The last time Fatima saw her two year-old daughter Zabeen in the flesh was in 1998 when she was playing with her four year-old brother Hussain outside a tea shop near their house in Washermanpet in Chennai.
Sixteen years down the line, Zabeen now lives over 7000 kilometres away in Australia under a different name with her Australian adoptive parents.
The story is devastating, yet the couple who lost their only daughter are still full of hope.
Two years old when she was whisked away in an auto by an unidentified man, Zabeen was one amongst nearly 250 to 300 children in Tamil Nadu, many of them kidnapped and then sent off to locations abroad as a part of racket planned by an adoption agency and orphanage known as the Malaysian Social Services.
For a long time, Fatima and her family had no clue of her daughter’s existence. It was in 2005 that the police found and informed them that they might have found Zabeen after a chance expose of the kidnapping racket.
Zabeen’s disappearance became one amongst the many discovered when two men involved in an argument in a Chennai bar discussed stories of child kidnapping. After the police arrested those involved in the abductions, soon the story spilled out about the adoption agency racket. Soon enough, the owners of the service, PV Ravindranath and his wife Varsala were arrested, according to a report in TIME. It was while raiding the agency that the police discovered files of 120 children, one among which was Zabeen’s.
She had been sent to Australia in 2000.
Today, nearly sixteen years after they first lost her, Fatima and her husband Salya are still waiting to meet their daughter. With Salya’s deteriorating health a major concern, this couple which survives with income from a meat shop hope to see their child at least by traveling to the country.
A crowd funding operation to help this couple travel to Australia in order to meet their biological daughter has been started by the NGO, Against Child Trafficking.
Of the total $12,500 hoped to be collected to help this couple, so far just a little above $400 has been collected.
“I am not sure if the adoptive parents will let me meet my child, I am not sure what my daughter will say. But I want to meet her. What if my husband cannot travel later, this is why we wish to travel now. I am sure once we are there, they won’t deny us a chance to meet our daughter,” Fatima told The News Minute.
“The adoptive parents were told in 2005 that the daughter had been kidnapped from biological parents in India, they could have chosen to let their daughter interact with Fatima and Salya. But they kept stalling it and its reached this stage. The couple want to go to Australia as they are scared Salya may not be able to travel in some more years,” says Arun Dohle, Against Child Trafficking.
A decade long fight for Fatima and Salya
Ever since being informed by the CBI of the developments in the case in 2005, Fatima has been fighting to get her back. Even though Zabeen’s adoption in Australia is legal as her adoptive parents were ignorant that their child was adopted, Fatima had then said that the Australian government must acknowledge that her child had been abducted and must return her.
In 2013, Fatima in an almost last-ditch effort to meet her daughter met with government officials at the Australian High Commission in order to be reunited with her daughter, now living in Australia. All the family had wanted was the girl to return. They also wanted pictures to be ensured that their girl is alright and doing well, the couple’s lawyer Selvi Palani had said.
According to the adoptive father, a letter had been written to Fatima saying that based on a positive DNA test they would agree to keep Zabeen until she turned 18 while giving them constant updates about her life,
But Fatima and Salya never replied agreeing to their end of the bargain, he had alleged.
“So our view is that the ball is in their court. We made the effort to do that and at least to mitigate their undoubted suffering, and we’ve heard nothing in reply,“ said the adoptive father in a video interview with ABC in 2013.
However, the question remains of the future of the girl who is over 18, yet to turn 21.
Will she be asked to return home if DNA reports are done and confirm that her parents are indeed Fatima and Salya? The laws are not clear, however for now all the couple hopes for is a chance to meet their daughter.
“I don’t think it is practical for her to return or live with us. But we cannot lose our daughter completely. We should at least be allowed to meet her and maintain a relationship with her,” Salya told TNM.
Zabeen’s story is not an isolated incident. The group when caught by the police confessed to being responsible for stealing a number of children at the cost of Rs. 10,000 each. Officials even found documents on 120 children who had been sent to locations outside the country.It was only after a writ of habeas corpus was filed by human rights lawyers that the CBI took up the case.
There may be many unresolved cases like Zabeen’s out there, and though coming back forever may not be the solution, all that parents like Fatima and Salya wish for is that one chance to meet their children, snatched away cruelly from them.
A crowdfunding initiative had been begun to help this couple make a trip to Australia. Click here
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