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US agency says it followed all laws, best practices in Sherin adoption

Houston: A non-profit US agency involved in placing Sherin Mathews with an Indian-American family has said it followed all national and international laws and best practices during the adoption process of the 3-year-old Indian-born girl.

The Holt International, now barred from operating in India in the wake of the death of Sherin -- whose body was found in a culvert near her parents' suburban Dallas home in October -- less than a year after she was adopted from an Indian orphanage, also said it is working towards ensuring safe adoption practices.

"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," Susan Soonkeum Cox, vice president of policy and external affairs at Holt International, said.

"We are profoundly saddened by her tragic death," Cox told PTI in an interview.

She said for more than 40 years, the agency's adoption programmes in India have been child-centred, focused on child safety and have upheld the highest ethical standards for children and families.

"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," she said.

The Holt International was recently suspended for "negligence" in its assessment of adoptive parents of Sherin Mathews.

Sherin, adopted by an Indian-American couple in 2016, died in October last year allegedly from choking after her adoptive father "physically assisted" her with drinking milk. Her autopsy report revealed that she died because of "homicidal violence."

India's Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi made the decision to suspend Holt International from operating in India.

According to the agency's website, it has placed more than 1,480 Indian children in adoptive homes since 1979. However, after India's recent decision, the organisation's website says applications for adoptions from India are no longer being accepted.

As several adoptions will be impacted by the decision, the agency said that for the adoptions from India in process, "We've contacted our families in the adoption process from India, and we are working to smoothly transfer each family to another reputable agency."

Following the incident, India's nodal body for adoption Child Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), has made mental well-being of overseas applicants seeking to adopt a child an important criterion for determining their eligibility.

"We are not accepting new applications to adopt from India until the temporary suspension is lifted following CARA's investigation," it said.

Sherin's adoptive parents are in jail.

Sherin's adoptive father, 37-year-old Wesley Mathews was yesterday indicted on a capital murder charge by a grand jury and faces life in prison or the death penalty. He also faces charges of abandoning a child and tampering with evidence. Sherin's foster mother, Sini Mathews was indicted on a charge of abandoning a child. The punishment for that ranges from two to 20 years in prison with a fine up to USD 10,000.

Wesley originally told police that Sherin had disappeared after he put her outside as a punishment for not drinking her milk. Police said he changed his story after her body was found on October 24, saying he removed her body from their home after she choked on her milk. He told authorities that he had put Sherin's body in his car with a bag of trash. Her body was later found in a culvert just miles from her home.

Sini was arrested on a charge of child abandonment or endangerment based on her husband's admission to police that they both took Sherin's sister out to dinner and left the toddler home alone the night before she died.

The couple's biological daughter remains in CPS custody. Their parental rights will be determined in a civil trial scheduled for the end of this month. They can either forfeit their parental rights, or the court will decide to schedule a civil trial to possibly terminate their rights.

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