What would you do if this happened to your family?






Imagine this: you are one-half of a long-term couple and you and your partner make the decision to start a family.

After much deliberation and for whatever reason, you decide to adopt from overseas. You know that there are children in the world who are looking for a family. Children who want a family. Children who need a family.

After a rigorous adoption process that likely took years of what felt like endless paperwork, you are successful. For the next fifteen years, you and your partner love, care for and nurture your child. You become a family.

And then, your child’s biological parents appear one day and ask for their child – your child – back.

This is exactly what happened to an Australian couple who had adopted a daughter, Zabeen, from India more than a decade ago – only to discover that Zabeen may have been forcefully and illegally stolen from her biological parents.

Zabeen has lived in Australia for 15 years, since she was three-years-old. But according to her biological family, Zabeen was snatched from her home in Chennai in 1998. Zabeen’s biological family now want the Australian Government to intervene and return their daughter.

The ABC reports:

Image from the 7.30 report. Zabeen's biological mother holds a picture of her daughter.
Image from the 7.30 report. Zabeen’s biological mother holds a picture of her daughter.

For Zabeen’s [biological] mother Fatima, the pain at times has been almost unbearable.

For a long time she assumed her daughter was dead, but it turns out she was alive.

“I received a phone call from the police saying they had found our daughter. The police had arrested the kidnapper,” she said.

The family was told Zabeen had been snatched by criminals, making $5,000 at a time selling children to disreputable adoption agencies.

“I said I want my child back. The policeman said it is not possible because she is in Australia,” Fatima said.

“He told me not to worry, that she is in a good place, Australia is a good place. But I told them that even if it is good, I want my child back.”


Fatima, Zabeen’s biological mother, has been fighting to get her daughter back since 2005. However, her adoptive family – who legally adopted two girls from India – will fight equally as hard to keep her.

Zabeen’s adoptive father has said that he will use “tooth and claw” to keep her in Australia.

“It hasn’t been proven completely that they’ve been stolen, not beyond any doubt,” her adoptive father said.

He says police have never been able to provide clear-cut evidence the girls were stolen.

“When the police inspector phoned, I said to him ‘are you telling me … that you have strong evidence that our girls were stolen?’ And he went very quiet and wouldn’t answer,” he said.

Zabeen’s adoptive mother has said, “We didn’t want to take somebody’s child away … We wanted to make a home for a couple of children that didn’t have a home, that were in orphanages, which our two girls were.”

But however many checks, balances and safegaurds, the adoption industry is, just that: an industry.


It’s a booming business – and it’s a business that is abusing the generosity and good intentions of foreign families.

Tragically, these families are also funding it.

With disreputable organisations going so far as to steal children off the streets for the sake of profit, the broader issue to arise from this case is the worry that Zabeen’s situation is far from isolated. Zabeen may be one of hundreds of children, who have come to Australia this same way.

Arun Dohle, who works for a European non-government group that deals with cases of abducted children, says that he is almost certain there are many more cases like Zabeen’s.

Mr Dohle said: “The police only investigated those cases where the parents had formally filed a complaint of a missing child … I know of many more cases from police reports of that there are many more abducted children but nobody is investigating. They should be investigated.”

The tragedy of Zabeen’s case – and similar cases that may be going unreported and uninvestigated – is that no matter the outcome, a parent will lose their child. Either Zabeen’s biological parents will not have their daughter in their lives; or Zabeen’s adoptive parents, who have cared and loved her for fifteen years, will lose her.

And Zabeen, just a teenage girl, will lose her parents too.

She just doesn’t know which ones yet.

Em and Dave, the hosts of radio show Mamamia Today, discussed this very issue on today’s show. Listen to some of the responses from callers below: