Only 1,800 children are legally available for adoption with the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), the country’s Central adoption agency. For these 1,800 children, there is a waiting list of 11,000 prospective adoptive parents. Half of the children available for adoption are with special needs. As the world is celebrating the Adoption Awareness Month in November, The Sunday Guardian approached child rights activist, children’s home authorities and advocates to take stock of the situation. Though India has streamlined its adoption system, utter neglect at the grassroots seems to have derailed the implementation process.

Dinesh Kumar, CARA secretary, said: “The difference between the number of children available for adoption and the number of parents who want to adopt is vast, which is why the process takes too long to complete. Parameters like age, gender, colour etc., are deciding factors for parents who want to adopt a child, but since the pool of children available is small, they have to wait longer to find a child who fits their preferences, which is why the waiting list exists. If the pool of children available for adoption is larger, the process will not be as cumbersome and parents will be able to adopt a child within a matter of few months. The reason why fewer children are available for adoption, though we see so many children on the streets, is because not every street child can be assumed to be an ‘adoptable child’. There is a holistic process through which a child is declared free for adoption; without it, legal adoption cannot take place.”

An “adoptable child” is a surrendered, abandoned or an orphan child who has been declared free for adoption by the court. The process for declaring an abandoned or an orphan child free-for-adoption is slightly different from that of a surrendered child. When a child is reported abandoned or orphaned to an authorised adoption agency, they inform the local police station and the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). The district child protection unit holds the responsibility for tracking the biological parents by advertising in newspapers and through the help of the local police. Once the CWC allows, all the information regarding the child is uploaded on the Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System, which includes the photograph, medical reports as well information about how and where the child came from to the specialised adoption agency. In case the biological parents or legal guardian cannot be traced, the District Child Protection Unit submits a report to the CWC within 30 days from the date of production of the child before the CWC, which then issues an order declaring the abandoned or orphan child as legally free for adoption. In case of a surrendered child, there is no need to find the biological parents since they are the ones giving up the child. However, a period of 60 days is provided to parents to reclaim their child, but once the period has expired, the CWC declares the child free for adoption, after which biological parents cannot claim any right on the child.

The difference between the number of children available for adoption and the number of parents wanting to adopt is vast, which is why the process takes  too long . tocomplete. Parameters like age, gender, colour etc., are deciding factors for parents who want to adopt a child, but since the pool of children available is small, they have to wait longer to find a child who fits their preferences,

Amod Kant, founder of Parayas, a child rights NGO, said, “It is a shame that we don’t have enough children available for adoption, though there are so many children who need families. The whole process has been streamlined and yet so many still suffer because of neglect. Even the best of laws can fail without loyal implementation. This is what has happened here. At the grassroots, child adoption agencies have not been proactive in fulfilling their tasks. They have failed to bring more children under their protection. At times, bypassing the whole process, a child is illegally adopted by parents because somebody charged them extra money and assured them that they will be able to take the child home within a month or two.” A senior official at CARA said, “The whole adoption process does not cost more than Rs 40,000 in India, but some people act as middlemen who get things done fast and charge lakhs. At times, the child who is still listed as available in our list of adoptable children has already been adopted, but we come to know about it later. Court hearings take too long to hand over the child to parents as well as to declare a child free for adoption, though there is a stipulated time given at both the levels.”

According to CARA, on an average, only 3,000 children have been adopted in the past two-three years by domestic parents and 600 by foreigners. It would be interesting to observe that the number of Indian children with special-needs adopted by foreigners is higher than domestic parents. An official at CARA explained, “This is because the foreign nationals who want to adopt come from financially strong backgrounds and live in developed nations where there are numerous provisions for raising a child with special-needs, unlike in India. Also, their culture and perception of adoption is different from Indians. They already have two or three kids and yet opt for adoption. In India, a child with special-needs is seen as a burden.”

Shashank Shekhar, former advocate for Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights and a current Supreme Court lawyer, said, “Hindus, Jains, Sikhs or Buddhists can legally adopt a child under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956 and Indian nationals who are Muslims, Parsis, Christians or Jews are allowed to adopt a child under the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890. Other than this, there is a common adoption policy which was made part of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000, which lays down the process and guidelines for adoption in the country. This proves that we have a policy on adoption and there is nothing wrong with it. But still, we have not been able to rescue our children and give them a home. The law keeps in mind that it is not only about a child being available for adoption, but scrutiny of the family who wants to adopt is equally important to know if the parents are fit for adoption.”

Nilima Mehta, who has been working for the past 40 years on adoption and is a psycho-therapist, said: “A paradigm shift in Indian adoption has been that now the focus is not on finding a child for a family, but on finding a family for the child. The house study conducted once parents apply for adoption and post-adoption follow-up by adoption agencies is a result of that. The other change is that we have witnessed an increase in the number of parents who want to adopt. Earlier, adoption was considered only when a couple was unable to reproduce, but now parents adopt even when they have had their first child. Single parents, too, have started to adopt. The attitude towards adoption has become positive, which is why we have all the more reason to ensure that we bring in more and more children on our adoptable list.”

Speaking about the psychological aspect behind adoption and encouraging people to adopt, Mehta said, “It should be understood that recreation is a biological process, but parenting is a psychological process. Challenges of parenting remain equivalent for an adopted or a biological child, but in case of an adopted child, if anything goes wrong, then parents tend to blame it on adoption. Parents should reveal the truth about adoption to their child as early as possible so that it becomes easier for a child to come to terms. Often children want to look for their biological parents; due to hormonal changes they can feel confused about their identity, but the fact that the adoptive parents took the child and raised them as one of their own plays a huge role in providing a stable childhood that every child deserves.”