MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberia's government is investigating what it believes were irregularities in the way seven Liberian children were flown to the United States for adoption, a senior official said on Friday.
Deputy Minister for Social Welfare Joseph W. Geebro told Reuters the two private groups involved in organizing the adoption, the Texas-based Addy's Hope Adoption Agency and the Greater Love Children's Home in Liberia, were not formally accredited or licensed in the West African country.
Representatives of Addy's Hope Adoption Agency and the Greater Love Children's Home were not immediately available for comment.
Concern over irregular adoptions of African children has risen following a high-profile case in Chad late last year in which six French aid workers were sentenced to eight years hard labor for trying to illegally fly 103 infants to Europe.
In a diplomatic deal, Chad allowed the six French to be flown back to France to serve equivalent jail terms there.
Geebro said in the Liberian case seven children aged from 11 months to five years were flown on Wednesday to the United States to their adoption families even though a 30-day period requested for checks by his Social Welfare Bureau had not been completed.
"We're not happy over the adoption of the seven children by this (American) group. We think it was not done with the approval of this office," Geebro said, adding he had briefed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on the case.
"The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare requested the U.S. embassy to hold approval of (adoption) visas (for the children) for 30 days until a full investigation was completed," Geebro said. "But this was not done," he added.
Susan Grant, the Liberia country director for the British-based charity Save the Children, said that a local children's NGO had tried to obtain a court injunction to block the departure of the children. "But it was too late," she said.
Concerns over the adoption focused on the circumstances under which the children, some believed to be from northern Nimba province, were handed over by their families for adoption.
Save the Children and other child protection agencies have been working in Liberia and other developing countries to strengthen adoption rules to prevent poor families being lured into giving up their infants for adoption by unregistered or unscrupulous entities or individuals.
Geebro said some children adopted from Liberia had subsequently been found to have been carried away into prostitution or into working as indentured servants.
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher)