Mother Teresa's Charity Investigated for Child Trafficking

The Catholic charity set up by Mother Teresa in India is being investigated over allegations that it was involved in selling children in its care.

The Indian government has ordered an inspection of all child care centers run by the Missionaries of Charity after two of its employees were arrested over the sale of several children earlier this month, NPR has reported.

The investigation stems from a Missionaries of Charity shelter for pregnant, unmarried women in the city of Ranchi, in the eastern state of Jharkhand. A nun, Sister Koncilia, and a social worker, Anima Indwar, were arrested after four children were found to have been sold, including a 6-month-old boy, for as little as $730. Indwar has confessed to her involvement, and all four children have been tracked down.

Police stand outside a home which provides shelter for pregnant unmarried women run by the Missionaries of Charity in Ranchi, India, on July 4, 2018. A nun and a worker at the facility are accused of selling children from the center. REUTERS/Stringer

According to the Catholic News Agency, police were tipped off to the trafficking by a couple who had paid about $1,760 for a child from the shelter. The couple went to the authorities when Indwar later took the child back without returning the money.

As police continued to follow up on leads and build a case, India's Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi, ordered an immediate inspection of the child care facilities run by the charity across the country.

The charity arranged adoptions from its centers until 2015, when it discontinued the program because it opposed new government legislation that made it easier for single, divorced and separated people to adopt children, the BBC reported.

A spokeswoman for the order said that because it no longer arranged adoptions, the allegations of trafficking were baseless. "There was no question of selling any child, as the Missionaries of Charity had stopped giving children for adoption three years ago," Samita Kumar told Catholic News Agency. Kumar added that even when the charity did organize adoptions, it never charged prospective parents.

A tapestry depicting Mother Teresa at Saint Peter's Basilica during a mass for her canonization in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on September 4, 2016. Her Missionaries of Charity is under investigation for selling babies for adoption at one of its shelters. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

India's adoption network is loosely regulated, contributing to high rates of child trafficking in the country. Gandhi said that as many as 1,400 institutions were failing to comply with India's Juvenile Justice Act in which all shelters involved in adoptions must register with the central state adoption body.

The Missionaries of Charity was founded by Mother Teresa—an Albanian nun named Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu—in the eastern city of Kolkata in 1950. It grew to become one of the most visible charity organizations in the country, particularly caring for the sick and dying. The Vatican declared Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, a saint in 2016.

The nun faced a range of criticisms—notably from writer Christopher Hitchens—over the conduct of her organizations. It is alleged that her order used deathbed baptisms to forcibly convert their patients, and Mother Teresa was accused of glorifying the sick's suffering rather than relieving it. Friendship with controversial figures, including Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, and questions over her management of the charity's funds drew further criticism.