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An Adoption Gone Wrong

One day in 1998, David and Desiree Smolin traveled to the airport in Atlanta. They were adopting two adolescent girls, and on that day, the girls got off the plane from India.

"We expected that there would be some shyness at the beginning, but we expected that they would be happy to see us at least after they got over the initial shock of being here," Desiree Smolin says.

"Instead, when we met the girls they were clearly very upset. They were very avoidant of us and then eventually they became very emotionally disturbed .... I've never seen anyone — and I hope to never, ever see anyone again — as upset as those girls were in the first nine months that they were in our home."

In an interview with Steve Inskeep, the Smolins say that an adoption agency described Manjula and Bhagya as two girls who had been waiting a long time for a home. But the girls insisted they had been stolen — kidnapped from their mother.

The Indian mother was poor. She placed the children temporarily in an orphanage, and the orphanage essentially sold them.

"We read about infanticide in India and that got us thinking about whether those children were sometimes adopted out," Desiree Smolin says. With a house full of sons and no daughters, the Smolins sought to adopt girls.

David Smolin says they worked with an experienced U.S. adoption agency and were told that the girls had been waiting a long time and were eager to be adopted.

"We asked that the girls be interviewed to see whether they wanted to be adopted, what was their family background, what was their story," he says. "Unfortunately, almost all of the information that we got back turned out to be false. They had been stolen from their birth family."

"Of course, we didn't know that," Desiree adds.

But within weeks of their arrival, the couple realized something was wrong. The girls, speaking through a translator, angrily denied that they had asked to be adopted.

David says that the girls' birth mother had been told that the girls were going to be placed temporarily in a boarding school. "And she went back for them, and they said to her, 'No, you can look at them through this one-way mirror, but they can't be permitted to see you.' And so she was turned away."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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