Todd and Melissa Puchalla struggled for more than two years to raise Quita, the troubled teenager they’d adopted from Liberia. When they decided to give her up, they found new parents to take her in less than two days — by posting an ad on the Internet.
Nicole and Calvin Eason, an Illinois couple in their 30s, saw the ad and a picture of the smiling 16-year-old. They were eager to take Quita, even though the ad warned she had been diagnosed with severe health and behavioural problems. In emails, Nicole Eason assured Melissa Puchalla that she could handle the girl.
A few weeks later, the handoff took place at Country Aire Mobile Home Park, where the Easons lived in a trailer. No attorneys or child welfare officials came with them. The Puchallas simply signed a notarised statement declaring these virtual strangers to be Quita’s guardians. The visit lasted just a few hours. It was the first and the last time the couples would meet. To Melissa Puchalla, the Easons “seemed wonderful”.
On Quita’s first night with the Easons, her new guardians told her to join them in their bed, Quita says today. Nicole slept naked, she says.
When she arrived in the United States, Quita says, she “was happy.. coming to a nicer place, a safer place. It didn’t turn out that way,” she says today. “It became a nightmare.”
She had been tossed into US’s underground market for adopted children, a loose Internet network where desperate parents seek new homes for kids they regret adopting.
Through Yahoo and Facebook groups, parents and others advertise the unwanted children and then pass them to strangers with little or no government scrutiny, sometimes illegally, a Reuters investigation has found. It is a largely lawless marketplace.
Reuters analysed 5,029 posts from a five-year period on a Yahoo group. On average, a child was advertised once a week. Most children aged from 6 to 14 and had been adopted from countries like Russia and China, Ethiopia and Ukraine.