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As ‘raja beta’ obsession wanes, more Indian families adopt girls

Neha Bhayana / TNN / Sep 24, 2023, 07:49 IST

A growing number of Indian couples are specifically requesting to adopt girls, according to adoption agencies in the country. Data from the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) shows that more girls are being adopted compared to boys. Some couples believe that daughters are more caring and attached to their families, while others want to challenge the traditional preference for male children.

Ain't no sun shine: Protima Sharma and Shyne Kochuveed feel  their daughters complete their family

Pune-based couple Protima Sharma and Shyne Kochuveed wanted to have one biological child and a second via adoption. When they were unable to conceive, the doctor suggested they go for in-vitro fertilisation. But the 30-somethings decided they would go for adoption right away. While filling the adoption registration form in 2015, they opted for a girl child — the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) which oversees adoptions in India allows parents to state a gender preference or remain neutral.

Soon, they brought home a three-month-old baby girl and named her Ivanka.

In 2017, they registered for another adoption and once again ticked the box for ‘girl child’. After a wait of two years, they became proud parents to threemonth-old Verushka. “Friends and family members were surprised. They would ask us why we didn’t ask for a boy, at least this time around, to complete our family. But we didn’t feel the need to defend our choice. I would tell them, ‘this is our complete family’,” says Sharma.

Sharma and Kochuveed are among a small but growing number of Indian couples who prefer a girl child. A look at CARA’s statistics show that more girls are being adopted compared to boys. In 2021-22, 1,698 girls were adopted as op posed to 1,293 boys. While these figures also reflect an unfortunate reality  — more girls are being abandoned and, therefore, landing in  the adoption pool, senior officials in CARA and adoption cousellors in cities say they have witnessed an uptick in the proportion of parents who specifically ask for a girl child. “Over the past three years, we have observed that seven out of 10 couples who register for adoption opt for a girl child while filling the form. The other three are neutral and open to a child of either gender but when you ask them what their heart desires, two still say they yearn for a girl. Only one couple would perhaps say, ‘I would like a boy’,” says Sunil Arora, executive director of Bal Asha Trust, which is one of the leading adoption centres in Mumbai.

Arora, who counsels parents considering adoption, points out that while earlier this trend was seen only in urban centres, now a sizeable number of parents from smaller towns is also asking for girl children. This is heart-warming considering India has a long-standing obsession with ‘raja betas’, especially in the more patriarchal north where daughters are considered a ‘burden’ (thanks to dowry culture) and sons, a ‘boon’ as they take over the family business and produce heir/heirs who carry forward the family name.

Smriti Gupta, co-founder of a non-profit called ‘Where are India’s Children’ which aims to change the mindset about adoption, says the landscape of adoption has changed in a big way. “Now, a lot of families adopt out of choice, and not because they are unable to have a biological child and have exhausted all possible medical treatments. They want to become ‘parents’ and are less fixated on gender,” says Gupta.

Some feel that daughters are more caring and attached to their families. “Others fear that a boy may not take the news that he was adopted positively when he is a little older and may not care for his parents,” says Parul Agrawal, founder of the Adoption Action Group, a support group for prospective adoptive parents. She adds that a few families also feel that if they are “elevating the lifestyle” of an orphan, they would rather help a girl. “We have a history of believing that looking after a kanya gets you more punya; agar savarni hai to ladki ki zindagi savaro,” she says.

Neela Zavar feel their daughters complete their family

Hyderabad-based Deepti Jha* felt this way when she registered for girl child adoption recently. “I have seen Indian culture preferring boys across all matters. I wanted to bring a change in my small way by adopting a girl,” says the 35-year-old chartered accountant. Sharma says her motive was “mostly selfish” — she wanted to experience the joy of raising girls — but she too had a similar thought at the back of her mind. “In so many ways, women are still treated like secondary citizens in our country. I always knew that when I adopted, it would have to be a girl,” she says.

Mumbai resident Anuradha Dua* felt differently. “I had no noble intention of giving a girl child a better life. My husband and I always wanted to adopt and we simply wanted a daughter. We didn’t even try for a biological child,” says the 40-year-old financial advisor who brought home an 11-month-old baby girl in June, three years after they registered for adoption.

Dua and her husband are head over heels in love with their little princess and hope to adopt another girl in a few years. Dua adds that her in-laws are conservative and were sceptical about adoption, but they dote on little Niyara now. “When my co-sister was pregnant, I heard my mother-in-law telling her that she hopes it is a boy because the world is not a nice place and it is tougher to raise girls. But she is glad we have a girl in the house now and will take our family name forward,” she says.

Reema Shah’s* desire for a family with two daughters was so strong that she used to pray for a girl when she was pregnant in 2017. When her daughter turned three, she registered for adoption  adoption and opted for a girl again. “My sister is eight years younger than me. I share a fabulous bond with her and have beautiful memories of her growing up. That may be one of the reasons why I am so strongly drawn to little girls,” says the Mumbai resident.

Shah feels more parents are thinking independently. “The new generation of parents does not succumb to pressure from family elders, it makes its own decisions and that’s why more parents are opting for girls or being gender neutral.”

Single mom Neela Zavar felt her family became complete the day she adopted a 10-month-old girl in 2015. The Punebased software professional admits that life as a single parent is challenging. She had to get Shaina used to day care, slowly increasing her hours, so she could return to work. “But I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she says, adding they share an unshakeable bond.

Shaina, 9, wrote at length about her mom when she was asked to pen an essay for Father’s Day.

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