Zambia acquits Croatians of child trafficking charges: official
Eight Croatians held in Zambia for nearly six months on child trafficking charges were acquitted on Thursday and will return home as soon as possible, the government in Zagreb said.
The group, comprising four couples, were arrested in early December while trying to leave Zambia along with four children from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The eight said they legally adopted the children, who all had Croatian papers.
Potential adopters vastly outnumber those eligible in the Balkan nation, and the case has sparked a fierce public debate on the ethics of adopting from poor and troubled countries.
“The higher court in Ndola acquitted eight Croatian nationals… (as) it was not proved that they have committed the criminal act of child trafficking,” a government statement said.
Neither was it proved that the adoption documents were forged, it said.
The eight and the children will be transferred to Croatia as soon as possible, a minister in Zagreb said.
It was not possible to get an immediate comment from the Ndola tribunal.
After initially being released on bail, the Croatians were arrested for a second time while trying to leave Zambia upon a court order.
The four children were taken away from them in December and handed over to Zambian social welfare services, according to Zagreb.
Neither Croatian diplomats nor their adoptive parents could visit the children.
The Croatians were jointly charged along with a senior Zambian immigration official.
The trafficking charges set off a heated row in Croatia, with the couples accused of trying to “buy children”.
Parents who have already adopted from the DRC were warning they have been stigmatised by the social media storm the case has unleashed.
DRC officials say it has been illegal for foreigners to adopt there since 2017 but that has not stopped many children leaving the conflict-hit country.
Around 100 have been adopted by Croatians over the last decade.