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TikTok reunites twin sisters who were sold soon after birth: A sordid saga of child trafficking in Georgia

Elene and Anna, now 19, began uncovering their hidden past two years ago. “We became friends without suspecting we might be sisters, but both of us felt there was some special bond between us,” Elene, a psychology student, said.

Georgian student Elene Deisadze was browsing TikTok when she stumbled upon the profile of Anna Panchulidze, a girl who looked exactly like her. Months later, after chatting and becoming friends, they both discovered separately that they were adopted. Last year, they decided to take a DNA test, revealing they were not only related but identical twins.

“I had a happy childhood, but now my entire past felt like a deception,” Anna, an English student at university, said.

The sisters are among tens of thousands of Georgian children who were illegally sold in a decades-long baby trafficking scandal. Uncovered by journalists and families searching for lost relatives, the scheme saw babies stolen from their mothers, who were often told their children had died, and then sold to adoptive parents in Georgia and abroad.

Journalists found that the illegal adoptions took place more than 50 years, orchestrated by a network of maternity hospitals, nurseries, and adoption agencies that colluded to take the children from their parents, falsify birth records, and place them with new families in exchange for cash.

Elene and Anna, now 19, began uncovering their hidden past two years ago. “We became friends without suspecting we might be sisters, but both of us felt there was some special bond between us,” Elene, a psychology student, said.

Last summer, both of their parents independently revealed to the girls that they had been adopted—revelations they had long planned to make. It was then that the pair decided to take the genetic test that revealed they were identical twins.

“I struggled to process the information, to accept the new reality—the people who had raised me for 18 years are not my parents,” said Anna. “But I feel no anger whatsoever, only immense gratitude to the people who raised me, and joy at finding my flesh and blood.”

The DNA test for Elene and Anna was arranged with the help of Georgian journalist Tamuna Museridze, who runs a Facebook group dedicated to reuniting babies stolen from their parents. The group has over 200,000 members, including mothers who were told by hospital staff that their babies had died shortly after being born, only to discover years later that their children might be alive. Museridze set up the group in 2021 to find her own family after learning she had been adopted. She soon uncovered the mass baby-selling operation.

“Mothers were told their babies had died shortly after birth and were buried at a hospital cemetery,” Museridze said. “In fact, hospitals had no cemeteries, and babies were being secretly whisked away and sold to adoptive parents.”

New parents were often unaware the adoptions were illegal and were told fabricated stories about the circumstances. “Some people, however, consciously chose to circumvent the law and buy a baby” to avoid decade-long waiting lists, Museridze told AFP. She has evidence that at least 120,000 babies were “stolen from their parents and sold” between 1950 and 2006, when anti-trafficking measures by reformist president Mikheil Saakashvili eventually quashed the scheme.

In Georgia, new parents would pay the equivalent of many months’ salary to arrange the adoption, while babies trafficked abroad were sold for up to $30,000, Museridze said.

Elene’s adoptive mother, Lia Korkotadze, decided with her husband to adopt after learning they couldn’t have children a year into their marriage. “But adopting from an orphanage seemed virtually impossible due to incredibly long waiting lists,” the 61-year-old economist said.

In 2005, an acquaintance told her about a six-month-old baby available for adoption from a local hospital—for a fee. Korkotadze said she “realized that was my chance,” and agreed. “They brought Elene right to my house,” Korkotadze said, never suspecting there was “anything illegal.” “It took months of excruciating bureaucratic delays to formalize the adoption through court,” she said.

The story of Anna and Elene mirrors that of another set of twin sisters, Anna Sartania and Tako Khvitia. They were separated at birth and sold to different parents, reuniting years later after finding each other on social media.

More than 800 families have been reunited thanks to Museridze’s Facebook group. Successive Georgian governments have made multiple attempts to investigate the scheme and have made a handful of arrests over the last 20 years. Interior Ministry spokesman Tato Kuchava told AFP that an “investigation is underway” into Museridze’s revelations but declined to provide further details. Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said last week in parliament that Tbilisi is among the world leaders in combating trafficking.

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I am an experienced writer, analyst, and author. My exposure in English journalism spans more than 28 years. In the past, I have been working with daily The Muslim (Lahore Bureau), daily Business Recorder (Lahore/Islamabad Bureaus), Daily Times, Islamabad, daily The Nation (Lahore and Karachi). With daily The Nation, I have served as Resident Editor, Karachi. Since 2009, I have been working as a Freelance Writer/Editor for American organizations.

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