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Regional News

Marshall Islands targets adoption trafficking

MAJURO — The Marshall Islands made its first legal move to stop the flow of illegal adoptions of Marshallese babies in the United States with the filing of criminal trafficking in persons-related charges in Majuro against three Marshall Islanders.

The three charged include two who live in Majuro and one residing in Arkansas, a destination for many pregnant mothers who end up adopting their babies after giving birth in the U.S. state.

An initial appearance in the case was held Thursday before Judge Witten Philippo, who scheduled a preliminary hearing for April 12. At the preliminary hearing, the charges will be argued in detail before a High Court judge. Chief Public Defender Russell Kun is representing the defendants.

Assistant Attorney General Meuton Laiden filed charges in the High Court on March 14 against Justin Aine, 46, Aiti “Hatty” Anidrep, 49, and Sally Abon, 53. Aine lives in Arkansas. The other two are Majuro residents.

Aine was charged with one count each of trafficking in persons, unlawful solicitation and monetary inducement. Anidrep and Abon were both charged with one count each of aiding and abetting and unlawful solicitation.

The Marshall Islands High Court building in Majuro.  Photo courtesy of Giff JohnsonThe Marshall Islands High Court building in Majuro. Photo courtesy of Giff Johnson

The charges relate to the attempted recruitment of a woman from Majuro to provide her baby for adoption in Arkansas.

The adoption industry involving Marshallese babies in the U.S. is big business for attorneys and recruiters in Arkansas, Utah and Hawaii, according to a recent investigative report produced by Honolulu Civil Beat. Using the visa-free access to the U.S. accorded to Marshall Islands passport holders for the purpose of adoption in the U.S. is specifically forbidden by the terms of the Compact of Free Association, the treaty between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands.

The charges say that between October 2017 and January 20, 2018, Aine “recruited, transported or received another person by means of giving payments or benefits” to gain control over another person.

Aine, with the aid of Anidrep and Abon, recruited Susan Koraja (who was pregnant at the time) by giving her $120 cash and the promise of $10,000 in exchange for her child for adoption, said the charges filed in the High Court. The charges say Anidrep and Abon recruited Koraja by visiting her many times while she was in Majuro hospital to deliver her baby, relaying communications from Aine, and assisting her to get travel documents so the baby could be adopted in the U.S.

Aine “promised Susan Koraja that she will receive $10,000 upon her arrival in the U.S. and he will help her family move from Marshall Islands to the U.S. if she gives up her child for adoption,” said the charges.

The court documents provide an affidavit from Marshall Islands Police Department Criminal Investigation Division Sgt. Junior Silk that details the investigation, including Immigration action to interview Koraja and another Marshallese woman, Telma Namto, as they waited for departure at Amata Kabua International Airport in January 2018. After initially telling Marshall Islands authorities that they were going to visit relatives in the U.S., the two women admitted they were traveling with Aine to the U.S. to have their babies adopted. Namto was pregnant at the time. When authorities interviewed.