A Queensland family has been "absolutely devastated" by revelations that their adopted child could have been stolen from her biological parents in India and that they face the risk of the adoption being revoked.
"This is a terrible predicament for a family that loves their adopted child and for the Indian family that has lost a child and as a mother my heart goes out to them," Queensland Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech said in a statement as her department offers support to the family concerned.
A TIME magazine report said nine-year-old Zabeen, now reportedly living in Queensland with her adoptive parents, was kidnapped in Chennai when she was two years old.
Australia's adoption processes are rigorous and it only deals with countries that are signatories to The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption.
"Under the Hague Convention, birth parents may bring an action in an Australian Court to have the adoption revoked. However, any decision would be a matter for the courts, which would apply the principle of protecting the best interests of the child," a spokesman for Attorney General Robert McClelland told IANS Monday.
Figures from the Attorney-General's Department show 327 or 10 percent of overseas adoptions between 1997-98 and 2006-07 were from India.
"Under Australian law, these children are Australian citizens and the children of the adoptive parents," the spokesman told IANS.
Few Indian children are adopted by Australian families because the Indian law requires that 50 percent of children requiring adoptive families be placed with Indian couples within India. The next priority is placing children with Indian nationals living abroad. Only a small percentage of children are adopted by non-Indian couples and tend to be older children or children with special needs.
When Australian couples have been approved to adopt from India, the Adoption Services Queensland (ASQ) makes contact with different Indian agencies to determine whether or not they will accept the couple's file.
"I am advised that adoptions from India have to be authorised by a court. The adoption of the Queensland child who was allegedly stolen was authorised by the Madras High Court in March 2000. ASQ's role was to approve families as suitable adoptive families and to send the file to overseas countries for processing," Keech said.
"I am advised that ASQ dealt with the official Indian government adoption agency - The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) and Malaysian Social Services (MSS), a CARA-endorsed agency. All adoption placement agencies in India had to be registered with CARA," Keech added.
When the child theft allegations first came to light, it is said ASQ had conducted an audit of Indian children who were adopted into Queensland between 1995 and 2007. Only two of the 23 adoptions during that period were through MSS, with one of those two adoptions in 1995 - well before the period (1998-99) during which children were allegedly kidnapped in India.
Australia has offered to assist with any investigations into alleged claims that "pretty" children kidnapped from Indian slums have been adopted by Australian families.
Joining in the debate Monday, federal opposition leader Brendan Nelson has said Australia had a moral responsibility to return any children who may have been stolen.
"Let us hope the inquiry, in fact, does not find that children have been effectively kidnapped. And the right thing, we would expect in most cases, will be to look at returning them to their rightful families," Nelson said.
Meanwhile, the state government of Tasmania is conducting its own audit of overseas adoptions.
According to a report in TIME Magazine, At least 120 children were kidnapped from slums in southern India and were sold to a Chennai-based adoption agency MSS for as little as $280, before being sent overseas. Nearly a dozen of these children have ended up being adopted in Australia.