“Our experience with the adoption process was a long drawn one. Visiting, shortlisting and registering at different CARA mandated orphan homes was a time consuming process. Palna at Civil Lines was the most professional of the lot. However, they were unable to give us a baby for nearly three years as the legal process for declaring a baby fit for adoption was not as much a priority,” says Vivek Kumar, a communication specialist based in New Delhi who adopted a male child a few years ago. Kumar and his wife’s harrowing experience is shared by most men and women in India who want to adopt a child but have to wait endlessly for the files to move. But thanks to Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, things may get brighter for prospective parents trying their luck at adoption.
Through the new adoption guidelines that came into effect from 1 August, Gandhi has made an effort to streamline the adoption process through online monitoring of applications, thus ending the biases against single persons wanting to adopt a child and also ensuring that no speed money is taken by the agencies to clear files.
The Central Adoption Resource Agency has mandated that all agencies that help prospective parents to adopt will have to put their applications online. The submission and assessment of documents too would be done online and the reasons for rejecting an application would have to be revealed. This will leave no opportunity to the agencies to be guided by any whim or prejudice while judging a couple or prospective single parent’s capacity to adopt and foster a child.
Most single men and women in the country have been appalled by the agencies’ recognition of only the hetero-normative family and their inherent aversion to single men and women who want to adopt. But the new laws will bring all the agencies under a central umbrella, and since they would be required to cite the grounds for rejection, it is unlikely that they would be able to sideline a single parent. The Missionaries of Charity (MoC) based in Kolkata have already announced that they would stop their adoption services but not come under a central umbrella that would compel them to hand over children to single parents, as the latter may be a self-admitted or clandestine homosexual, a community which Catholicism does not encourage.
But a couple living in Seychelles, New York, who adopted a girl child from the MoC in 2008 in New Delhi, thought this was an “unfortunate move”. “We have a very soft spot for the Missionaries of Charity as they take wonderful care of the children under them. Their love and affection for the abandoned children is remarkable. But if they have come out with a statement like this, it is really unfortunate. What matters most to children is that they get a parent, they get a home. Whether the parent is single or married is not significant,” said the husband who is an academician and his wife who is a health administrator, requesting anonymity.
The couple, who had acquired US citizenship before they adopted their daughter, said they are happy that the new guidelines have brought the non-residing Indians at par with those living in India. “We live in America but our heritage is in India. It felt bad that we were treated as foreigners. Adoption is a difficult, emotional journey, made more troublesome by the extreme lack of transparency and the long wait in India. We were told by CARA, which had to issue the no-objection certificate for foreign placement of the child, not to contact our agency in the US or the Indian agency. But the culture in India is such that unless you make a phone call or meet the authorities, the files do not move,” the couple said. They had to come and stay in India for six months and only then the adoption process could be completed. “Adoption in India also turns out to be a very expensive process due to the inordinate delays,” the couple said.
Online monitoring will end the money-making activity that many small NGOs and agencies had been doing rather blatantly. “No adoption agency prepared the home study report, which makes an assessment of the prospective parents’ financial means and other circumstances. Whoever had money or the clout would get a favourable report made,” said Anand Duggal, a lawyer whose New Delhi-based Duggal Law Firm has been handling adoption-related cases for several years. He added that there was “no transparency in adoption procedure till now due to lack of online monitoring”.
Also, NGOs help parents bypass the law and quickly adopt a child in exchange for fat pay cheques. “The NGOs are into adoption process for the sake of making money. They have contacts with the IVF centres, and there is a whole racket working. It is nothing but a buying and selling process and unfortunately CARA has no control over this. It has control up to its own jurisdiction only,” Duggal told The Sunday Guardian. Another lawyer in Delhi added, requesting anonymity, “I have experienced NGOs coming to me and saying that they want help regarding child adoption. They ask me to help manage the birth certificates and other paper work, so that all requirement of child adoption are duly fulfilled and children from IVF centres can be handed over to parents who are willing to pay. The payment is decided by the level of the agency, the profile of the parents. The younger the child the fatter is the payment.”
The guidelines mandate that the Central Adoption Resource Information Guidance System (CARINGS), a centralised system that collates the data, will maintain a day-to-day contact with the district level child protection units. This will help end the free run of the small NGOs that have come up in large numbers throughout India. Generally, an adoption petition is filed in court by the adoption agency. The rules stipulate that it should not take more than two hearings to complete the proceedings and that a petition should be disposed of in not more than two months of filing it. But those who have adopted children vouch that practice defies the norms.
“After registration, we had to wait for three years till we got our child. Post adoption, however, the judicial process was handled very efficiently,” Vivek Kumar and his wife told this correspondent.
Before a child is listed for adoption, he/she has to be declared legally free. The District Child Protection Unit is obliged to advertise the particulars and photograph of a child in a state-level newspaper with wide circulation whenever an abandoned child is discovered. This needs to be done in 72 hours and the hunt for his natural parents is to be made sincerely. If the natural parents remain untraced, the local police have to submit a report to that end. Thereafter, the Child Welfare Committee adjudges the child fit for adoption.
But clearly, this turns out to be a long process as the police and the District Child Protection Unit work at ant’s pace..
Not surprisingly, the number of adoptions per year has come down drastically in the recent time. Maneka Gandhi recently expressed outrage at the country’s dismal statistics in adoption. Earlier in February, she pulled up the authorities while addressing a meeting of CARA. “When I joined the government (of Atal Behari Vajpayee) in 2000, the adoption rate was 1,500-1,200 which tumbled to 400-800 per year. In a country which has got 50,000 orphans that can be adopted, it is shameful that the number is 800 to 1,000… and it continues to come down,” she said.
“Documentation is the major problem. The whole procedure is done at a tardy speed seen at the government departments. The system is remarkably slow,” Duggal said. He, however, expressed the hope that with the online process coming into play, the agencies will have to gear up and meet deadlines.
Under the new guidelines, prospective parents are required to upload their documents on the CARA website. Once their home study report is approved, they have the option to select a child from a set of six pictures and medical profiles. The pictures are shown based on the gender and age bracket the parents have chosen and whether or not they are willing to adopt a child with physical or mental disability. They then get to meet the child and the adoption is completed by one of the current 411 registered agencies through a court order.