US official charged with human smuggling and sale of Marshallese children

7:14 pm on 17 October 2019

An elected official in the United States has been charged with human smuggling and the sale of Marshall Islands children.

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Photo: 123rf

The Marshall Islands Government said that Paul Petersen, an elected county assessor in Arizona's Maricopa County, was arrested and charged with various offences in relation to an alleged international adoption scheme.

It said twenty-eight Marshallese women were paid $1,000 per month, with food and transportation covered by Mr Petersen.

The charges against the adoption lawyer, include communications fraud, human smuggling and the sale of a child, and relate top alleged offences in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas.

The Marshalls said it was pleased with recent arrests of adoption lawyers and fixers, and pending cases in US courts.

It said that for years these individuals have solicited unwitting young pregnant women from the Marshalls and other countries into giving away their children in return for cash or tickets to the US.

According to the government, some of these women were promised US$10,000 to put up their unborn children for adoption. For adoptive families, they were charged up to US$35,000 per adoption, according to court documents.

A Compact of Free Association allows entry-free visas for Marshallese traveling to the United States while barring entry for adoption purposes.

"Marshallese women have been induced by people like Petersen and his ilk for too long," said Marshalls President Hilda Heine.

"Although I am happy that the Government of the Marshall Islands, namely the Office of the Attorney-General, was able to provide assistance that led to these convictions, I believe there are other illegal adoption rings out there that must be stopped.

Hilda Heine speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Hilda Heine speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo: Facebook / PresidentOfficeRMI

"I would like to thank relevant Government officials for their help, and Civil Beat for its persistence in keeping this crucial issue on the forefront", the President added.

From August 13 to 16, representatives from the Department of Justice, US Attorney-General's Office (Western District of Arkansas) and from the Utah Attorney-General's Office were in Majuro to talk to Marshallese victims and witnesses of Petersen's scheme.

Pursuant to the Adoptions Act, 2002, international adoptions are allowed only in the Marshall Islands with the RMI High Court having original and exclusive jurisdiction to grant adoption of Marshallese children.