By Jonathan Kaminsky
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on Friday signed into law a ban on private custody transfers of children to non-family members without court approval, as concerns rise that children are being put at risk by the practice.
Reuters reported in September that some parents were transferring custody of troubled adopted children to strangers they'd met online, often with no government oversight and sometimes illegally.
Until recently, no laws specifically prohibited the practice, often referred to as "re-homing." It is not clear how frequent the practice occurs.
"It is almost unthinkable, but these sales and transfers of children are actually happening in our state, and this new law will allow us to prosecute these heinous acts to the fullest extent of the law," Jindal said in a statement.
Louisiana is one of a handful states that have sought to address the issue. Wisconsin restricted the advertising and custody transfers of children in April, with similar measures introduced this year by lawmakers in Ohio and Florida.
In a related move, Colorado last month banned the unauthorized advertising of minors for adoptions.
Violation of the Louisiana law can result in up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
A Reuters investigation last year revealed an underground market where desperate parents seek new families for children they adopted but no longer want, and identified eight Internet groups in which members discussed, facilitated or engaged in re-homing.
In a single Yahoo group that the company has since removed from the Internet, a child was offered to strangers on average once a week during a five-year period. At least 70 percent of those children were listed as having been adopted from overseas.
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Ken Wills)