Holt International, the U.S. adoption agency that facilitated the adoption of toddler Sherin Mathews by Indian Americans Wesley and Sini Mathews, has been banned from operating in India following the death of the little girl.
Maneka Gandhi, Minister of India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, took the decision to suspend the agency, which has worked in India since 1979 and facilitated 1,480 India-U.S. adoptions, according to the organization’s Web site. Holt International has been accredited by the U.S. State Department, and also has been accredited for meeting the standards of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
The Hague Convention, which has been ratified by 75 countries – including India – establishes protections for children, birth parents and adoptive parents. Holt International participated in drafting the Hague treaty in the early 1980s. Only agencies meeting Hague Convention standards are allowed to provide international adoption services to the U.S.
Sherin Mathews, a special needs child from Nalanda, Bihar, was adopted in 2016 by the Mathews, who reside in Richardson, Texas. On Oct. 7, Wesley Mathews reported Sherin as missing, initially telling investigators he had placed her outside the home at 3 a.m. in the morning as a punishment for not drinking her milk.
Sherin’s body was found two weeks later – about a half mile from her home – following an exhaustive search by Richardson police and the community. Wesley Mathews then recanted his initial statement and told police he had “assisted” Sherin in drinking her milk and watched her choke to death before placing her body in a culvert near the home. He is in custody on murder and felony child endangerment charges and faces a life sentence.
Sini Mathews told investigators she was sleeping during the time her adoptive daughter initially went missing. She is also in custody on felony child abandonment charges. The Mathews and their biological daughter went out to dinner the previous evening, leaving Sherin at home alone in the kitchen for at least 90 minutes (see earlier India-West story here).
In an e-mail to India-West, Susan Soonkeum Cox, vice president for Policy & External Affairs at Holt International said: “Holt International is profoundly saddened by the tragic death of Sherin Mathews. For more than 40 years, our adoption programs in India have been child-centered, focused on child safety and have upheld the highest ethical standards for children and families.”
“During the Mathews’ adoption process, Holt International, as well as our partner agency in Texas, followed all national and international adoption policies, procedures, laws and best practices.”
“Despite our strong belief that we were in proper compliance with all national and international procedures, in response to Sherin’s death we are reviewing each step of our adoption process and working with all relevant government authorities to determine how we can do even more to protect adopted children,” said Cox.
Indian news sources report that Holt International submitted four follow-up reports to the Child Adoption Resource Authority in India since Sherin’s adoption on July 8, 2016. The reports stated that Sherin was “adjusting well” in her new home and appeared to be “secure and comfortable.”
The reports also noted, however, that she displayed “eating concerns.”
Holt International also conducts several programs for low-income families and children in India. The Ministry did not state whether those programs would be discontinued.