In a country with millions of orphans, there are only 2,430 children available for adoption while the number of parents desiring to bring home a child is growing rapidly. To address this paradox, a Parliamentary panel has recommended district-level surveys to proactively identify orphaned and abandoned children.
A report recently tabled on “Review of Guardianship and Adoption Laws” in Parliament by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice has said, “it is important to get a true picture of number of children who are orphaned/abandoned through a district-level survey and the data needs to be updated on a regular basis.”
It has suggested that a monthly meeting chaired by the District Magistrate should be held in every district to “ensure that orphan and abandoned children found begging in streets are produced before the Child Welfare Committee and are made available for adoption at the earliest.”
According to the report, there were 27,939 prospective parents registered with the Child Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) as on December 2021, up from nearly 18,000 in 2017. In comparison, though there were a total 6,996 orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children residing in childcare institutions considered adoptable, only 2,430 were declared “legally free” for adoption by Child Welfare Committees. The waiting time for adoption too has increased to three years from one year in the past five years. The total number of children adopted in 2021-2022 was only 3,175.
Experts say the reason there are only 2,430 children found to be legally free for adoption in a country with an estimated 3.1 crore orphans (defined in the report as loss of either or both parent) according to the 2020 Orphan Report of IHH Humanitarian and Social Research Center (INSAMER) is because of the failure to bring more children in need of care into the government’s safety net. And that is why they welcome the suggestion for a district-level survey, but call for a need to exercise caution.
Call for caution
“The point should not be to track more children and put them into adoption, but to not leave children out of the safety net. Such an exercise should not aim to provide more children because so many adoptive parents are waiting, but to identify those genuinely without a family otherwise poor people will have their children snatched away. We have to provide a family for a child, not vice versa,” says child rights and adoption expert Nilima Mehta.
There are 6,525 child care institutions registered under the Juvenile Justice Act as on September 30, 2021, according to the government’s reply in the Lok Sabha. Why then are there only 6,996 identified as adoptable?
A mapping exercise of childcare institutions by the Women and Child Development Ministry in its report in 2018 found that of the total 3.7 lakh children in need of care and protection in these homes, the largest category of children were those who had a single parent at 32% or 1.2 lakh children, while those without any parent were just 11% or 41,730 out of the total.
“Children in CCIs are there for various reasons such as for shelter or protection or care or for whatever reason their family is not able to look after them. These are used by vulnerable families more as hostels or spaces where there is access to education, food, shelter and clothing,” says Dr. Mehta.
Also Read | How to adopt a child legally
Many others may have extended families or grandparents who too may not agree to give up the child for adoption. Then there are other challenges.
“Sometimes children in homes don’t want to go into adoption. Recently, there was a child in 10th class who was doing very well in her studies who didn’t want to move to a new place or school because it was not the right time for her. Some of the older children also don’t want to go to an adoptive family because of their own experience with their biological families. Then, there are disruptions, i.e. when children are adopted but are returned to homes,” explains Sindhu Naik, Member, Karnataka State Council For Child Welfare.
Dr. Mehta says in order to link children to nurturing families there is a need for a paradigm shift that looks beyond “custodial” needs such as food and shelter and focuses on their rights.
“Many children are under parental care, but not optimal care. There are parents abusing their own children or neglecting them. We must have a zero tolerance towards abuse, violence, exploitation and neglect of children and then have an adequate safety net for these children so that they get the help they need. The failure to do so also leads to malpractices, which was why adoptions were centralised in 2015,” she said.