After Bangladesh won its independence in 1971, there arose an issue regarding 'unwanted' babies left behind by their birth mothers. Since their biological fathers were Pakistani military officers who left after raping their mothers, a 350-year-old former Portuguese monastery situated at Islampur Road in the old part of Dhaka took responsibility.
This was done to encourage rape victims to come to the orphanage grounds in confidence, so that both the mother and the baby could be saved. Between October 1971 and September 1972, war babies born in Bangladesh were thought to have "badness" in their blood, so their mothers gave up a record number of these babies.
The then-Bangabandhu government asked International Social Service (ISS), a Canadian adoption agency, to do a study on inter-country adoption, because it understood the stigma attached to the idea of illegitimacy in relation to the adoption of war babies and their special needs.
On 27 March 1972, the International Social Service (ISS) put out a report called "Inter-Country Adoption: A Solution for Some Children in Bangladesh" following which Bangladesh Abandoned Children (Special Provisions) Order, 1972, was drafted.
Parents who wanted to adopt war babies from Bangladesh had to go through a home assessment and interview with their local Children's Aid Societies (CAD). Another organisation named 'The Children Welfare Branch' then sent them to the Canadian office of the International Social Service (ISS).
FC), a non-profit organisation started by Fred and Bonnie Cappuccino and based in Montreal,Quebec, pushed for the adoption process. On 5 April 1972, the couple met with Professor Muazzam Hussain of the University of Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Quebec, to talk about their plan, later called the "Bangladesh Project," for several war babies to make their way to Canada.
But the Ontario provincial government said that Cappuccinos' proposed initiative didn't consider local adoption and race, even though the federal government had been interested in the adoption from the very beginning.
Sandra Simpson tried to adopt a war baby from Bangladesh through the Bangladesh Project. On 3 June 1972, she was responsible for jamming the phone lines of the Minister of Community and Social Services for the Government of Ontario. Several reporters took part in it, and they irritated the ministry staff by asking tough questions about why the government was taking so long to do "home studies" for applicants.
To that end, Reverend Fred, Bonnie Cappuccino and Elisabeth Mowling left Canada on 28 June 1972, to go to Bangladesh. Shikha Deepa Margaret Cappuccino was about three months old when the Cappuccino couple adopted her as their tenth child. She grew up, works in Child Haven International (a charity run by her parents) from time to time, and has two daughters named Katarina and Karma.
Katarina visited Bangladesh with her grandmother Bonnie Cappuccino in 2015. At the Liberation museum, she shared her thoughts about Bangladesh and wondered about what her mother's life would have been like if she hadn't been adopted. She was surprised to find out that young Bangladeshis knew about this part of their history and were trying to heal the rifts it caused and restore the dignity of women and children who had been treated badly. Katarina and Bonnie also went to Chittagong to see the Child Haven home.
Making the necessary arrangements for a few of the war babies from Bangladesh – who were on the verge of misery and a life without a home – and finding them a home in the loving arms of Canadian families is without a doubt an example of how human values can be passed from family to nation. This increases people's hopes of living in a world where love and compassion for humanity are known and practised.
The brave work of the FFC volunteers made it possible for children of different races to be adopted in Canada. This work became an integral part of the history of international and interracial adoption and gave it a new dimension; making it a permanent part of the Canadian adoption scene.
Nusieba Jahan is an LLM Student at the Bangladesh University of Professionals and a contractual research assistant at the Center for the Study of Genocide and Justice, Liberation War Museum.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.