Smolin and her husband adopted the girls before the Hague Convention was implemented and used an agency they believed took the proper steps to fully vet the orphanage and the girls. Smolin would not disclose the name of the agency she used.
"We talked to a lot of people and found a well-respected agency. We thought we asked all the right questions. In the nine months it took for the adoption to be completed there were some things that worried us. In retrospect, had we known more about how international adoptions work we would have put the brakes on. We thought only ethical agencies could be in business and we thought they had checked out everything. We had faith in the system," she said.
"By the time the girls arrived we knew that we had been lied to."
The Smolins later learned that the two orphanages in which the girls had lived near in Hyderabad were implicated in a far-reaching scandal.
Beginning in 1996, several orphanages, including the one in which the girls were placed, were accused of baby buying and falsifying documents. By 2001, after several scandals in Andahr Pradesh, the Indian government had banned all adoptions from that region.
Another American family's adopted Indian child who had lived with the girls at the orphanage revealed to her adoptive parents that the sisters had been stolen and unwillingly adopted.
When the Smolins confronted the girls, they broke down and admitted the story was true.
"The girls started crying and said the story was true. They had been threatened and forced to lie to the embassy official that interviewed them. Their mother had put them in an orphanage. It's not unusual for the poor to temporarily place their children in orphanages, which provide free education, housing, food and basic care, in a kind of boarding school setting."
When the family learned the truth, the girls had only been in the United States for six weeks. Immediately the family contacted the agency to conduct an investigation, but according to Smolin the agency did nothing of the kind.
"Had they investigated and found the mother we would have returned [the] girls. Instead, they denied the story could possibly be true," she said
"The agency said they had double-checked right before the adoption went through and the mother had relinquished the girls, but when we asked them to check again -- just six weeks later -- they said they could no longer find her. Some in the adoptive community said the kids had made the story up to make themselves feel better and that parents sometimes stage a scene when they relinquish the children to trick them. We were made to feel bad and told that we were looking for a problem because we weren't committed."
The State Department does not comment on specific cases, but Ethica, a nonprofit agency that tracks ethical and legal problems in international adoptions, as well as an Indian researcher involved in locating the girls' mother, confirmed the Smolins' story.
Of the nearly 20,000 children adopted annually from outside the United States, most are legitimate orphans in need of loving homes, said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, an adoption policy think tank.