For adoption, the centrality of due process
The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India has created unprecedented chaos, upended health systems, and claimed an inordinate number of lives. The trajectory of new infections may be ebbing, but it has taken a severe toll on the most vulnerable cohort — children.
All children have the right to protection, to survive, to belong, be heard and receive care in a safe and healthy environment. Their parents are their first line of protection. Today, thousands of children have been orphaned with the virus claiming the lives of their parents. Many of them have no family and, therefore, no protection.
According to figures given out by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, 3,621 children were orphaned and 274 abandoned between April 1, 2021 to June 5, 2021. Many among them may not have close relatives or their extended families may be unwilling or incapable of taking them in.
Almost anyone who has a smartphone has received WhatsApp messages, describing horror stories of young children orphaned by Covid-19, seeking their “adoption”. Such messages, howsoever well-intentioned, are both irresponsible and illegal. These orphaned children are more susceptible than ever and vulnerable to traffickers or criminals, thanks to people trying to help without following due process.
There is a lack of knowledge about legal adoption procedures among the public. Pop culture narratives from popular media vehicles erroneously suggest that one can go into an orphanage and pick up a child. The proper procedure entails that these children enter the legal adoption pool, which is critical not only for their well-being but also for the legal protection of the family unit formed through adoption. If the process is not completed legally, the child could be separated from the adoptive parents, and the parents could even be imprisoned for child trafficking.
There is a solid legal route for adoption in India. To help a child get to an adoptive family, concerned citizens can call Childline at 1098, or contact the local police to report a child who has been abandoned or orphaned. They can also take the child to the nearest Specialised Adoption Agency (SAA), which is a children’s shelter authorised to carry out the adoption process. One can locate the nearest SAA by going to the website of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA).
It is a common misperception that child shelters not linked with CARA are a better option for an orphaned child. All children shelters are not authorised to carry out adoptions, but as per the Juvenile Justice Act (2015), they must necessarily facilitate these. Many child shelters do a good job of taking care of their wards but several do not assess them for adoption.
A recent study conducted by child welfare NGO, Where Are India’s Children? , revealed that most shelters keep the children indefinitely, surviving on donations from the public until they are old enough to fend for themselves. While this may be better than being abandoned on the streets, the child does not receive the same care, education, a chance for a stable future, and a sense of belonging that adoptive parents can give. So, it is imperative that children in shelters are assessed for legal adoption within one month of admission.
Therefore, the importance of children reaching an SAA cannot be emphasised enough. After a child reaches an SAA, the child welfare committee steps in to enquire if the child has any relatives willing to take care of her before declaring her legally free for adoption. There are currently more than 30,000 parents willing and waiting to adopt children of any age, siblings, and children with special needs, who have been vetted and found suitable by CARA. Orphaned children must be adopted by these approved families. Let us restore the right to protection for our children who have lost their caregivers to Covid.
Smriti Gupta is a child rights campaigner, an adoptive mother of two daughters and co-founder of Where Are India’s Children? Payal S Kapoor is associate professor, FORE School of Management, New Delhi
The views expressed are personal