Parents in Sierra Leone who claim their children were adopted without their permission in the late 90s said they support the government's decision to order a police investigation that could lead to criminal charges.
In a statement read by coordinator Abu Bakarr Kargbo, the parents of the 29 children also called on the police and government to look into whether more children were adopted without proper consent.
Sierra Leone's government on April 13 mandated police to reopen an investigation into the 1997 adoptions of children placed at the Help A Needy Child International center, known as HANCI, during the country's brutal civil war.
"The police, using their professionalism, will now be at liberty to proffer criminal charges against any person responsible for the plight of the children, especially their movement from Sierra Leone to a foreign territory," the April government statement said. The decision was made by the government in response to recommendations by a Commission of Inquiry set up in 2010 to investigate the parents' claims.
The parents in Sierra Leone said they had left their children at HANCI for a better education and safety during the war. HANCI contacted Maine Adoption Placement Services to foster U.S. adoptions, and MAPS says it placed 29 of the 33 children with adoptive parents in the U.S. HANCI maintained the parents gave informed consent.
MAPS had said it had no knowledge of any wrongdoing on the part of their Sierra Leone staff, and that they were fully cooperating with any investigations.
In 2004, HANCI's director and two of his employees were arrested and charged with conspiracy to violate adoption laws. Those charges against them though ultimately were dropped and the case disbanded, according to court records.
On Monday, many of the parents in Sierra Leone gathered at a press conference to respond to the decision to mandate criminal investigations.
"The commission has proven to be credible and transparent in the dispensation of justice by bringing out the perpetrators of this heinous crime to light," the parents' statement said. "We say thanks a million.
"Even though the commission has worked tirelessly hard to unearth the truth, there are discrepancies as to the number of children trafficked by HANCI," it said. "We are outrightly ready to aid the Sierra Leone Police in their investigation to ascertain the validity of the number of children involved in the saga."
A government white paper in April also gave police the mandate to access all documents used by the commission during their investigations. It gave police six weeks to conclude investigations.
Parents had told The Associated Press in 2010 that the children were adopted in 1998, but their statement Monday and the commission's inquiry said the 29 children were adopted in 1997.
The HANCI adoption case in Sierra Leone began amid the country's devastating decade-long war that ended in 2002, a conflict dramatized in the film "Blood Diamond."
Rebels burned villages, raped women and turned kidnapped children into drugged teenage fighters. Tens of thousands of civilians died and countless others were left mutilated after rebels cut off body parts with machetes. The U.S. State Department says 134 children were adopted between 1999 and 2003, the year after the war ended.