19 August 2018

Uganda: Adoption Saga - Americans Forced to Return Ugandan Children

A non-governmental organisation has allegedly duped government into believing that Ugandan children are being sold to American families for millions of dollars.

Ms Keren Riley through her little known organisation, Reunite, allegedly connived with some officials from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) and officials from Kayunga District to convince parents that they wrongly gave away their children to have them sign documents for the return of the children.

The NGO is allegedly using intimidation and threats to get the parents to rescind their consent to adoption of their children and have the children returned to Uganda.

Some affected parents have reportedly been accused of selling their children to Americans to get them to sign documents rescinding their consent. Some of the parents said they were told that they would be imprisoned if they did not sign the documents.

The same trick has been used on the foster parents in America to claim they trafficked Ugandan children to force them to pull out of the adoption.

The MGLSD also claimed that God's Mercy Children's Home through which the children were adopted, was operating illegally. The MGLSD, two years ago, closed the home and sent the children to Naguru Remand Home.

Ms Keren, whose husband, Mark Riley, drafted the Children Act and is a director of Alternative Care Initiative in the MGLSD, has been using information left with the MGLSD to trace for the families and has allegedly taken advantage of the ignorance of two mothers in Kitatya C, Kayunga to revoke their consent.

Alternative Care is an initiative suggested in the Children's Act and the same is being spearheaded by Ms Keren to bring back adopted children and place them in homes of relatives where care can be given to the families instead of giving away children for international adoption.

Unknown to government, Ms Keren is then using the two cases to solicit for funding through her Facebook page to allegedly educate the children, care for their families and hire extra staff.

Keren also has a fundraising blog https://www.gofundme.com/7cp4dc where she has raised 2,725pounds with a target to get 5,000 pounds.

Two young girls, Resty Namaata and Violah Nakayondo, who had been placed in the legal guardianship of two American families have already been traced and returned to their homes in Kitatya C, Kitimbwa Sub-county in Kayunga District.

Prior to the return of the two girls, Ms Keren with the help of Ms Carolyne Bankusha, the coordinator of Alternative Care Initiative in the MGLSD, allegedly connived with the Kayunga District community development officer, Ms Maureenie Nandawula to write to the MGLSD on September 2, 2016 saying the assessment report by then Kayunga District probation officer, Mr Collins Kafeero, was forged.

On the strength of the letter from Ms Nandawula, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Gender on September 5, 2016 wrote a letter to the US Department of State, saying the district community development officer had consulted to the mother, who said the subsequent adoption of her child was never her intention.

The letter was copied to the senior advisor, Symtech Corp Consultants Office of Children's Issues Adoption Division.

"The mother (Serina Juwan) never gave consent to the adoption of Namata and that she was capable of providing proper parental care. I therefore request for all possible support to ensure Namata is reunited with her family back in Uganda," the letter copied to the US Embassy in Kampala and Namata's foster parents Adam Michael Davis and Jessica Jean Davis, reads in part.

Following the letter, the Department of State closed down European Adoption Consultants, the Ohio-based agency through which Namata was taken to America. The closure has worried parents whose children were adopted by American families because its two years since they last received reports about their children.

In the aftermath of the closure, CNN ran a story titled: Kids for sell, in which Namata's foster parents Jessica Jean Davis claimed she had spent $65,000 to 'buy' Namata from Uganda. However, this claim was never substantiated.

Sunday Monitor failed to reach out to Ms Keren to establish circumstances under which the children were brought back. Her husband Mark's known phone number was switched off by press time.

Bankusha said she was away in the United Kingdom on medical grounds.

Speaking to Sunday Monitor about the return of the girls, Bankusha said she did not know how the whole episode kicked off in America. She quoted Namata's mother as saying she did not know why her daughter was taken to America and that she had gone for good.

"We were working on time line, we did not want time to run out before the children come home. That was no legal guardianship because the children had been placed with adoptive parents unethically," Ms Bankusha said, adding that she only got to know when Namata was on the plane coming back to Uganda.

Speaking to Ms Dorah Mirembe of Ssebaggala and Mirembe Advocates, the lawyer who worked on adoption case of the two children before they were taken to the US, said the two families were manipulated into giving up the children.

"Keren who whistleblew to the MGLSD that Ugandan children had been sold in America is married to Mark who drafted the Children Act. At the same time, she is the one who returned the 'trafficked' children," said Ms Mirembe, who claimed her name had been tarnished by the allegations of selling children.

She claimed that Keren and Mark have a 'hidden' agenda to be the only organisation authorised by government to handle guardianship orders but want to achieve their objective by tarnishing people's names.

Ms Mirembe opened a case at CID headquarters on reference KMP/ CID HQS GEF 903/2016 accusing the families that adopted the children of illegal return of the children and giving false information, but nothing has come of the investigations two years down the road.

"The FBI was here, they investigated the allegations of selling Ugandan children and found nothing, the police investigated but the Uganda police have refused to come out with a report," said the visibly irritated lawyer.

According to Ms Mirembe unknown persons are trying to frustrate her effort to seek justice.

Ms Mirembe said the last time she went to the DPP's office, the head of trafficking, Ms Rachel Bikhole said she had not read the files.

However, according to Ms Bikhole they would sustain a case of illegal operation of a children's home against Ms Hillary Basereka and Ms Mirembe. Sunday Monitor reached out to the spokesperson of the office of DPP, Jane Akol on Thursday afternoon but she was not in office.

Amid these accusations Mirembe said she was ready to go to court but the system was 'sitting' on the files.

Although police and the DPP's office claims Basereka was operating the home illegally, Sunday Monitor has seen papers showing God's Mercy Children's Home is registered with the NGO board and had an accompanying letter from the ministry of Gender allowing it to operate.

When contacted, Ms Stella Jane Ogwang, the principal probation and welfare officer in the MGLSD, said she was not conversant with the case.

In the Family Division of the High Court in Kampala under family cause No. 046 of 2016, Justice Moses Mukiibi issued a guardianship order placing Violah Nakayondo with the consent of her mother Nakalanzi Maria Goretti in the hands of Shawn Jamison Wells and Stacey Lee Wells of 12 Woodridge Esates Huntington, West Virginia, 25704 in America.

While Justice Wilson Masalu Musene, under family cause No. 23 of 2015, placed Resty Namaata with the consent of her mother Serina Juwan in the hands of Adam Michael Davis and Jessica Jean Davis of 138 Crisswill Road in Saint Clairsville, Ohio 43950, USA. Namata's father Mubalya Ssoka died in an accident.

Ms Nakalanzi and Ms Juwan consented to the adoption through a report by the probation and social welfare officer in Kayunga, Collins Kafeero.

The judges allowed the guardians to obtain Ugandan passport for the children but directed that the children had to retain Ugandan citizenship until they were 18-years-old. The guardians were allowed to travel with the children and adopt them in America.

The parties were directed to leave their particulars, addresses, e-mails and their physical residence where the children would be residing with the deputy registrar of court and give copies to the National Council for Children, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Uganda Embassy in America.

European Adoption Consultants, Inc, who understudied the two families to establish whether they were capable of adopting the children, were directed to prepare quarterly reports on the state of the children for the families in Uganda, the central government, Kayunga Local Government and court.

However, European Adoption Consultants has since been closed by the US Department of State on allegations that they were selling children.

However, acting in disregard of the due diligence that had been done by Mr Kafeero who placed the two girls under God's Mercy Children's Home in Kawempe, court in Kayunga and the Family Court in Kampala, Keren with the help of ministry officials, brought back the two children.

When Sunday Monitor visited Resty Namata's family in Kitatya C in Kitimbwa Sub-county, her mother said Ms Keren, who she called Hellen, and another Ugandan woman she could not readily identify, went to her home and told her she had sold her child to the Americans.

"They came here and brought me four mattresses, four blankets and four pairs of bed sheets and told me not to tell anybody. Whenever they brought something for me they would make me sign. Later they returned and took me to Kampala, they brought my daughter on the Internet. I was surprised to see my daughter crying. My daughter spoke in English, which I could not understand but the interpreter told me she wanted to come back. I told them if she wants to comeback let her come back because I never gave her away because I did not like her but it was because of welfare," Ms Juwan, Namata's mother, said.

Seated in front of her single roomed house, Ms Juwan confirmed she had willingly given away her child to be helped by the American family.

"Before Namata was taken to America, we went to court and even to the embassy (American Embassy) and they asked me if it was me who signed the papers and I told them yes," Ms Juwan said.

She added: "When Namata returned and she re-learnt Luganda, she told me whatever she wanted, her adopted parents would give it to her and wherever she wanted to go they would take her there."

Returned

Nakayondo's uncle Paul Ssemabira said the family had been made aware that their daughter was being given away to another family in America and they let her go because they could not take care of her.

Nakayondo's father, Peter Bukenya, committed suicide, leaving the mother with 12 children.

Two of Nakayondo's siblings Angel Namuyiga, 3, and Namaganda Vanessa , 2, were also given to another American family but ever since the return of Nakayondo, their mother is yet to hear from the family.

However, Nakayondo's mother, Ms Mary Goretti Nakalanzi, refused to speak to Sunday Monitor, saying she was tired of claims she had sold her children but she allegedly tells people she had been duped into signing to have her vulnerable daughter returned. While seated in the compound Nakalanzi would alternatively send either Nakayondo or her other sister to sell crude gin to clients.

Claim

Mr Ssemabira said Reunite was educating and clothing Nakayondo. However, when Sunday Monitor visited she was at home despite the fact that it was school time. It was only Namaata who was at school. Both girls go to Bemiko Infant Primary School.

Mr Ssemabira said Ms Keren had promised to give Nakayondo's mother capital to start a retail shop, but the promise is yet to be fulfilled.

Unlike before no court procedure was followed to return the children to their parents.

Another parent, Simon Okware, 40, a teacher at Kitatya Roman Catholic Primary School, who was the first to give away his two children for adoption, said the same group had been pestering him to accept his children to be brought but he had refused.

"When they came here with a white man they started threatening me that they would arrest me. They asked me how much money I got from selling my children. I told them I never sold my children, I gave away my children for adoption because I had lost my wife and one of the children had been burnt badly in an accident. To me it was better to give them away for proper care," Okware said.

Okware said the white man whose name he did not know, was travelling in a car with registration number CD 02 303D. He said the white man tried to get him to sign a document but he refused.

Like Ms Juwan and Ms Nakalanzi, Mr Okware said when his wife died, he was directed to God's Mercy Children's Home where his children Robert Ekote (who had been burnt) and Nakato Biribawa would be taken care of.

"After sometime, I visited the children at the home and I found those people had taken good care of the children. Ekote had started crawling. So when the opportunity came, I was taken to court in Kayunga, then Kampala and later to the American Embassy where they explained to me what I was doing before I signed. So claiming that I signed what I did not understand or that I sold my child is wrong," Mr Okware said.

Mr Kafeero, who assessed the children before sending them to God's Mercy Children's Home, said the children's plight was brought to his attention by Kitatya C chairman Edward Aliga.

Mr Kafeero dispelled rumours that the proprietor of God's Mercy Children's Home was the one sourcing for them.

This newspaper saw two referral forms from the MGLSD signed by Kafeero referring both girls to God's Mercy Children's Home.

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