti­nize such agen­cies, “Amer­i­cans adopt­ing from Uganda are now com­plicit in cor­rup­tion and un­eth­i­cal prac­tices” said one chil­dren’s rights ac­tivist.

AFP

A photo taken on May 28 in Sonde shows a pic­ture of Ugan­dan boy Mo­ham­mad Luwasi, who Ugan­dan author­i­ties claim has been traf­ficked to the U.S.

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