Why are adoption rates so low in India where thousands of children live in child care institutions?

Only 3,559 children were placed for adoption with families living in India and abroad in 2020-21

Only 3,559 children were placed for adoption with families living in India and abroad in 2020-21

In the summer of 2019, Vinay Raj* and his wife Kanika gathered family and friends to announce the most important decision they had made in their eight years of marriage: they were going to adopt a baby girl. They had registered on the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) website in April of that year, and the home survey report was approved within a month. The couple, based in New Delhi , they were told they could bring the baby home in a year. The prospect of adopting a baby soothes the trauma of the miscarriage Kanika has just suffered. The couple pulled out all the stops: “We bought little blankets and baby clothes, stuffed animals and books,” says Vinay.

And then began the wait. It has now been three years and CARA has yet to refer the couple a child. “We almost lost hope,” Vinay said. “It was emotionally draining.” To make matters worse, there has also been no news from the adoption authority. “Nobody picks up the phone, and when we meet them, they blame the pandemic for the delay. But now they have no excuse,” he says. The process was so drawn-out and the emotional toll so heavy that Vinay and Kanika changed their minds about adopting a second child.

Bhuwaneshwari Chandrashekharan, speaker in Kuwait, should wait months, not years

Bhuwaneshwari Chandrashekharan, Lecturer in Kuwait, Should Wait Months, Not Years | Photo credit: Getty Images

For Bhuwaneshwari Chandrashekharan, a lecturer in Kuwait, the endless wait for adoption meant putting the brakes on a promising career change. She had registered with CARA in February 2019 and expected to wait months, not years. Two years ago, Bhuwaneshwari, a specialist in organic chemistry, applied for a PhD in Canada and planned to eventually move to this country. “But I had no choice but to stay in Kuwait; this is the address I registered with CARA with,” she says. The wait was hard. “I don’t know where to turn. I’m blindfolded,” says Bhuwaneshwari, who continues to attend pre-adoption workshops in anticipation of bringing a baby home.

behind the numbers

The backstory to Vinay and Bhuwaneshwari’s predicament lies in CARA statistics: while some 28,000 prospective parents have currently registered to adopt, less than a tenth of the number of children – 2,200 – are legally free. to adopt. In theory, there should be many more. There are, after all, a staggering number of orphaned or abandoned children living in child care institutions (ICCs) in this country, from where they can be considered legally free to adopt and therefore bonded to adoption agencies. In 2020, as many as 2,27,518 children were living in ICCs, according to UNICEF figures. Of these, 1,45,788 have been reunited with their biological families following a Supreme Court directive as a precaution against the pandemic. But that still leaves tens of thousands of children languishing in institutions, only a fraction of whom make it to the legal adoption pool and ultimately adoptive parents. In 2020-2021, for example, only 3,559 children were placed for adoption with families living in India and abroad, according to data from CARA.

Only a fraction of children living in CCIs reach the pool of legal adoption and possibly the adoptive parents

Only a fraction of children living in CCIs reach the pool of legal adoption and possibly the adoptive parents

The journey of orphaned or abandoned children, from the day they are found until the day they are placed in an adoptive home, is long and rigorous. First, they must be brought before the District Child Welfare Committee and placed in a CCI under the Juvenile Justice Act 2015. An effort is then made to trace their immediate or extended families and reunite them ; if this fails, the child protection committee, a quasi-judicial body, must declare the child legally free for adoption. The district child protection unit connects them to an adoption agency and the child is registered with CARA. A medical report is drawn up and the child is then matched with an intended parent after a home study is undertaken by CARA authorities.

Reforms needed

In October last year, a group of over 300 prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents wrote to the Minister for Women and Child Development about the reforms needed to bring more children from the CCIs into the pool. of adoption. They pointed to the disproportionate waiting time: some of these future parents had registered with the CARA as early as 2018. They called for “processes to ensure that [child welfare committees] bring all possible children into the legal adoption pool and ensure children are not stuck in CCIs. The letter spoke of the emotional and financial impact on adoptive families, adding that “ultimately the concern is for the welfare of orphaned, abandoned or abandoned children who do not find a place in the system.”

The pandemic has only lengthened the waiting time as the process is blocked at every step

The pandemic has only lengthened the waiting time as the process is blocked at every stage | Photo credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

These men and women had come together under the Adoption Action Group, formed by Bengaluru-based journalist and adoptive mother Parul Aggarwal. It took two and a half years before she could bring her son home. “I thought it was fair to be vetted as an adoptive parent and go through the rigorous process. But after a year, I realized the delays were systemic,” she says. only lengthened the waiting time as the process is blocked at every step.” Medical reports could not be prepared due to shortage of doctors, parents could not travel to meet the child , home surveys could not take place.” For Parul, adoption was the first choice: “I did not think about it. It was the only way I wanted to create a family. “The unpredictability of the process and the nearly three-year wait was exhausting for Parul. “Instead of the system helping me exercise my choice, it was simply indifferent.” Given CARA’s complete lack of communication, Parul s relied on community adoption groups for support and information.

“Most Desired”

A CARA representative, who does not want to be named, attributes the delay to numbers. “I can understand the frustration of parents, but right now there are far more parents waiting than children in adoption agencies. If the kids don’t get into the system, what are we supposed to do? Moreover, he says, among the children available for adoption, the most sought-after category – children between 0 and 2 years old, without any form of handicap – is tiny.

There are several other systemic issues that plague the adoption process, says Avinash Kumar, founder of Families of Joy, an NGO that brings together all those involved in adoption. “Many CCIs are not regulated by the state and are not linked to adoption agencies, and therefore the children of these institutes are invisible to the adoption pool.” Even if they are linked to agencies, the paperwork is not completed, sometimes for years, and therefore the child is not declared legally free for adoption, he says.

Moreover, even within the small pool of children available for adoption, there are three categories that often do not find homes in India: older children, siblings and people with disabilities. “Foreign adoptive parents are more supportive of children in these categories,” says Aloma Lobo, former CARA president and adoptive and biological parent. “It’s not easy for parents to adopt an older child or a child with special needs, and it takes a lot of preparation. There are a lot of prejudices to be overcome. But it brings you a world of satisfaction,” she says.

“The increase in the number of prospective adoptive parents basically means that people understand and appreciate adoption.” | Photo credit: REUTERS

India has always resisted the idea of ​​adoption. Social issues of caste, class and genetics have been a major influence, with families and communities looking askance at the idea of ​​adopting a child of unknown parentage. Given this history, the fact that there is a waiting list of prospective adoptive parents is a sea change.

So contrary to the parents’ frustration, Lobo is now finding a positive twist in the adoption statistics. “The increase in the number of prospective adoptive parents essentially means that people understand and appreciate adoption. That raising a child is creating a family through a relationship that does not necessarily pass through blood. Forty years ago you could just walk into an adoptive home and pick up a child because there was so little demand for them. Now, there are thousands of parents choosing the path of adoption.

*Some names have changed.

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