Nightly News   |  September 09, 2013

Parents use underground network to hand off unwanted adopted children

The process is called “rehoming” and it happens when parents drop off their unwanted internationally adopted children with other families. Hear one adoptee’s personal tale. NBC’s Kate Snow reports. 

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>>> we are back tonight with a special investigation. it's about adoption, specifically children adopted overseas. americans have adopted nearly a quarter million children from other countries since the late 1990s , the clear majority adopted into loving homes. you are about to hear the disturbing story of what can happen when things go wrong. in partnership with reuters, kate snow discovered a troubling under ground world in which children are passed off with no one watching.

>> reporter: 26-year-old nora gately had polio as a child. at 13 an american couple adopted her.

>> i was the luckiest girl in the world.

>> reporter: she moved to a nice home in the florida keys . within a year, nora says, things fell apart. one day her mother told her she was going on a road trip with her father.

>> i just thought we were going out, just doing a daddy-daughter thing.

>> reporter: he drove her to tennessee, to the home of the schmitz family.

>> he said we'll come back in a couple of years and pick you up. i believed him.

>> reporter: did you ever see him again?

>> no, never. not after two years.

>> reporter: not to this day?

>> not to this day.

>> reporter: she lived with 17 other children, many of whom arrived the same way nora did. their parents had gone on the internet looking to get rid of kids they adopted from overseas. it is called rehoming.

>> this rehoming world is ripe for exploitation.

>> reporter: megan tuie looked at chat rooms where desperate adoptive parents post notes about children they can't care for.

>> she is scared and needs help with worries that make it hard for her to sleep at night.

>> reporter: some messages reference a child's sexuality or say the child was abused.

>> the orphanage had a lack of oh supervision. sex oh offender experts say these advertisements are a predator's dream come true.

>> reporter: this underground network exists with no oversight. laws regarding adoption and guardianship vary from state to state.

>> lots of times the child is transferred to the new family with nothing more than a power of attorney that basically says -- signed by both parties and notarized. there is no government official involved, no child welfare oh officials involved.

>> reporter: the family nora was sent to was abusive. debra schmitz would take her leg punishment away and more than once told her to dig a grave.

>> get out and dig your grave. i don't care if you die. nobody will find you.

>> reporter: when a visiting nurse got suspicious, she gave nora a tape recorder to document what was happening. that led to criminal charges and jail time for schmitz . almost a decade later, nora is speaking out to draw attention to the secret world of rehoming. she's found a new life and loving support from people like sherry.

>> people love me, care about me . they tell me they love me all the time.

>> reporter: there is another side to oh the story from families who find themselves overwhelmed and unprepared for the challenges of international adoption . brian, tomorrow we'll hear from them on "today".

>> glad we are calling attention to it. kate, thanks as