An Adoption Nightmare

An American couple adopted Indian sisters, only to learn they'd been stolen.

ByABC News
May 9, 2008, 3:26 PM

May 14, 2008 — -- Moments after their newly adopted adolescent daughters stepped off the plane from India in 1998, Desiree and David Smolin knew something was wrong.

"The agency told us the girls were eager to be adopted and eager to come to the U.S.," Desiree Smolin told "But in reality, the girls were in terrible, terrible emotional shape. They were avoidant and deeply depressed; one of them was suicidal. I had never seen people so emotionally disturbed in my entire life."

It took weeks before the couple learned the reason for the girls' distress.

Manjula and Bhagya told their adoptive parents that they had not been parentless orphans in need of a home as the Alabama couple had been told, but rather had been kidnapped from the orphanage where their mother had placed them temporarily and unwillingly put up for adoption.

"When I heard that I was flabbergasted," Desiree Smolin said. "I knew I had to keep moving forward and try to just keep these girls alive, but as a mother I knew we had to find their mother."

Nine months earlier the Smolins, already parents of five biological sons, had heard of the "millions of Indian orphans languishing and in need of a home" and decided to adopt difficult-to-place older girls.

"The stories of female infanticide really got to us," Smolin said. "We perceived there was a great need and we wanted to share what we had. We loved being parents and we loved kids."

Smolin says the couple did their due diligence, finding a well-established agency and asking the questions they thought they were supposed to in order to determine everything was above board.

"We asked that the agency speak with the girls and make sure they wanted to be adopted," she said. "They assured us the girls wanted to be adopted and the mother had willingly signed them over. Unfortunately, much of what they told us would turn out to be false."

The couple were told that Bhagya and Manjula were respectively 9 and 11 years old, but they now believe they are actually older.

When the girls arrived at the Atlanta airport in November 1998, they were just two of the 478 Indian orphans adopted by American families that year. In the years since, about 3,950 Indian orphans have found homes in the United States, according to State Department statistics.

Only this year did the United States implement the Hague Adoption Convention, which establishes international rules for vetting children to determine they are true orphans and not the victims of kidnap.

Under the treaty, U.S. adoption agencies will for the first time be accredited by a national agency and have to register with the State Department.