The cartels also work with particular children’s homes, judges and lawyers to sanitise the trade detectives believe has sucked in government officials who assist the syndicate to commercialise the adoption process.
Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti yesterday acknowledged the existence of the syndicate that is run by people he described as “vicious children merchants”.
“It is a massive syndicate,” he said.
The children are normally stolen when playing outside their homes and taken to particular police stations by “Good Samaritans”. At the police station, they are registered in the Occurrence Book (OB) as “lost” or “abandoned”. The “Good Samaritans” then collude with the police and the children are placed in particular children’s homes that have links to adoption societies.
That is how, in October 2012, a Juja family lost its twins (now 11 years old). Despite a lengthy social media campaign that has intrigued many, the children have never been found.
Since the law gives the adoption agencies a window of only six months to declare a child free for adoption, the cartels make sure that within that window, the children’s parents never trace them. Detectives now believe that thousands of children have been labelled as lost or abandoned when they are not.
A government report also blames police for making little effort to trace the parents of lost and abandoned children, thus giving cartels a free run. “There is no systemised way that parents and relatives of abandoned children are looked for,” notes the report, which assessed the legal process of adoption and found it wanting.
Although a moratorium was put in place in 2014 banning international adoption, the cartels have managed to circumvent the Executive Order and children are still being given out under the guise of foster care orders or guardianship, according to welfare officers.
Under the guardianship procedure, a child still retains his or her name and has no rights as a legal member of the guardian’s family. Although it is reversible, it has been used to fly many children out of the country since Section 105 (a) of the Children’s Act allows “any individual, where the child’s parents are no longer living or cannot be found”, and where the child has no guardian, to file for such an appointment in court.
Under current rules, the Director of Children’s Services and a manager of a charitable children’s institution can ‘legally’ put a child into ‘foster care’ since the law gives the supervision of the placement — to another family — to the manager of the home.
Also, the Children’s Act gives these homes powers to decide if a child in their area is in need of care and protection, and empowers them to take away the child without following the court process.
While children’s homes are supposed to inform the Director of Children Services within seven days that they have taken in a child, the child can only be taken to court “within 3 months”, which is deemed to be far too long.
Detectives investigating the Kenyan syndicate say that some senior officials of the Department of Children’s Services, who are supposed to offer independent reports on a child declared free for adoption, have been working closely with the adoption agencies and that some of them own some of the children’s homes.
A government report had previously warned that the “tight connection between adoption societies and children’s charities could… occasion cases of pre-selection of children for adoption, which is illegal”.
That report seems to have been right on the money, because these adoption societies are believed to scout for prospective adoptive parents both in Kenya and abroad who pay them hefty sums of money to get them suitable children.
“Some of these have rented apartments since a prospective parent must stay with the child for up to six months while the bonding process is monitored,” says a detective handling the matter. “They normally target healthy children and most of these homes will never take in children who are HIV-positive or have other ailments.”
By targeting desperate couples eager to adopt a child, the adoption agencies have created a multi-million-shilling industry where children are traded under the eyes of government agencies.
At the moment, Kenya has no tracking services for lost children, and apart from regular adverts placed by the government-run Child Welfare Society of Kenya, other agencies hardly look out for relatives of lost children.