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Why is it so difficult to adopt a child in India?

Murali Krishnan New Delhi

10/21/2022October 21, 2022

Adoption in India is a test of patience with tedious paperwork and bureaucratic delays. Prospective adoptive parents say the law must be flexible to enable adoptions.

A 2020 report by the Istanbul-based humanitarian organization Insamer estimates that there are 31 million orphans in India, but only 50,000 are eligible for adoption.

From 2020 to 2022, around 9,000 children in India were adopted, according to the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). As of September 2022, 1,800 children are up for adoption.

However, legal procedures and its numerous technicalities can prove tedious and emotionally taxing. Some estimates show that it can take almost three years to adopt a legally available child.

Streamlining adoption

India's Supreme Court in August urged a streamlining of the adoption process.

"Can you imagine a three to four years period to adopt a child in India? It should be made simpler. There are thousands of orphan children waiting to be adopted," the court said in a statement.

Prospective parents also complain there is a lack of support from services while applying for adoption.

"There are delays and uncertainty of referrals. Besides, there is lack of information and transparency from CARA. All this has a mental, financial, and emotional impact on adoptive families," Parul Agarwal, a media professional, told DW. She adopted a child in 2021 after waiting for more than two years.

"I founded Adoption Action Group (AAG), a group of 200 members a few years back to act as an interest group to address our concerns and ensure the process does not become a deterrent to the welfare of children," Agarwal added.

A young prospective parent, who wished to remain anonymous, told DW she has waited for three years, and has been "given the run-around" by adoption authorities.

"All my checks have cleared, and I can't understand the hold-up," she said.

More help for vulnerable children

Catalysts for Social Action (CSA), an NGO working in adoption and child protection, suggests a periodic vulnerability mapping exercise be carried out throughout the country to identify children in need of care and protection and refer them to the Child Welfare Committees (CWC).

"This would lead to identification of children who are orphans, along with children whose parents want to surrender them, who can then be declared legally free for adoption," Satyajeet Mazumdar, CSA's advocacy head, told DW.

He said millions of children who fled abusive parents and live in child care facilities are waiting for eligibility for adoption.

"I think CWCs need to take a decision to terminate the parental rights and declare the children legally free for adoption," Mazumdar said.

"Dedicated campaigns should be run to encourage people to adopt older children and children with special needs," he added.

Special needs children are also less likely to be adopted in India. Statistics show prospective parents prefer "healthy" children younger than 2 years.

Fewer than 50 children with special needs found a home within India in the past three years, accounting for less than 1% of the 2020-2022 total, according to CARA.

How does the adoption process work?

In India, the journey of orphaned or abandoned children, from the day they are found to the day they are placed in an adoptive home, is long and rigorous.

To adopt a child, a prospective parent must first upload an application with relevant documents on CARA's website. This is followed by a home visit from a social worker.

After this first step, profiles of children identified as legally free for adoption are shared by adoption agencies. After a prospective parent chooses a child, the matter is considered by a district magistrate.

Vinita Bhargava, who has worked with various agencies in the field of adoption policy and practice, and was a founding member of CARA, told DW the adoption process should be reorganized starting with better training of child-care workers.

"It is not a simple matter. A lot of issues need to be engaged. But if workers are better acquainted with medical examinations and case reports, it will hasten the process and make adoption easier and faster," Bhargava said.

Also undermining the adoption process is that many child care facilities are not regulated by the government, and are therefore not linked to adoption agencies, making children in these institutions invisible to the adoption pool.

In some cases, even children who are listed by agencies do not have completed paperwork for years and are not declared legally free for adoption.

Piyush Saxena, whose NGO, "The Temple of Healing," filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court to accelerate the adoption process and simplify procedures, said he is not hopeful of a resolution anytime soon.

"I have had two meetings of the so-called stakeholders and ministry officials, but they were not productive. The stakeholders were not concerned about extreme low adoption numbers and inordinate delays," Saxena told DW.

In August, a parliamentary panel recommended that India's adoption process be simplified and stressed the need for a close relook at adoption regulations.

The panel also expressed concern about the decline in the number of children coming to adoption agencies. It warned that the decline pointed to trafficking or a thriving illegal child adoption market, recommending increased surveillance.

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