Flaws in system: Despite demand, number of adoptions dips steadily
Sunita always wanted to adopt a child, but she learned recently that adoption isn’t easy in India.
First, the thirty-five-year old (who would only speak on record with the use of a pseudonym) had to convince her family, who wanted her to give birth to her own baby. “It is a matter of principle,” Sunita said. “There are so many children who are orphaned or abandoned.”
After Sunita registered on the website of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (Cara) in February, she discovered that it was difficult for her to convince even the official adoption system.
The person who conducted her home study report, which checks on prospective parents, told her that “most of the children who are given for adoption are abandoned and scarred for life”, that she shouldn’t adopt a child from the northeast because they have “skin problems”, and that if she were capable of having a biological child, she shouldn’t adopt at all.
Such cultural and administrative challenges are widespread. Still, the demand for adopting children is rapidly rising in India. The number of Indian adults registered with Cara has more than doubled in under a year’s time, from 7,000 last July to 15,200 this May, said Lt Col Deepak Kumar, the chief executive of the organisation. There are also about 700 foreigners registered from abroad.
Yet as the demand for adoption has increased, the number of adoptions has more or less steadily dipped. According to figures available on the Cara website, there were 5,964 in-country adoptions * between January 2011 to March 2012 and only 3,210 from April 2016 to March 2017.
The number of babies available for adoption can’t keep up with the number of prospective parents. “We are placing kids at the rate of about 300 a month, but we are receiving registrations at the rate of 1,000 a month,” said Kumar.
The explanation, he suggested, lies partly in the fact that adoption figures are dwindling globally, something Kumar attributes to birth control being more widely used and there being less of a taboo against unwed mothers. Both these trends result, he said, in fewer babies being abandoned or surrendered for adoption.
In India specifically, there are flaws in the system that prevent some babies who should be legally available for adoption from ever coming to the attention of Cara.
Under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, a law that reformed the adoption system and gave Cara greater powers, district child welfare committees are required to see all children within 24 hours of their being abandoned or orphaned. “But not all abandoned children reach the child welfare committee,” said Kumar. “The awareness about the law is low.” KS Dubey, the director of adoption for SOS Children’s Villages, agreed: “Many families in rural areas are not aware of legal adoption procedures or don’t like to follow the legal procedure.”
Lack of proper infrastructure is another reason Cara does not always learn of adoptable babies. Kumar said that many districts lack an authorised adoption agency even though they are legally mandated. He added that many childcare centres are not registered with child welfare committees, which means that babies who end up in them cannot be accounted for by the government.
Trafficking, illegal adoptions, and legal alternatives pose similar problems for Cara. Kumar said that many people still use the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Law of 1956, which allows Hindus to give or adopt a baby privately without the involvement of an adoption agency.
Cara is trying to make itself more appealing. Earlier this year, it instituted a new system that Kumar expects to cut down the wait period for prospective parents and guarantee them more options. In the past, parents were told about one to three adoptable children at a time depending on availability, said Kumar. Parents who rejected their choices lost their place in the order of priority. Now they are being ensured one option every three months over a nine-month span.
“We are able to reach out to more prospective parents at the same time with the available pool of children,” said Kumar.
But Cara seems not to have solved all the problems it set out to. One oft-repeated grouse against the earlier system was that those with purse power either got a baby sooner or received a wider selection of children to choose from.
Cara intended to make the system more transparent. “But the person who came to do our home study report asked for 6,000 rupees to do so. And he wouldn’t accept a cheque for it or a bank draft. He wanted cash,” said Sunita. “When we repeatedly asked him whether this was part of the fees for the adoption procedure and demanded a bill, he confessed that he wanted it for himself and told us such a sob story about life and expenses that we felt compelled to give him the money. We did not think of reporting it to Cara because we were afraid that it might result in us getting a bad report.”
Even now, Sunita is not really bothered about the money that she paid. Having worn down resistance from both her family and the system, and having put her paperwork all in order, she is now eagerly waiting to bring a baby home.
“Every evening I check how far I have progressed in the waiting queue,” she said. “I have been told that at the rate at which I am progressing, I should have my baby in nine months.” Even a pregnancy would have required that much of a wait.