Fault Lines

Adoption Inc: The Baby Business

How demand from US families seeking to adopt babies from abroad has paved the way for exploitation and fraud.

The only place Florence and Jennifer see their children now is in photos. Five years ago, they sent them to stay with their sister Mariam. But when they returned to collect them their children had disappeared.

Mariam claimed she had put them in a boarding school after she had been approached by an agent who promised the children a free education.

But that promise turned out to be a conduit for international adoption – and by the time the sisters even suspected something was wrong, their children were no longer theirs.

We have children that go to bed every night in our home whose parents in Uganda wishing they were going to bed in their hut ... So, you take these well-intended concepts and turn them into a child trafficking case. Like we set out to do what's right and ended up being child traffickers unintentionally.

by Anonymous father who has adopted children from Uganda

The children had been taken to the United States – legally adopted without their mothers’ knowledge.

Jennifer and Florence are among numerous families in Uganda whose children have been lost to international adoption – an industry that isn’t being driven by a supply of orphans in need of homes but by demand from the US.

[They said] “Barbara, we need more children, we need children, we have families waiting here, we need children,” recalls Barbara Ndibalakera, who worked for an American adoption agency. Her job was to find children to be adopted.

“I used to tell them ‘these children are not in a market, they are not for sale’.”

More than 1,600 Ugandan children have been adopted to the US since 1999. But how many of them were actually orphans and how many had parents who wanted them? And who is responsible? 

Fault Lines teamed up with the Investigative Fund to explore the market in Uganda’s children and how the spike in US families seeking to adopt from abroad has paved the way for exploitation and fraud.