SynopsisAccording to data submitted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to the Supreme Court last year, over 3,600 children have been orphaned between April 1, 2020, and June 5, 2021, alone. However, there are only 2,240 children available for adoption under CARA, as on June 1. Experts say efforts must be made to bring more children into the adoptable pool. “Right now, we don’t have an exact figure of total orphans in the country.
Through thirteen years of marriage, two miscarriages and three IVF cycles, Neha Sharma, 44, is still waiting to be a mother.
Their home study report — which CARA officials prepare after visiting the homes of applicants — was completed in April last year. “We were told that it could take almost three years to complete the process. We are prepared to wait but sometimes we get restive,” says Sharma, who works with a private airline as a member of the ground staff. Age is not quite on their side, they know, and since they have chosen to adopt a child who is under two years old, Sharma hopes she wouldn’t have to wait for too long to start their journey as parents. (The names of the couple have been changed on request.)
The Sharmas are among the 28,216 Indians, as on May 30, who have applied to CARA for a kid—and are waiting. There are also 1,063 foreign applicants. “Our mandate is to promote adoptions within India and regulate intercountry adoptions,” a senior CARA official told ET. “But where are the children?” asks Smriti Gupta, cofounder of Where are India’s Children, an NGO focused on working for abandoned and orphaned children. There is no clear data on the total number of orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children in the country.
According to data submitted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to the Supreme Court last year, over 3,600 children have been orphaned between April 1, 2020, and June 5, 2021, alone. However, there are only 2,240 children available for adoption under CARA, as on June 1. Experts say efforts must be made to bring more children into the adoptable pool. “Right now, we don’t have an exact figure of total orphans in the country.
Many children do not reach orphanages as their extended families do not relinquish the rights over them,” says Priyank Kanungo, chairman, NCPCR.
CARA, which comes under the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), agrees that the children available for adoption are few even as applicants are rising every year.
“All the children admitted to Child Care Institutions (CCIs) are not orphans. There are many children whose parents or guardians have admitted them to CCIs for care and protection. They can’t be declared free for adoption. Abandoned and orphaned kids have to remain in the institution until the formalities are completed before they could be referred to an applicant who wants to adopt them. Then there are fewer takers for older kids and those with special needs,” says a CARA official.
Vatsalya Trust, a specialised adoption agency (SAA) registered with CARA in Mumbai, has 22 children, but only five can be adopted now. They have just received a 15-day-old girl child given away by a single mother. But the child will not be ready for adoption before she turns three months old. “For each child, due diligence has to be followed. An infant has to be at least three months old to be adopted. A mother who has surrendered her child has the right to change her mind in two months.
An orphan takes about a year to become legally free for adoption as the police have to prepare a non-traceable report (of the parents) and advertisements have to be put out in newspapers. To think that all the children at an SAA are available for adoption is wrong,” says Dr Vilas Ainapure who is in charge of Vatsalya Trust, which has seen 1,237 adoptions in its 36 years.
While children in the 0-5 years age group live in SAAs, older kids are in CCIs. There are 479 SAAs and 5,713 CCIs across the country. Children in CCIs have a tough time finding a home as most of the potential parents prefer younger children, especially in the 0-2 years age group.
FEWER & FEWER ADOPTIONS
The number of adoptions through CARA has been declining over the years — from about 4,700 in-country adoptions in 2012-13, the number fell below 4,000 in 2013-14 and was stagnant at around 3,200 from 2015-16 till 2020-21.
In 2021-22, it fell to 2,950. “It is a classic demand and supply issue. In 2014, we had 5,000-6,000 applicants and 3,000-4,000 children; the adoption process used to be completed in six months. Now with greater awareness about legal adoption through CARA and the process going online, more and more people are applying through us. The wait may be long but they know there may be no legal hurdles later,” says the senior CARA official.
Of the 2,240 children who can be adopted, 1,364 are special needs children. In the last three financial years, only 48 special needs children were adopted, which is less than 1% of adoptions in that period. Of the rest of the 876 children, only 178 are under two years.
“More than 80% of applicants want children in this age group,” says the CARA official. “Most Indians do not want to adopt special kids. They want ‘healthy children’ in the 0-2 age group. Most of the older children end up staying at a shelter home till they turn 18.”
Maharashtra has the highest number of applicants — 3,432. But there are only 76 “healthy children” available for adoption in the state. In Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which have 3,376 and 3,363 applicants respectively, there are only 18 and 31 such children up for adoption.
The wait, therefore, gets longer for wannabe parents like the Sharmas. There are two issues here. One, there is a need to sensitise people to adopt older children. Two, children outside institutional care need to be made part of the system or else they would become vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, exploitation and beggary. They should find a home.
Of the total orphaned and abandoned children in the country, only a fraction is under institutional care. Experts point out that the number of children available for adoption will be much higher if unregistered CCIs and children who struggle to survive on the streets are made part of the legal framework.
“If there are close to 6,000 registered CCIs there are an equal number of unregistered ones. This is a big grey area. The situation of the children there is deplorable,” alleges Gupta. CARA says every effort is being made to register all CCIs. “Unregistered CCIs are illegal. We are making every effort to bring all CCIs in the registered fold,” says the CARA official.
“A lot of prospective parents get fed up with waiting and try to get a child through illegal means via nursing homes and touts,” says Nandini Sengupta journalist and author of Babies from the Heart: A Complete Guide to Adoption. “It is true that it takes around three years for in-country applicants and more for foreign applicants,” admits the senior CARA official.
The long wait can take a toll. In April, the Supreme Court admitted a petition by a Mumbai-based charitable trust called The Temple of Learning, seeking the simplification of the adoption process. “Adoption process is not just slow but also complex. The adoption numbers are falling,” says Dr Piyush Saxena, the petitioner.
THE OTHER ADOPTION
“We understand that the number of adoptions through CARA is minuscule. This is because adoptions are happening outside CARA. A lot of these happen under HAMA,” says the senior CARA official. HAMA is the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. While adoption through CARA comes under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, and is open to everyone, only Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists can adopt children under HAMA. The persons giving and taking a child in adoption under HAMA need to simply register a deed. They don’t have to go through CARA.
Officials point out that most adoptions under HAMA are not captured in the total adoption numbers given out by CARA. “We know that many adoptions are happening under HAMA. But it is outside our purview,” says the CARA official. While the Juvenile Justice Act pertains to the WCD ministry, HAMA comes under the ministry of law and justice. “There is no centrally maintained record of total adoptions under HAMA. State governments are supposed to keep the record. We do not maintain it,” says an official of the Union ministry of law and justice. Adoptions under HAMA do not go through the rigorous process that CARA insists on. While CARA does a thorough home study before an adoption and a two-year follow-up, there is no provision for either under HAMA. “With no checks, there is hardly any safeguard for a child adopted under HAMA,” says Supreme Court senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan.
According to sources in the WCD ministry, the government wants to amend the rules of the Juvenile Justice Act to expedite adoption. The proposed amendments include greater scrutiny of CCIs, giving more teeth to the State Adoption Resource Agency (SARA), pre-counselling sessions for applicants as well as zone-specific adoption. “We will match children and parents from similar sociocultural milieu. Under this, clusters of zones of states with similarities will be formed and all efforts will be made to match parents and children in similar clusters (to avoid adjustment issues).”
There is also a need to capture all adoptions happening under HAMA, says Kanungo. “At least, all adoptions under HAMA should be registered so that the numbers reflect total adoptions,” he says.
Should the government go further and bring all adoptions under a single body? “On the one hand we have parents who have completed all the formalities for adoption and are waiting for years and on the other people adopt a child without delay under HAMA. The entire purpose of a centralised adoption agency is lost.
All adoptions should be routed through CARA,” says Supreme Court lawyer Senthil Jagadeesan. Reforms, both baby steps and big strides, are needed to make adoption a less wearying journey for parents-to-be and to help more children find a loving home.
Meanwhile, Neha Sharma is still waiting to bring a child home.
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