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Series Reveals Underground Market For 'Re-Homing' Adoptees

In an exhaustive, 18-month investigation, Reuters has detailed a practice in the U.S. of "private re-homing" of unwanted foreign adoptees and allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of guardians.

In the five-part series "The Child Exchange: Inside America's underground market for adopted children," Reuters tracked down several adopted children who it says had been passed from one guardian to another through contacts made on groups on Yahoo and Facebook specializing in such re-homing.

The news agency says:

"[P]arents 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. Often, the children are treated as chattel, and the needs of parents are put ahead of the welfare of the orphans they brought to America. ...

"Reuters analyzed 5,029 posts from a five-year period on one Internet message board, a Yahoo group. On average, a child was advertised for re-homing there once a week. Most of the children ranged in age from 6 to 14 and had been adopted from abroad — from countries such as Russia and China, Ethiopia and Ukraine. The youngest was 10 months old."

The news service says about 70 percent of the children being advertised for re-homing were originally adopted from overseas and that custody was transferred using a simple "power of attorney" document, typically utilized for temporary situations, such as when a child is to be looked after for a short period of time by a trusted relative.

For example, the series says Quita Puchalla, now 21, was first adopted from her native Liberia by Todd and Melissa Puchalla, of Kiel, Wis., who "struggled for more than two years to raise ... the troubled teen." When they gave up, they were able to re-home Quita with Nicole and Calvin Eason of Illinois. Although the Puchallas thought the Easons "seemed wonderful," Melissa Puchalla says she was unaware that Nicole's biological children had been taken away by the state because of neglect and that the couple had been accused of sexual abuse by children they had baby-sat, Reuters said, quoting police records.

Quita Puchalla says she was sexually and physically abused by the Easons and that life in America "turned into a nightmare."

In another related case, Reuters writes, Nicole Eason helped a temporary housemate, Randy Winslow, find a 10-year old boy to adopt. Winslow was later convicted of trading child pornography over the Internet.

The last of the five-part series was published online on Wednesday.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.