Adoption must stop being about ‘saviours’, and focus on child rights instead

At a panel discussion in Bengaluru by NGO Padme, panelists discussed various aspects of adoption like root search by adoptees and representation in the media.
Adoption must stop being about ‘saviours’, and focus on child rights instead
Adoption must stop being about ‘saviours’, and focus on child rights instead
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Take a group of people and ask them for their thoughts on adoption, and chances are at least a few of them will say that adoption is a noble thing to do, that it allows needy children to be saved. At least, these were the responses students of Mount Carmel College got when they did some randomised interviews in Bengaluru a couple of months ago.

These interviews were put together by Padme, a registered non-governmental organisation that works to demystify adoption and guide and support prospective adoptive parents, among other things. On Sunday, Padme organised a panel discussion in Bengaluru which looked at such perceptions around adoption as well as related privacy issues.

The panel consisted of Supriya Deverkonda, an admin of People’s Group of Child Adoption in India (PGCAI); Dr Aloma Lobo, former chairperson of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA); Baradwaj Rangan, senior editor at Film Companion; and Geetika Mantri, a journalist with The News Minute. The panel was moderated by Sharon Lopez of the Dept of Communications, Mount Carmel College.

The panel felt that there was a need for a more child rights centric approach, especially in the media, while dealing with adoption.

Perceptions around adoption

In terms of perception, the panel emphasised that adoption needs to be normalised. The differentiation of adopted children from others happens subconsciously. To give an example, Dr Lobo recounted how a woman, who was herself an adoptive parent, wrote a social media post about an adoptee she thought was being abused by her parent, another woman. “She wouldn’t have written a social media post if it was a biological child. She meant well, but I think all of us have a tendency of being protective about adopted children, even if they aren’t ours.”

The panellists also talked about root search – where adoptees look for their birth parents. Apart from the fact that this is very difficult in India due to paperwork and red tape among other things, panellists also said that many Indian children may not feel the need to do a root search if they are adopted within India.

“The socio-economic barriers between people are very apparent here. So, a child may not want to go and find out if their birth family’s socio-economic background is not the one they have been brought up in,” a panellist said.

However, if a child wants to do root search, adoptive parents must not hush it up, and talking about it should be normal.

One of the major concerns remains telling a child that they are adopted. Panellists felt that it was children’s right to know and they should be brought up with that knowledge, and it should not be treated as a disclosure. “Children will ask questions as they grow up about where they came from. You can tell them then, say, you came from another woman’s tummy and then we got you. Children will truly understand what adoption is when they learn what reproduction is,” Dr Lobo said, adding that it is easier to tell them the truth in small doses, in an age appropriate manner than keeping it a secret.

Further, Supriya, who is a single adoptive mother, said, “I tell my child that her identity is not about her adoption or about her genes. She is her own person, who she wants to be.”

Privacy and representation

The panel discussed several topics surrounding privacy, such as prospective parents posting identifying information about children including photos. Supriya confirmed that this has happened in their Facebook group as well, and may not be in the best interests of the child, especially if the adoption does not go through.

Dr Lobo, while admitting that the parents generally mean well, said, “Certain information belongs to the child, not to the world. They should be able to decide whether they want to share it when they are old enough,” she said.

The discussion also shed light on how adoption is portrayed in the media. The panellists pointed out how the dominant narrative in the media continues to position the child as unwanted, and impoverished, and the adopters as ‘noble’ and ‘saviours’.

This finds its way into films too. “Most films have elements of adoption, but in my experience I haven’t seen a film that looks at adoption on the whole and talks about just the experience of the child or a couple who have adopted a child,” Baradwaj said.

He agreed that there is also a very strong element of gratitude and obligation that adoptees are shown to have for their caregivers in popular culture, which needs to change.

Further, the media paints pictures of contrast and drama, which may ultimately harm the child. “Once something is on the internet, it is there forever. So when we use phrases like “found in the gutter” and “left in a dumpster”, what happens when that child grows up and reads that? What if this becomes the story that is associated with the child for the rest of their life? There are privacy concerns here,” Geetika said.

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