Il­le­gal adop­tion rack­ets leave fu­ture of chil­dren, par­ents in jeop­ardy

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - NIRUPA SAM­PATH

CHILD­LESS cou­ples, too im­pa­tient to adopt chil­dren legally, are turn­ing to il­le­gal means of adop­tion. But the process is not safe, and can put the fu­tures of both the child and par­ents at risk, rue ac­tivists and of­fi­cials.

More of­ten than not, sin­gle moth­ers from poor back­grounds are tar­geted. And the me­di­a­tors ne­go­ti­at­ing the deals are mostly mid­dle-aged women be­long­ing to fish­ing ham­lets in coastal re­gions of Chen­nai and Kanchipu­ram dis­tricts, who travel across cities to sell dry fish. “Most of the time, the baby is re­served even while the mother is preg­nant. Al­ready un­der a lot of pres­sure, the mother too tends to let go of the child as the chances of the baby hav­ing a bright fu­ture is bet­ter with adopted par­ents. The prac­tice is preva­lent amongst both lit­er­ate and il­lit­er­ate com­mu­ni­ties,” said a Chen­nai-based child-rights ac­tivist.

Other than the pro­longed wait­ing time in le­gal adop­tion, fear of not mak­ing to the cut as per gov­ern­ment’s adop­tion pro­ce­dures, age and pres­sure from rel­a­tives are other fac­tors that drive cou­ples to the il­le­gal route. An­other dan­ger­ous fac­tor is the age-old be­lief that rais­ing an­other per­son’s child can cure a woman of her curse and make her con­ceive.

With Ran­jini* child­less for eight years af­ter mar­riage de­spite ex­pen­sive treat­ments, her mother who worked with the fish­ing com­mu­nity in Kasimedu, helped her ‘pur­chase’ a month-old baby girl for `5,000 in 2007. And although Velu*, Ran­jini’s hus­band work­ing in a gov­ern­ment firm, is en­ti­tled to many ben­e­fits for him and his fam­ily, his adopted child, now 11-years-old, has not been en­rolled for any such scheme as Velu has no le­gal doc­u­ments val­i­dat­ing that he had adopted the child with the con­sent of the baby’s bi­o­log­i­cal mother. “Re­gard­less of not con­ceiv­ing af­ter adopt­ing the child, I love my daugh­ter. Fear­ing crim­i­nal pun­ish­ments, we have post­poned ap­ply­ing for le­gal doc­u­ments. Now, with my hus­band fall­ing ill fre­quently, I fear for her fu­ture,” wor­ries Ran­jini.

Un­cer­tain fu­ture

Ran­jini’s case is just the tip of an ice­berg. Many ba­bies bought il­le­gally face a bleak fu­ture as most par­ents do not get the re­quired doc­u­ments made on the child’s name. When the par­ents die, the child can­not in­herit any as­set of the fam­ily un­less one of the rel­a­tives helps the child self­lessly, which is quite un­com­mon, ac­cord­ing to par­ents Ex­press spoke.

But where le­gal adop­tion is long and con­vo­luted, adopt­ing through ‘word-of-mouth’ hap­pens se­cre­tively within a few months or even few days when both the sell­ing and buy­ing par­ties agree with the gen­der of the child and the price. Kan­chana*, who had wit­nessed one such ne­go­ti­a­tion in a fish­ing ham­let near Kal­pakkam, told Ex­press, “Ba­bies born out of il­licit af­fairs and born to un­wed women are sold rapidly as their fam­i­lies don’t want the news to spread. Of course, this is not told to the adopt­ing par­ents. Baby boys are sold at `1-2 lakh, while girl ba­bies are sold at a max­i­mum of `1 lakh.” She added: “Two ba­bies from Chen­gal­pattu have been sold in the last six months to cou­ples liv­ing in Chen­nai.”

Lack of mech­a­nism

“De­spite hav­ing a mem­ber of the Child Wel­fare Com­mit­tee in fish­ing ham­lets to pro­vide tip-offs, even a sin­gle case of il­le­gal adop­tion has not been reg­is­tered in Kanchipu­ram dis­trict. Of­fi­cials too do not proac­tively pur­sue such crimes,” said Zahirud­din Muham­mad, mem­ber of CWC. In spite of reg­u­la­tions put in place set by the gov­ern­ment, there is no set mech­a­nism to trace il­le­gal adop­tions un­less valid tip-offs are given by mem­bers of CWC from their al­lo­cated places in var­i­ous parts of the state, say sources.

An of­fi­cial of the Dis­trict Child Pro­tec­tion Unit ( DCPU), Kanchipu­ram dis­trict, said, “The scale of il­le­gal adop­tion can­not be es­ti­mated as most cases are se­cre­tive. But as chances of traf­fick­ing hap­pen­ing in hos­pi­tals and orphanages are high, nec­es­sary sen­si­ti­sa­tion has been un­der­taken by both DCPU and CWC. Gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals, pri­mary health cen­ters where preg­nant women visit fre­quently are con­stantly un- der scan­ner. All vil­lage-level child pro­tec­tion units are also be­ing ad­vised to keep track of de­vel­op­ments from the pri­mary stage.”

Ac­cord­ing to data by the DCPU of Kanchipu­ram dis­trict, only 57 chil­dren have been adopted since 2015. And prospec­tive par­ents on the wait­ing list are 104 (till Au­gust 2018). How­ever, around 72 aban­don­ment cases have been reg­is­tered be­tween 2015-18. And of­fi­cials at DCPU say the num­ber of aban­don­ment cases in Chen­nai is twice as high. “Na­tion­wide, prospec­tive par­ents are high but donors are com­par­a­tively low. Fur­ther, as the child is pro­vided un­der se­nior­ity, the wait­ing pe­riod is bound to get ex­tended,” said an of­fi­cial at CWC.

But the DCPU of­fi­cer said, “The pro­ce­dures are faster than be­fore. Cou­ples wait for al­most 10 to 15 years to have ba­bies through med­i­cal pro­ce­dures. Yet, they are un­will­ing to even wait for a year to adopt a baby legally. The pro­longed wait­ing pe­riod does not jus­tify il­le­gal adop­tion. Many prospec­tive par­ents for­get the eas­ier way will put them be­hind bars.”

Talk­ing about the risk fac­tors in­volved in il­le­gal adop­tion, he said, “In the le­gal route, the mo­tive of par­ents is thor­oughly checked. How­ever, in il­le­gal adop­tions, the child is vul­ner­a­ble to child pornog­ra­phy, or­gan trans­plant, traf­fick­ing, pros­ti­tu­tion and more. May be most il­le­gal adop­tions are done with good in­ten­tions, but that won’t make it le­gal.” (* names changed)

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