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The nowhere children

We need a system that finds a family for a child. Today, we only find a child for a family.  

It’s been two years, and Nikhil*, a seven-year-old at Shishu Mandir adoption home in Bengaluru, has not yet had a family come forward to adopt him. There are today close to 10,000 parents-in-waiting with Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) but “no one wants a child with a disability,” says Anand C., CARA director. Nikhil has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, and the new adoption guidelines introduced in July this year are not about to help him find a home either. “He’s growing up and the older he gets the less likely he is to be adopted.”

Adoption in India has gone online, and a democratic “waiting list” system has been put in place. The new system has got some well-deserved applause: the process is transparent and prospective parents, including single parents, are no longer at the mercy of an adoption agency’s whim or veto. In fact, the Missionaries of Charity last month announced that they would stop adoptions altogether rather than give children to single parents.

As controversial as this was, social workers seasoned in the adoption sector will tell you that this is not the biggest tragedy. Rather, it is that three categories of children, who have traditionally struggled to find adoptive homes with Indian families, will continue to struggle, despite the new system. “Children with disabilities, older children, and siblings; they languish in child care centres and the new system could just circumvent them,” says Aloma Lobo, member, Karnataka State Adoption Resource Agency. Adoption agencies, which earlier assumed the role of matching children with families, are now reduced to being just caregivers, and this could work against a significant group of children, she says.

Under the new guidelines, the adoption process works thus: Prospective parents upload their documents on the CARA website and after a home study, get to “select” a child from a set of up to six pictures and medical profiles. The pictures are generated based on the parents’ choices, including gender, age and their willingness to adopt a child with a physical and mental disability. Prospective parents get to meet the child and the adoption (from one of 411 registered agencies) is completed with a court order.

A senior official with CARA admits that “85 per cent of parents we meet want a child without any form of disability and a child who is under two years old.” That leaves a very significant proportion of children outside the pale, with slender hopes of finding homes. “What we need is to find a family for a child. In the new system, we find a child for a family,” says Lobo.

An important interface between the parent and the agency is lost, says Anand. “Now, I can’t counsel prospective parents into considering a child with special needs.” Lobo, who adopted a child with disability, says that her decision was catalysed by “a relationship with the agency” which the online system does not afford. “If someone had come up to me and said ‘Will you adopt a visually impaired child?’ I would have said ‘No’. But it was only because I got to know the agency, and through them understood the child, that I began to see the child and not the disability. Now I just see our daughter.”

Foreign adoptive parents are far more willing to adopt children with a disability or even older children, but the number of foreign adoptions has been dropping dramatically, and this is a phenomenon the new guidelines may not be able entirely to stem. From 629 in 2011, inter-country adoptions fell to 308 the next year when CARA took over the role of liaising with foreign agencies, debarring Indian non-governmental organisations from dealing with them. In 2014-15, just 374 children were placed in inter-country adoptions.

Catherine Cox, an American nurse, who adopted three children with disabilities from India in the 1980s, says there is a need to understand why certain groups of children are not easily adopted in India.

“I do believe that adoption within her own country, with her own language and foods and customs is easier on a child and should be the first option. But when that is not quickly available, especially in the case of disabled children, the search should be broadened. Children with special needs do need the support of a family as quickly as possible.”

The new guidelines are progressive in many ways and empower prospective parents. By relying on a “seniority list” for parents and children, they reduce the scope for corruption in the agencies. In terms of priority, non-resident Indians are now treated on a par with Indians living in India. And the No Objection Certificate process has been simplified for foreign adoptions. “Parents are more appreciative of the new system. They can bring home a child faster. Earlier, they were at the mercy of adoption agencies,” the CARA official says.

But will this help curb the plummeting number of adoptions in the country? Adoptions, for all children in the country, have fallen from 5,964 in 2011-12 to 3,988 in 2014-15. There’s no saying yet if the new guidelines will reverse the trend.

There is another troubling statistic: CARA currently has just 1,500 children registered with it, while even a guesstimate would put the number of children in need of a home several notches higher.

“This can only point to a thriving illegal adoption racket,” says Lorraine Campos, assistant director of children’s home Palna in Delhi. “In Delhi, we find that the number of children coming into homes is dramatically dipping.” Several State governments have begun cracking the whip on illegal adoption, but it still clearly remains big business, she says. “And this can only ever stop by educating people, sensitising parents and perhaps even policing hospitals where children are bought and sold.”

*Name changed to protect identity

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 11:24:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/divya-gandhi-on-the-new-adoption-guidelines-in-india/article7823071.ece

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