AN UN­CER­TAIN FU­TURE

A year af­ter In­dia­born Sherin

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTNATION -

The con­se­quent pres­sure on im­ple­ment­ing agen­cies to de­clare chil­dren legally for adop­tion is com­pro­mis­ing with chil­dren’s fu­ture, believes Bharti Sharma, for­mer chair­per­son, CWC, Delhi. “The pol­icy to put max­i­mum kids in adop­tion in the short­est pos­si­ble time is prob­lem­atic. Agen­cies should have am­ple time to find out the child’s back­ground and de­cide if adop­tion would be the best op­tion. Com­pro­mis­ing on time is bet­ter than com­pro­mis­ing on the child’s life,” says Bharti. Aparna Bhat, lawyer and mem­ber of CARA’S steer­ing com­mit­tee, says that the agen­cies should do thor­ough back­ground checks within a stip­u­lated time-frame which is in the best in­ter­est of the child. Bhat’s con­cern is that a long ges­ta­tion pe­riod may work against the child. “As a prospec­tive adop­tive par­ent, when I iden­tify a child, it is a baby. By the time the doc­u­men­ta­tion is com­plete, the kid is around a year old. By the time he/she comes to me, the baby has be­come a tod­dler. When we ap­ply this cy­cle to a child who is al­ready 3/4 years old, by the time the adop­tion is through, the child would be even older. Many fam­i­lies do not adopt older chil­dren,” she says.

Ac­cord­ing to the JJA, the state should pro­vide al­ter­na­tive care – foster care, foster fam­ily, spon­sor­ship, adop­tion – for chil­dren in need of care and pro­tec­tion. How­ever, the govern­ment has not ex­plored op­tions other than adop­tion. “Al­ter­na­tive care does not al­ways mean adop­tion. Child care in­sti­tutes need to pro­mote fam­ily­based care for chil­dren. Imag­ine a sex worker puts her child in a shel­ter home be­cause she is un­able to give her a good at­mo­sphere. She has no in­tent to give her child for adop­tion. But there are all the chances that her child will be placed in adop­tion,” says Bharti Sharma.

‘MAN­U­FAC­TURED’ OR­PHANS

An adop­tion agency gets $5,000 for each in­ter-coun­try adop­tion. On many oc­ca­sions, the money in­volved com­pels the agen­cies to in­dulge in un­eth­i­cal prac­tices, such as place­ment of traf­ficked kids into adop­tion – an­other rea­son why many mem­bers of civil so­ci­ety want the govern­ment to prac­tice cau­tion rather than to has­ten the process.

Last month, Aus­tralia re­sumed adop­tion of chil­dren from In­dia af­ter it was sus­pended eight years ago over il­le­gal adop­tions. “Adop­tion agen­cies in In­dia were di­rectly in touch with for­eign agen­cies. Large sums of money were trans­ferred. For­eign agen­cies funded In­dian agen­cies and took a com­mit­ment that they would send a cer­tain num­ber of chil­dren to their coun­tries. Now, with the cen­tralised sys­tem, it is not pos­si­ble,” says Lt Col Deepak Ku­mar, CARA’S chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

Ac­cord­ing to Roelie Post, founder of the Nether­land-based non-profit Against Child Traf­fick­ing, the push to have chil­dren adopted is not gen­uine. “It is driven by mone­tary trans­ac­tions. Since there are not many chil­dren who are true or­phans, chil­dren are turned into adopt­able chil­dren when they are in res­i­den­tial care. And falsely made to ap­pear suit­able for adop­tion – lower age, bet­ter health than is the re­al­ity,” she says.

PLUG­GING GAPS

A govern­ment pro­gramme is as good or bad as the peo­ple im­ple­ment­ing it. CARA chief ac­knowl­edges that there is scope to im­prove sourc­ing of chil­dren for adop­tion by mak­ing all stake­hold­ers aware of the process. “There is high at­tri­tion rate and non-per­ma­nency of staff at CWCS and SAAS which deal with adop­tion cases in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties,” he says.

Karuna Narang has han­dled more than 1000 adop­tions as an adop­tion of­fi­cer at Holy Cross So­cial Ser­vice Cen­tre (adop­tion agency) and then as mem­ber of CWC and CARA. She re­calls many suc­cess­ful sto­ries of in­ter coun­try adop­tions. How­ever, Narang says that the staff of these agen­cies lacks re­quired aware­ness and sen­si­tiv­ity. “SAA has to be very cau­tious while pre­par­ing the med­i­cal en­quiry re­port of the child. I have come across med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion re­ports which carry the sig­na­tures of med­i­cal of­fi­cers while the in­for­ma­tion is filled in by so­cial work­ers without com­plete med­i­cal de­tails as are re­quired un­der the Act and Adop­tion Reg­u­la­tions. The cer­tifi­cate is­sued by the CWC should men­tion the child’s date of birth. CWCS of­ten write only the age, which is com­plete guess work, many a times,” she says.

In Oc­to­ber 2017, then CARA joint di­rec­tor Ja­gan­nath Pati, is­sued a cir­cu­lar to adop­tion agen­cies men­tion­ing sim­i­lar anom­alies. “Of­ten it hap­pens that a child re­ferred un­der nor­mal cat­e­gory has med­i­cal prob­lems, which is not re­flected in the med­i­cal re­port and when the par­ents come to take the cus­tody of the child, these are found out through sup­ple­men­tary tests,” noted Pati.

To avoid post adop­tion ad­just­ment is­sues, specif­i­cally in the case of older chil­dren (placed in adop­tion at the age of five or above), the adop­tion agency should coun­sel the child as well as the prospec­tive par­ent as much as pos­si­ble, says Lo­raine Cam­pos, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor at Palna, one of the old­est adop­tion agen­cies in Delhi. “If pos­si­ble, the agency should ar­range video calls be­tween the child and prospec­tive par­ents. It can also help the child learn the lan­guage (ba­sics) of the coun­try where the he or she will be go­ing,” says Cam­pos.

Dr Aloma Lobo, for­mer chair­per­son, CARA, believes that prospec­tive adop­tive par­ents should be re­al­is­tic in their ex­pec­ta­tions, es­pe­cially when they are ac­cept­ing an older child. “In the case of older chil­dren who have been aban­doned, a lot of in­for­ma­tion is un­known,” she says. “Both sides must do their best and that is all that is pos­si­ble. We can­not ex­pect per­fec­tion from a child who has been through so much. Not so even in a child who has had ev­ery­thing from birth,” she adds.

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF SYS­TEM?

Like sourc­ing, the fol­low-up mech­a­nism is also evolv­ing. Once the child is placed in a fam­ily abroad, CARA and the SAA should re­ceive four fol­low-up re­ports in first year and two, the fol­low­ing year. If the Au­tho­rised For­eign Adop­tion Agency no­tices any is­sues in ad­just­ment be­tween the fam­ily and the adoptee or any un­ex­pected de­vel­op­ment, this should be re­flected in these re­ports. Fol­low­ing the Sherin Mathews case, CARA amended its rules to add men­tal well-be­ing as el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria for prospec­tive par­ents seek­ing to adopt a child from In­dia.

The CARA CEO says that there is scope to im­prove the fol­low-up mech­a­nism vis-àvis the US. “It is com­mon for for­eign agen­cies in USA to as­sign the job of pre­par­ing the fol­low-up re­ports to ex­empt providers. These are in­di­vid­u­als or or­gan­i­sa­tions reg­is­tered with the US govern­ment. This is a kind of sub con­tract. In the Sherin Mathews case, the cen­tral agency in USA took the help of one such ex­empt provider,” says Ku­mar.

Roelie Post of ACT says that the send­ing coun­try re­ceiv­ing reg­u­lar fol­low-up re­ports from the re­ceiv­ing coun­try does not al­ways mean that all is well with the adoptee. “The fol­low-up re­ports are not in­de­pen­dent re­port­ing. They are mostly writ­ten by the adop­tive par­ents them­selves, or the adop­tion agen­cies. I have seen my­self how adop­tion agen­cies take un­wel­come mes­sages out of the re­ports,” she says.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Vinita Bhar­gava, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Delhi Univer­sity and au­thor of Adop­tion in In­dia: Poli­cies and Ex­pe­ri­ences, the govern­ment must add a hu­mane layer to the adop­tion sys­tem for it to work. “Prob­lems can arise any time once you have taken the child. In that sense, it is quite sim­i­lar to what hap­pens with a bi­o­log­i­cal child. Adop­tion needs lot of hand hold­ing. We should be able to help the adop­tive par­ents as and when they feel anx­ious,” says Dr Bhar­gava. “At the most, you may ac­cept the child af­ter a thor­ough back­ground check. Be­yond this, there are no guar­an­tees in life. You have to take the leap of faith,” she adds.

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