A single mother, accused of selling her 22-month-old daughter to a “wealthy” couple, said she willing gave her child away and was not paid to do so.
The toddler was taken into care on Monday – a day after being handed to her new parents.
Fazla (not her real name), an impoverished 29-year-old single mother who lives on a southern island, told the Maldives Independent that she gave her child to a couple from another island because she thought it was best for the girl.
“I live in poverty… I don’t have the means to raise a child properly. I don’t even have a proper house – we live in a jifuti [small hut], eating one meal and skipping the next,” Fazla said by phone.
“So, I gave my child to a well-to-do couple. But then [the] gender [ministry] and [the] police took my child away.”
Formal adoption is not allowed under Maldivian law. But rules enacted in 2015 allow children to be put into foster care once the would-be foster parents have been thoroughly vetted. However, it is rumoured that putting a child up for “unofficial adoption” has been practised for years.
Fazla lives with her two elder children – a girl aged 12 and a boy aged 10, her mother and a younger sister. Like her mother, she has never been to school and said she knew nothing about human reproduction when she had her first child.
Fazla said the adoptive parents sent a letter to the island’s court to have her child “adopted”, before departing with the girl to their home island on Sunday evening.
The police told local media they were investigating allegations that a Maldivian child had been sold but said nothing more.
Fazla vehemently denied she had sold her child, as reported in the media. She said the adoptive parents felt sorry for her after seeing how she lived and offered MVR30,000 (US$1,950) out of charity.
“I never sold my baby. I gave her away with my full consent. I didn’t ask for anything, not for money, not for anything.
“The couple came to where I live and saw how I lived and they felt sympathetic. It’s human to feel for others [who are] suffering. They felt for me and offered me money, as sadaqah [charity]. It was not in any way related to giving [away] the baby.
“I gave her with my full consent. I don’t know what happened. I have been worrying since I heard the news. I can’t even eat because I don’t know what will happen to her.”
Fazla said the last thing she wanted was for her child to be taken into care.
“I want my baby to be given back to the people I gave her to. If they [the authorities] won’t do that, give her back to me.”
The distraught mother said she only wanted the best for her child, who is now at the centre of a tug-of-war between the adoptive parents and the authorities.
“I am so sad about this… even now. I gave birth to her. I [have] never hit any of my children. I looked after her with love but when such a [rich] family came along, I gave her [away]. But now [the authorities are] dragging her from side to side.”
Fazla said she fears poverty will prevent her remaining children from furthering their education.
“I don’t have the means to give them an education if they, for example, want to be a doctor. Even my two older kids, once they finish grade 10, I can’t afford to give them an education unless it’s a government-funded course.
“So it’s better this way – even if I grieve about it for two or three months. It’s the mother’s responsibility to give the child a good future.”
Fazla said she first heard about the childless couple from a friend.
“A friend told me, ‘There is a couple who can’t have children. Do you want your child to grow up happy and have a good education? You might be sad about it, but if you [are] brave, the child can have a good future’.”
When she met the couple, she said they promised to do everything in their power to ensure the girl was properly cared for and happy.
“The couple said, ‘We don’t have any children. We want to take care of your child and give her a happy life [so] that she won’t be left needing, [so] that she will grow up studying to be a doctor’.”
Fazla said in a shaky voice she had carefully considered the couple’s offer and “thought it was best to do it if it means [it is] good for my child”.
Fazla said she had put another baby up for adoption nearly four years ago and that the child was now living with a family in Malé. The adoption process was officially sanctioned, she claimed.
A man from the island who knows Fazla’s family, corroborated everything she said.
“They are a poor family, probably the most poor family in this island… They live in just a jifuti house on one end of the island,” he said.
The gender ministry declined to comment on the matter.
The police said no one had been arrested but that an investigation was ongoing.