Nuns in In­dia halt adop­tion ser­vices be­cause of new guide­lines

Mother Teresa group cites ob­jec­tion to sin­gle or di­vorced par­ents

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY RAMA LAK­SHMI rama.lak­shmi@wash­post.com

Thirty or­phan­ages run by the group founded by Mother Teresa have de­cided to shut­ter their adop­tion ser­vices in In­dia rather than com­ply with a new gov­ern­ment sys­tem that makes it eas­ier for sin­gle and di­vorced peo­ple to adopt chil­dren.

“We have al­ready shut our adop­tion ser­vices, be­cause we be­lieve our chil­dren may not re­ceive real love,” said Sis­ter Amala at Nir­mala Shishu Bhawan, a New Delhi or­phan­age run by the Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity. “We do not wish to give chil­dren to sin­gle par­ents or di­vorced peo­ple. It is not a re­li­gious rule but a hu­man rule. Chil­dren need both par­ents, male and fe­male. That is only nat­u­ral, isn’t it?”

In re­cent months, the gov­ern­ment has over­hauled In­dia’s com­plex adop­tion bu­reau­cracy to re­duce the long, frus­trat­ing wait­ing pe­riod faced by prospec­tive par­ents and boost the coun­try’s woe­fully low adop­tion rates.

Es­ti­mates of the num­ber of or­phans in In­dia vary from 16 mil­lion to 30 mil­lion, a fig­ure cited by sev­eral non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, but only about 2,500 or­phans were adopted last year, down from 5,700 four years ago, ac­cord­ing to the Women and Child De­vel­op­ment Min­istry.

Un­der the ear­lier sys­tem, or­phan­ages around the coun­try were al­lowed to hand­pick par­ents and match them with chil­dren. But that process, of­fi­cials say, op­er­ated with scant over­sight and was plagued by cor­rup­tion, traf­fick­ing, de­lays, fa­voritism and prej­u­dice.

Since Au­gust, the gov­ern­ment has re­quired or­phan­ages to sub­mit records of chil­dren to a cen­tral au­thor­ity that main­tains a data­base. Prospec­tive par­ents are now asked to register with the au­thor­ity, whose au­to­mated sys­tem will match them with chil­dren.

That means chil­dren from any or­phan­age can po­ten­tially be matched with sin­gle par­ents any­where in the coun­try, some­thing that the nuns of Mother Teresa’s or­der frown upon.

At a meet­ing in New Delhi this past week, Maneka Gandhi, the min­is­ter for women and child de­vel­op­ment, said the Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity had re­fused to register chil­dren in their care with the cen­tral au­thor­ity.

“They have cited ide­o­log­i­cal is­sues with our adop­tion guide­lines, re­lated to giv­ing a child up for adop­tion to sin­gle, un­wed moth­ers,” Gandhi said at the event. “They do not want to come un­der a uni­form sec­u­lar agenda.”

Gandhi said the gov­ern­ment will try to per­suade the re­li­gious or­der to work with the new sys­tem be­cause it has “valu­able, good peo­ple” and ex­pe­ri­ence in adop­tion.

The or­der, how­ever, said it will give up its li­cense. In New Delhi, it has trans­ferred six un­adopted chil­dren to Holy Cross So­cial Ser­vices, a Catholic or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We want to bring ev­ery­body un­der a uni­form, sec­u­lar Web site. We do not want dif­fer­ent groups to run their own par­al­lel sys­tems any­more ,” an of­fi­cial in the Women and Child De­vel­op­ment Min­istry said.

The vac­uum left by the or­der is be­ing filled by other agen­cies.

“We are see­ing a sud­den rise in chil­dren com­ing to our adop­tion home. It could be be­cause the Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity is not ac­cept­ing any more,” said Lorraine Cam­pos, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of Palna, one of the old­est adop­tion homes in the cap­i­tal. “We do not have a prob­lem with sin­gle par­ents or di­vorced peo­ple. We have to ac­cept that so­ci­ety is chang­ing. We have to be flex­i­ble, too. But we care­fully study the kind of job pres­sures of the ap­pli­cant, and we also en­sure that they have a fam­ily sup­port sys­tem that can step in to give care to the child.”

The In­dian sys­tem does not, how­ever, al­low adop­tion by gay prospec­tive par­ents. “We have not pro­gressed to that ex­tent yet,” Cam­pos said.

Adop­tion agen­cies say the new sys­tem has cut the wait­ing pe­riod from sev­eral months to a few weeks.

“They do not want to come un­der a uni­form sec­u­lar agenda.”

Maneka Gandhi, min­is­ter for women and child de­vel­op­ment

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