Ceylon Today investigates: The Middle-man of Child Adoption-By Methmalie Dissanayake

Source:Ceylontoday

An organisation named CSC Nation Lanka sparked controversy in social media recently afterphotos posted by its chairman on Facebook showed how he facilitated childless couples to adopt new born children.

The chairman, Manjula Ukwatte in a massive social media campaign claimed on the organisation’s Facebook page that he shelters helpless pregnant women until they deliver their babies and later put those babies up for adoption. 

Many raised their eyebrows at the nature of his conduct because according to law, only a District Court can give children up for adoption. That too, happens after a thorough screening process involving several State institutions. Some even alleged that Ukwatte is carrying out an illegal baby farm under the guise of charity work.

However, Ukwatte did not give a fair response to the criticism. When social media users questioned his conduct and asked how an individual could put children up for adoption without the recognition of the Department of Probation and Childcare Services, he blocked many of them from his page. 

When a young woman named Chanya Herath questioned Ukwatta through several Facebook pages, Ukwatta made an indirect threat to her in a live Facebook video saying:

“You do this because you support abortion centres. There are leaked photos and call recordings of you right? Aren’t you going to get married soon?”

Also, when social media users demanded him to show the credibility of his organisation, he simply said that his name is not recorded in Police books, therefore, there is no need for him to register under anybody. If someone wants more details they could visit his office, he said.

Several days after that remark, Ukwatte again showed his organisation’s registration certificate. 

Legal procedure of adopting a child

Speaking to Ceylon Today, Attorney-at-Law Gayani Dikkumbura Wanninayake said that the adoption process is lengthy and takes at least a year.

“Couples who want to adopt a child should first register under the Department of Probation and Childcare Services. There is a waiting list for such couples and they will be interviewed to make sure that they are eligible to adopt a child. When the Department finds a child who meets the requirements of the couple, they will be informed about it and that is when the case should be filed at the District Court as only the District Court has the power to take decisions on children,” she said. 

The couple who want to adopt the child should file a petition at the District Court. The child, the Department of Probation, the biological parents of the child and the Registrar General’s Department should be named as the defendants of the petition. Then the Court requests a report from the probationary officer of the relevant area regarding the child’s background and the foster parents to make sure that they fulfil all the requirements to adopt and raise the child. Registrar General’s Department is also asked for a report to confirm whether the foster parents fulfil the age requirements to adopt a child. When the case is heard, the foster parents should prove that they are suitable to adopt the child.  

Facts like their financial stability, whether they could conceive children are taken into consideration by the Judge. If the child’s biological mother and father are alive, they should also testify before the Court that they are willing to put the child up for adoption and should never seek any financial reimbursement nor have any claims for the right to the child in future. Considering all these facts, the Judge takes the decision whether the child should be given up for adoption, ensuring the maximum well-being of the child. Then the foster parents should register the child at the Registrar General’s Department. There is a form called Form-72 and through this the foster parents inform the Registrar General the new name of the child. The child’s birth certificate will included that they were adopted. 

“This process takes time. This same process applies, even if the foster parents are blood relations of the biological parents. So, if someone says that they can facilitate adoptions without this process and without going before the Court, then there is something going on,” she noted. 

Attorney-at-Law Chamath Jayasekara said that he does not oppose organisations that facilitate adoptions due to several human reasons. “But that should be done through a Court,” he noted. 

“Personally I do not endorse abortion. I believe every child should be given a chance to see the world. It is good that any organisation helps single mothers, troubled parents, rape victims because at the end of the day the well-being of the child should be ensured. However, no one can go beyond the established adoption process which the District Court is involved. There are instances in where children have been sold for their organs. To prevent such incidents, the established procedure and the involvement of the Court is essential. Such organisations should be continuously monitored by the State to ensure the maximum well-being of the children,” he pointed out.  

Ukwatte’s response

When contacted by Ceylon Today, Ukwatte accepted that his organisation is not registered under the Department of Probation and Childcare or any other Government institution. 

“My only intention is putting a stop to unlawful abortions in the country. Our organisation provides shelter for helpless pregnant mothers. And when they give birth we facilitate couples who want to adopt a child and to have those children after screening them,” he claimed.

“When I got this idea of protecting helpless pregnant mothers, I visited Moratuwa Divisional Secretariat and met the relevant officers. I asked whether I should register under the Department of Probation. During that meeting, Probationary Officer of Kalutara, she monitors Moratuwa area too, told that there is no need for that yet as I do not shelter pregnant mothers below 18 years,” he said. 

According to Ukwatte, 15 children were given to foster parents. Petitions have already been filed before the District Courts for three children and 12 petitions are pending. The foster parents register in his organisation via an online application.

According to him, he got the idea of providing a shelter for helpless pregnant mothers, mainly those who do not have the support of a biological father, or are victims of domestic abuse. He claimed that he received thousands of calls and messages from such victims when he posted on the organisation’s Facebook page in May 2020. 

When queried how his organisation gave children up for adoption without Court procedure, Ukwatte said that it was done through affidavits. 

“Biological mothers gave affidavits that they were willing to give physical custody of the children to the foster parents and the foster parents also gave affidavits that they will take in the children until the Court case is over.” he said.

However, he admitted that currently the children are living with their foster families without any inspection of probationary officers. He also said that some children do not have a birth certificates yet because of the delays that happened following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, Ukwatte refused that his organisation takes money from foster parents. “I do not take money from anyone. But the foster parents have to bear the legal fees. It differs from the Attorney-at-Law who handle the cases. However, when a couple adopt a child through us, they give donations to the organisation. Sometimes they want to help the biological mothers but we do not encourage that. Apart from that, many other people give donations to continue our operation, he said. 

“I have allegations against me that I sell children. I do not do such thing. I have given all the details of these children to the Police and the State Intelligence Service (SIS),” he claimed.

He also claimed that he has requested a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He also said that he visited State Minister Piyal Nishantha once and asked for a meeting but did not get that appointment due to the COVID-19 situation. 

“I only started this. To get legal assistance and other infrastructure facilities, I need the Government’s support. That is why I asked for those meetings,” he said.

Responses of the authorities

National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) Chairman Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana confirmed that the NCPA has received numerous complaints regarding the conduct of Ukwatte, especially because he allegedly charges Rs 200,000 -500,000 from foster parents through his organisation. “However, due to a loophole in the current laws, the hands of the NCPA are tied,” he noted. 

“We could have taken action against this person’s alleged conduct under the Section 360C of the National Child Protection Act. That Section was about illegal adoption. Unfortunately, in 2006, this Section was split as Section 360D and removed from the purview of the NCPA. The National Child Protection Act has not been amended since 1998 so we cannot take actions against illegal adoptions even though we get complaints. That power lies under the purview of the Department of Probation and Childcare Services,” he said According to Prof. Vidanapathirana, if the NCPA is going to take actions the authority has to get a warrant. The NCPA could get a warrant for the offences which could get at least three years in prison if proved. But according to current laws, this particular offence could get maximum of two years sentence in prison, he pointed out. 

“But we tried to get a warrant. We needed a parent to come forward to testify that this person obtained money from them during the adoption. We met several mothers who agreed to support us. But in the last moment all of them pulled out for a reason unknown to us.”

Furthermore, existing laws clearly say that third parties are prohibited from taking money from parents who are willing to adopt a child except for the Attorney-at-Law hired to handle the legal procedure. 

“The complaints we received claim that this person takes money from such parents claiming that it is for legal fees. If that is the case, it is totally illegal because no one other than the Attorney-at-Law who represents the parents in Court can take money as legal fees. Also, private organisations cannot facilitate adoptions as well. They have no right and it is illegal too. For that, such organisations should be registered under the Department of Probation and Childcare Services,” he noted and added that the NCPA is in the process of amending the Act to get back the Section 370D under their purview at the moment.

When this writer contacted the Commissioner of the Department of Probation and Childcare Services, she said that she could not share information with the Media without permission of the Secretary Kumari Jayasekara. However, the staff of the Secretary told that she could not speak at the time this writer called as she was in a meeting. Following instructions of the staff, an email was sent to the Secretary asking the following questions:

1.     Has the Department of Probation and Childcare Services received complaints about this individual’s alleged baby farm?

2.     Has his organisation, CSC Nation Lanka registered at the Department of Probation and Childcare Services?

3.     Can private organisations facilitate the adoption process in Sri Lanka?

These questions are yet to be given answers by the Department of Probation and Childcare Services.

Adopting children is an extremely sensitive subject. Couples who are not capable of bearing a child of their own will do anything to have one. At the same time, draconian abortion Laws and taboos regarding single parenthood leave thousands of children on roads and orphanages. Giving them a proper home is a must. However, it should be done under a proper mechanism otherwise many will use these children for various personal gains. We live in a world where children are being sold for their organs, that is why many countries keep the powers regarding the adoption process under the purview of the State, because no one should profit from a child. 

We should not forget that Sri Lanka has history of baby farms. According to the documentary produced by Netherlands based Sri Lankan adoptee Sannevan Rossen with the help of journalist Maurice Ambaum, ‘Het Verdriet Van Sri Lanka’ (The Sorrows of Sri Lanka) in 2017, around 11,000 children may have been sold to European families, with both parties being given fake documents. Some were reportedly born in “baby farms” that sold children to the West. About 4,000 children are thought have ended up with families in the Netherlands, with others going to other European countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the UK.

Then Health Minister admitted that the baby farms really exist in Sri Lanka and pledged to commence an investigation. However, the results of the said investigation is still unknown. 

In this particular case which this article is based on, it is very clear that loopholes in the laws established in colonial era give perfect opportunities to those who have sinister plans of getting rich using helpless mothers and innocent children. The saddest thing here is, although the authorities are aware that there is something fishy going on, they cannot intervene to stop it due to legal loopholes. Therefore, the authorities should immediately step in and consider amending these laws because as a country, we cannot fail our children, the blood of the country’s future. It is their responsibility to amend such laws, if those laws slows them down from carrying their duties.

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