Kampala (AFP) - Authorities in Uganda have raised fears that the east African nation's children are being left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by a staggering increase in unchecked overseas adoptions.
An official report, details of which were published on Tuesday by the New Vision newspaper, said a boom in what it called the "international adoption industry" had led to some children who were not even orphans being taken into care for adoption or child sponsorship schemes.
The report also said there was no system for the government to track adoptions, leaving children at risk of being kidnapped or trafficked.
"There is no assurance that their fundamental rights have been respected and thus abduction, sale or trafficking of children cannot be ruled out," the paper quoted Uganda's Auditor General John Muwanga as saying.
Uganda, one of the world's poorest countries, is home to approximately 2.4 million orphans, about half of whom lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.
A source in Uganda's Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, confirmed that there had been an estimated 400 percent increase in adoptions from 2006 to 2013.
The report said the boom in adoptions had led to a "rapidly increasing number of baby and children homes", with more than 500 such institutions now operating in the country.
"These homes have been reported to be removing children from families and communities and placing them into institutional settings and gradually exploiting these children for economic reasons through child sponsorship schemes," it said.
A child rights activist, who asked not to be named, said the report was "very welcome", but that the concerns spelt out alluded to just a small part of the problem.
- 'Criminal activities' -
"The report fails to recognise the criminal, intimidating and unethical activities that are being carried out by lawyers, orphanages and adoption agencies to ensure that children continue to be made available for international adoption rather than be resettled with their own families or placed into families in-country," he said.
"I wish the report had gone further and exposed some of these practises, such as lawyers presenting fake documents in court or the lawyers constantly hassling and intimidating probation officers to write favourable adoption reports," he added.
In 2012 the Addis Ababa-based African Child Policy Forum described Africa as "new frontier for inter-country adoption" after countries including China, Russia, Romania and Ukraine tightened their rules on overseas adoption.
Uganda, like most African nations, is not party to the Hague Convention -- which provides safeguards to ensure children are not adopted illegally.