A couple who traveled from California to Ghana to adopt several children found themselves accused of child trafficking and imprisoned in the west African nation. Although a Ghanaian judge had reportedly approved the adoption, police arrested the couple and took the children away. After social media coverage of the arrest and detention led to intervention by U.S. authorities, the couple was released and reunited with the children. Eventually, they were reunited with the children in California. The case illustrates the importance of federal and international laws in many state adoption and child custody cases. As San Diego reportedly continues to experience high human trafficking rates, and the issue receives extensive scrutiny from law enforcement, these laws are critically important to understand.
The Associated Press reported on the arrest of Sol and Christine Moghadam in June 2012. The Irvine couple had two biological children, and they had applied to adopt four siblings from Ghana. They had traveled to Ghana to visit the children and finalize some legal procedures. A judge approved their application and named them the legal guardians of the four children, but they still needed visas from the U.S. State Department. Police reportedly arrested the couple as they were taking all six children to celebrate the judge's order. According to the AP, the police had received an anonymous phone call reporting that the Moghadams had forged the judge's signature on the legal documents, and accusing them of child trafficking.
Police put the couple in a jail cell and took the children to an orphanage, where they remained while the couple was in custody. The Moghadams were not able to contact the U.S. Embassy, but Christine reportedly still had her cell phone with her in the jail cell. She posted an account of what had happened on her Facebook page, and the story spread around the globe within twenty-four hours. U.S. officials intervened on the Moghadams' behalf, and Ghanaian police released them and their two biological children. According to a blog maintained by the Moghadams, the four Ghanaian children were reunited with them in the U.S. in September.
The case demonstrates how much scrutiny the issue of human trafficking has received in recent years. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in January 2012 that the border region, including the San Diego area, has seen a rise in the number of people allegedly trafficked between the U.S. and Mexico. As many as 17,000 people are reportedly moved into the U.S. across the border each year, and the federal government is calling on other nations to assist in efforts to prevent this. Most legislative efforts to fight trafficking, including California’s anti-trafficking laws, relate specifically to the sex trade. Some federal and international laws, however, focus on how trafficking may impact adoption of children between nations, with the goal of preventing “baby selling” operations.
Thomas Huguenor is a divorce and child custody lawyer certified by the State of California. For more than 35 years, he has represented people in San Diego finding their way through the California family law process. Contact us today online or at (858) 458-9500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
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Photo credit: 'Gh-map' by United States Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.