COVID orphans face adoption issues
- Posted By
Polity & Governance
19th May, 2021
The second wave of COVID-19 has left many children extremely vulnerable, particularly those who have been orphaned. However, the issue becomes challenging as it could lead to increase in child trafficking.
- As India battles a raging second wave, cases of children losing their parents to Covid-19 are also mounting.
- While some have lost both their parents and have no one to look after them, others are in a situation where a single surviving parent is unable to take care of them financially and psychologically.
- Several calls for adoption of these children have been circulating on social media. But activists warn that such routes can be detrimental to the welfare of children.
- Child rights experts have voiced concern against such social media messages, and claimed that they could be tricks by trafficking gangs to expand their pool of clients and targets, and subject unsuspecting children to violence and abuse, thus encroaching upon their basic rights.
- In such cases, it is the first responsibility of the State to ensure that legal procedures for adoption and claiming guardianship are followed.
What is the status of adoption in India?
- Every year, around 4,000 children are formally adopted from adoption agencies across India, regulated by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) – the central government’s nodal agency for adoptions.
- According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), India has 6million orphaned and abandoned children.
- SOS Children Villageconducted a study in 2011 and concluded that the former category equals 4% of India’s child population.
- However, in disconcerting figuresprovided by Childline India Foundation (CIF) supported by the women and child development ministry showed that in 2017, of these 30 million children (which is most likely an under-reported figure), there were only 470,000 children in institutionalised care.
- And of these roughly half a million children, only a fraction finds its way into family care because adoption rates in India are abysmally low.
- This means that there needs to be a huge readjustment in the government’s focus on child development because currently millions of children are being wasted and denied a future of opportunities to realise themselves.
What is the legal procedure of adoption in India?
- Adoption is covered under the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 (JJ Act, standing amended in 2021).
- Pillars: It is a legal process which stands on five pillars –
- identification of the “child in need of care and protection
- inquiry by authorities on the case and awarding of temporary/permanent custody
- declaration of being “legally adoptable” post inquiry
- adoption procedure under the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) Act
- follow up for the child’s welfare under the Act
- This due process exists for protection of children from trafficking and child labour (their fundamental rights under Article 23 and 24 of the Indian Constitution respectively and envisioned under the Directive Principles under article 39 (e)).
Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA)
- CARA is a statutory body of Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India.
- It functions as the nodal body for adoption of Indian children and is mandated to monitor and regulate in-country and inter-country adoptions.
- CARA is designated as the Central Authority to deal with inter-country adoptions in accordance with the provisions of the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption, 1993, ratified by Government of India in 2003.
- CARA primarily deals with adoption of orphan, abandoned and surrendered children through its associated /recognized adoption agencies
What is Juvenile Justice Act?
- The Juvenile Justice Act mandates every individual to report a case of orphaned child in their knowledge to the Childline Service (by calling 1098) or relevant authority (police station/Child Welfare Committee/District Child Protection Unit) within 24 hours.
- Once identified, the Act provides the procedure and power to be yielded by the Child Welfare Committee to both provide guardianship of the kids as well as to declare them fit to be adopted.
- The Act necessitates the state government to constitute 5-member Child Welfare Committees in each district.
- The Committee after a social investigation and ensuring that the child is in need of care and protection, places the orphaned child temporarily or permanently in children’s homes, specialised adoption agencies (if under the age of 6), foster care or under sponsorship.
- The committee also declares within a period of two months whether it finds the child free for adoption.
- Once deemed fit for adoption, the child shall be matched with a Prospective Adoptive Parent (PAP) registered with CARA.
- It is important to note that the age difference between the adoptee and the adopter must be above 25 years.
Who can adopt?
As per the Adoption Regulations 2017 and in accordance with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Development:
- The prospective adoptive parents (PAP) “should be physically, mentally and emotionally stable, financially capable and shall not have any life-threatening medical condition.”
- A person can adopt irrespective of their marital status and whether or not he or she has a biological son or daughter.
- A single female can adopt a child of any gender but a single male shall not be eligible to adopt a girl child. In case of a married couple, both spouses should give their consent for adoption.
- No child can be given in adoption to a couple unless they have at least two years of stable marital relationship.
- Couples with three or more children shall not be considered for adoption “except in case of special need children”, “hard to place children” and in case of “relative adoption and adoption by step-parent”.
Apart from resident and non-resident Indians, even overseas citizens of India and foreign parents can adopt children from the country.
What are the bottlenecks in the process?
- Limited success: Though the due process is important to ensure that the children do not fall under the fangs of trafficking. However, with an objective of “ensuring that every orphan has a loving and caring family”, the Act seems to have had limited success.
- The proof of the pudding is in the eating. India had 5,693 adoptions in 2010 which declined to 3,351 in 2020.
- This while PAPs wait 18-24 months for being matched with a baby.
- Identification issues: The biggest issue seems to be in identification. In 2018, only 0.5 million children out of the 30 million (UNICEF estimate) orphaned and abandoned children were under institutional care.
- Inaccurate data on availability of adoptee: Also, out of these 0.5 million children under care, only about 2,000 children are registered every year with CARA for availability for adoption due to non-compliance of children’s homes to register with CARA.
- Lack of focus on older children: Furthermore, PAPs are inclined to adopt infants and not older children.
What about child shelters?
- It is a common misperception that child shelters are a better option to care for an orphaned child.
- While it is true many child shelters do a good job of taking care of kids in need, it is also a sad fact that most of them will never assess the children under their care for adoption.
- Where Are India’s Children conducted a survey in 2019-2020, and found that most shelters keep the children indefinitely, surviving on donations from the public until they are old enough to fend for themselves.
- While this fate is better than being abandoned on the streets, the child does not receive the same care, attention and sense of belonging that parents can give, has less chances of a good education and a stable future, and can be susceptible to abuse and trafficking.
- The shelters are also suffering during COVID, with workers not able to attend to the children and donations on the wane.
What are the reasons for low levels of adoption in India?
- Lack of children in adoption pool: There are not enough children available for adoption because the ratio of abandoned children to children in institutionalized care is lopsided.
- Parent-centric approach: The approach to adoption, currently, is very parent-centric, but parents need to make it child-centric.
- Chicken and egg situation: The second part of the problem is a chicken and egg situation. Most Indians have a skewed perception of adoption as they want “their genes, blood and lineage in their child. And this mindset needs to change because children ultimately do not belong to parents.
- Age issues: Most Indian parents also want a child between zero- and two-years-old, because they believe the parent-child bond is created during infancy.
Recent Government efforts
Procedure for rehabilitation of children
- The government has laid down the procedure for rehabilitation of children who have lost their parents to Covid-19.
- In a public notice, the ministry of women and child development said people must refrain from engaging in or encouraging actions which are in contravention of legal provisions.
- The ministry also made it clear that any person who wants to adopt an orphan child may approach Central Adoption Resource Authorityfor “lawful adoptions”.
SAMVEDNA (Sensitizing Action on Mental Health Vulnerability through Emotional Development and Necessary Acceptance)
- With an objective of providing psychological and emotional support to children affected during Covid-19 Pandemic, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is providing Tele-Counselling to children through SAMVEDNA (Sensitizing Action on Mental Health Vulnerability through Emotional Development and Necessary Acceptance).
India is one of the youngest countries in the world. The country is further projected that till 2050, half of the world’s population growth will come from nine countries including India.
Also for any country, children are the future capital, an asset. They need to be nurtured if the demographic dividend is to be truly reaped. Therefore, the government needs to stop placing a blur filter on the millions orphaned and abandoned children and bring them into focus by urgently realigning its childcare policies.