MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
After months of heartache, several dozen American families have been allowed to bring their adopted children home from Nepal. The adoptions were already in process last August when the United States suspended Nepalese adoptions. The government was concerned about possible fraud, and the families found themselves suddenly in limbo. Investigations and legal wrangling ensued, and eventually, they were granted visas. But the overall ban remains in place because there is still concern that many of Nepal's orphans may not really be orphans.
Monica Brady-Myerov of WBUR reports.
MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The desire to be a mother was so strong for 45-year-old Dee Dee Milton that she went halfway around the world from Boston to Nepal to try and achieve it.
Ms. DEE DEE MILTON: I tried to adopt through the American foster system here and was not matched with a child and was told they had no idea when I would be matched and if I would ever be matched.
BRADY-MYEROV: In July, Milton was matched with a 4-year-old Nepali girl. Just after Milton landed in Nepal and took custody of her daughter, named Bina, the U.S. closed the program. It says too many children who are reported to be abandoned by their families may actually have been kidnapped or sold into the orphanage system.
Milton and 65 other American families were caught in the middle. Milton ended up living in Nepal and hiring lawyers and investigators to help prove Bina was legitimately abandoned. Milton had to take out a home equity line of credit to afford the delay.
Ms. MILTON: I was on an unpaid leave from my job, so I literally had no funds coming in the entire time I was gone and then came home to unemployment.
Ms. JANICE JACOBS (Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State): We feel for the families.
BRADY-MYEROV: Janice Jacobs is assistant secretary of state for consular affairs. She says while she sympathizes with what Milton went through, Nepal's child adoption system isn't trustworthy.
Ms. JACOBS: They estimate - the NGOs with a lot of on-the-ground experience - estimate that perhaps 10 percent of the children who turn up in orphanages are, in fact, abandoned.
BRADY-MYEROV: That means as many as 90 percent of children in Nepalese orphanages may have been sold by a child trafficker under false pretenses.
Conor Grennan says that happens all the time. He is the founder of the NGO Next Generation Nepal, which has reconnected 400 trafficked children with their families. He says some of the children have been kidnapped. Other children have been sold by their families to brokers, who claim they will educate and care for them.
Mr. CONOR GRENNAN (Next Generation Nepal): And in the worst cases I've seen is that they are actually forging death certificates for families and putting these children up for international adoption. And again, we've seen this.
BRADY-MYEROV: Grennan says the child trade continues because it's lucrative. Orphanages can make $5,000 a child from an international adoption, a lot of money in a country where more than half of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.
(Soundbite of toddler playing)
BRADY-MYEROV: Five months after Dee Dee Milton went to Nepal, Bina got a U.S. visa after a government investigation found no fraud. Now, Bina lives the typical life of an American toddler, attending preschool, visiting her nana and tormenting her cat.
(Soundbite of cat meowing)
Ms. MILTON: And tell her you have to pat the kitty nice.
Ms. MILTON: Tell Monica; she doesn't know.
BRADY-MYEROV: Eventually, U.S. investigators determined there was no fraud in the cases of 65 of the 66 children waiting to be adopted by American families. Only one is still pending, which leads Milton to ask: Where's the fraud?
Ms. MILTON: I mean, the law of averages and the number of cases, that there was absolutely no fraud found?
BRADY-MYEROV: But proving fraud is very hard, says Grennan of Next Generation Nepal. He says the only way is to travel to mountainous villages.
Mr. GRENNAN: There's no roads here. You have to put on a backpack, and you have to walk through the mountains, and you have to get to the village. And you have to say this is where the child is from, are the parents still alive, or are they not? To me, that is the proof.
BRADY-MYEROV: The investigation of Bina Milton and the others was done by a government agency outside Nepal. Jacobs of the State Department says you can't draw conclusions about the adoption system in Nepal from those investigations. She says Nepal will have to make sweeping changes to its child welfare system if the U.S. is to reopen adoption.
Ms. JACOBS: They have to work on a system that builds in better protections for these children, and they also have to find ways to look for domestic solutions.
BRADY-MYEROV: UNICEF estimates there are 650,000 orphans in Nepal.
For NPR News, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov in Boston.