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Awareness of safe surrender needed to address abandonment of kids: Activists

Sharmila Ganesan Ram / TNN / Updated: Jan 2, 2022 09:19 IST

That India abandoned 6459 babies between 2016 and 2020 does not surprise Smriti Gupta, a proud mother to two adopted children.

Juvenile Justice Act allows parents to legally surrender their child for adoption

That India abandoned 6,459 babies between 2016 and 2020 does not surprise Smriti Gupta, a proud mother to two adopted chidren. "Likely, the actual number of abandonments is much higher," says Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Where are India's Children (WAIC), a Pune-based non-profit that is trying to create awareness about the invisible deserted and orphaned kids who never make it into India's legal adoption pool chiefly because vulnerable parents and guardians do not know that they can safely surrender the child at adoption agencies instead of leaving them at shelters.

Less than two per cent of India's roughly three-crore-odd orphaned and abandoned children enter its child care institutions (CCIs) aka shelters and fewer than 2000 of them make it to India's legal adoption system at any point, finds WAIC. The rest --a faceless mass left behind in toilets and trains, trafficked or given up in illegal adotions---bloat the cruel national irony laid bare recently by NCRB's report on abandoned children in which Delhi and Maharashtra emerged as places that saw the highest number of desertions between 2016 and 2020, foeticides and infanticides combined. "Over 30,000 prospective parents are waiting two to three years to adopt," says Gupta, "and on the other side, children are being killed or traumatized through unsafe abandonments."

The Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act--which requires hospitals, CCIs, foster care agencies and Child Welfare Committees (CWCs), to legally bring abandoned babies into the adoption system--allows parents to hand over their child to adoption agencies or the CWC. "The  procedure is simple," says CWC chairperson Milind Bidwai. Following the submission of a "surrender letter", parents or guardians who want to give up a child are given 60 days to reconsider their decision following which documents such as Aadhar card, PAN card and hospital discharge papers are collected. "Many tend to believe safe surrender involves a lot of paperwork, which makes them opt for illegal shortcuts," says Bidwai, stressing the need to create awareness in tribal and rural areas.

For every unwed mother, divorced couple and those in extra-marital affairs who comes down to surrender their child, there's a wailing, deserted kid handed over by cops. "Every month, the cops hand us at least one child abandoned at a cemetery or other places," says Urmila Jadhav, member of CWC, Mumbai City, who was shaken by the news of a woman who drowned a child in a drum of water in Parel "because it was her second girl child". "It means we have fallen short as a system," says Jadhav.

The stigma around abandonment, doesn't help. "Giving up a biological child in India is seen as a very bad thing when safe surrender should be considered part of a plan which the birth parent is putting up," says Sunil Arora of the child shelter Bal Asha Trust, who is all too familiar with the gory aftermath of unsafe abandonments spanning dog bites to disabilities inflicted by glass shards. "Abandoning can cause lifelong trauma to the child," says Savita Nagpurkar, adoption-in-charge at Indian Association for Promotion and Adoption of Child Welfare (IAPA), which counsels and even extends financial aid to unwed mothers whose reasons for giving up the child are economic.

Solutions go beyond raising awareness. Arora emphasizes bringing in amendments that allow vulnerable parents to surrender their child confidentially without any stigma or legal repercussions at local police stations and fire stations while Gupta insists that child welfare should be built out as a separate constitional structure "such as the Election Commission of India, where central, state, and district child protection bodies are monitored and accountable."

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