Sadness at Samoan adoption scandal sentencing | Pacific Beat

Sadness at Samoan adoption scandal sentencing

Sadness at Samoan adoption scandal sentencing

Updated 15 February 2012, 14:21 AEDT

It's been one of the saddest stories to come out of the Pacific in recent years.

Between 2002 and 2005, parents in Samoa were tricked by an American adoption agency into giving up their children. The agency then adopted the children out to unsuspecting families in the US, who paid thousands of dollars for them. Despite being found guilty, the four Americans involved in the scam have just avoided jail. The leniency of their sentence has come as a great shock to devastated families in Samoa, which still don't have their children back.

presenter: Kerri Ritchie

Speaker:Keni Lesa, Editor of the Samoa Observer, American adoptive father, Mike Nyberg .

RITCHIE: 81 Samoan children were adopted out by the now defunct American adoption agency Focus on Children. Families in American thought they were taking in orphans.

The Samoan parents had been told their children would be educated in the US but would stay in contact and could return to Samoa when they turned 18. Scott and Karen Banks ran the agency - and told lies which destroyed lives. The couple, along with two others, were sentenced in a court in Utah.

One American woman, who had adopted one of Samoan's stolen children was upset with the result.

WOMAN: We were one of the families that felt that they should have gone to jail, so we're disappointed with that.

RITCHIE: The four Americans were placed on probation for five years - they're banned from having anything to do with adoption for life. They must also contribute to a trust fund to help the Samoan children still in America stay in touch with their birth families.

Post-office boxes will be set up in Samoa so parents can receive letters and photos from the United States. American man Mike Nyberg returned his adopted daughter when he found out she'd been taken from her Samoan parents.

He says it was a heartbreaking decision.

NYBERG: We communicate via telephone. Have to use cellphones in her village. One is with her parents and one is with a son-in-law. Generally when I call and get her father Isaiah, he'll answer the phone and say 'Hello Mike, I love you!' We have built an incredible relationship with her family.

RITCHIE: Mike Nyberg says lessons must be learnt.

NYBERG: Make adoptions more legitimate. So that the adoption agencies will think twice - 'Gee, if I don't do this correctly I could lose my licence to practice adoption'. And I truly believe that the Banks' didn't have illicit intent to begin with. I think they started out as good, honest hardworking people that were doing the right thing, and things just turned bad.

RITCHIE: Keni Lesa is the Editor of the Samoa Observer, which broke the story.

LESA: The investigation has taken a long time and the court process has taken a very, very long time.

He says the families involved, who live in remote villages, will be shocked at the leniency of the sentence.

LESA: The hardest thing about this case is the fact that these guys were misled, and a lot of families feel that way, you now, they feel betrayed. And so I think if they find out that none of these guys is going to jail or not even a fine, they're going to be very disappointed, they're going to be disheartened.

Keni Lesa says there are no winners in this sad story .. but he says it has led to some positive changes.

LESA: The government's stepped back and said hey let's look at the adoption laws and they've tightened them a little bit, in fact a lot, ever since this American adoption came forward, so I guess it's a positive sign of things, you can look at it from our end, that everybody's happy that this has come forward and this has come out and everybody now has that little bit more awareness that they would have had.


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