FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - Dozens of parents in Sierra Leone say their children were given up for adoption in the United States without their consent, during the west African country's horrific civil war in the 1990's. The results of a government inquiry may reunite them with their children.
Mariatu Mansaray says she is still crying and suffering because two of her children, Adama and Mustafa, were taken from her in Sierra Leone. She wants them to know she never intended to give them up. Mansaray is just one of 40 parents in the rural Makeni area who say they never authorized their children to be adopted.
Abu Bakar Kargbo, a spokesperson for the parents, says none of them speak English and that made them easy targets.
"These are poor, illiterate and defenseless people. They live in villages," he explained. "They came to advocate, hundreds of miles, for the government to intervene and they are ready to testify, to contest they did not consent any adoption. "
The parents say they left their children at the Help A Needy Child International Center
during the war temporarily, so they would be safe and get educated. The Center then apparently contacted Maine Adoption Placement Services, which placed 29 children with parents in the United States.
Their anguished pleas say they want to see their children.
That may happen. Sierra Leone Deputy Minister Sheka Tarawalie was in Washington D.C. in early May for discussions on how the adoptees, now in their teens, might meet their biological parents.
"These kids have a right to know the truth," Tarawalie said. "We should pursue this as a responsible government, so kids can re-establish contact with biological parents."
The minister's visit was in response to the Commission of Inquiry that recommended the adoptions be investigated, saying it was clear these parents had no knowledge their children were being given up permanently.
Sierra Leone's government ordered local police to further investigate the matter, which could lead to criminal charges.
"Well, we are seeing what we call alleged trafficking," said Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission spokesperson Henry Mustapha Sheku. He welcomes the investigation.
"If they did not go according to procedures under our laws in terms of what should transpire for adoption, then yes, international laws can go with that; child trafficking, cruelty to children," he said.
In 2004, Help A Needy Child International Center founder Roland Foday Kargbo and two of his employees were arrested and charged with conspiracy to violate adoption laws. They were found not guilty and the case was dropped.
Kargbo still denies all allegations. He says the parents signed adoption documents with their thumbprints.
"They got a copy," he insisted. "It amazes me not one single parent produces a copy we gave them."
Kargbo thinks the parents may be after financial compensation because they believe Help A Needy Child International is receiving money from the adoptive parents. He insists it is not the case.
"We did this adoption in good faith with clear motivation to help children in difficult circumstances during the war," he noted.
Maine Adoption Placement Services has stated it has no knowledge of any wrongdoing. The group did not respond to requests for further comment.
Meanwhile, Mariatu Mansaray says she is just hoping to know the truth about her children. And keeps faith she will one day see them again.