Due process must be followed to ensure that adopted children are not trafficked or pushed into child labour.

Silhouette of child with parents looking at the seaImage for representation only
Coronavirus Adoption Thursday, May 13, 2021 - 13:49
Written by  Harishankar Ganesan Medha Meenal

“Can I adopt one of these children orphaned by COVID?” —  When we put together a fundraiser campaign in collaboration with Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation for children who have lost both their parents to COVID-19, we did not expect to be greeted with these requests by donors so frequently, some of whom are still in their late 20s. 

While we have individually notified the donors of the due processes involved in an adoption, we thought it worth our while to elaborate on the procedure for the general public, as a continuation to Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani's tweet clarifying that it is illegal to adopt kids outside of law.

What is the procedure?

Adoption is covered under the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 (JJ Act, standing amended in 2021). It is a legal process which stands on five pillars – identification of the “child in need of care and protection”, inquiry by authorities on the case and awarding of temporary/permanent custody, declaration of being “legally adoptable” post inquiry, adoption procedure under the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) Act and follow up for the child’s welfare under the Act. This due process exists for protection of children from trafficking and child labour (their fundamental rights under Article 23 and 24 of the Indian Constitution respectively and envisioned under the Directive Principles under article 39 (e)). 

The Juvenile Justice Act mandates every individual to report a case of orphaned child in their knowledge to the Childline Service (by calling 1098) or relevant authority (police station/Child Welfare Committee/District Child Protection Unit) within 24 hours. Once identified, the Act provides the procedure and power to be yielded by the Child Welfare Committee to both provide guardianship of the kids as well as to declare them fit to be adopted. 

The Act necessitates the state government to constitute 5-member Child Welfare Committees in each district. The Committee after a social investigation and ensuring that the child is in need of care and protection, places the orphaned child temporarily or permanently in children’s homes, specialised adoption agencies (if under the age of 6), foster care or under sponsorship.

The committee also declares within a period of two months whether it finds the child free for adoption. Once deemed fit for adoption, the child shall be matched with a Prospective Adoptive Parent (PAP) registered with CARA. It is important to note that the age difference between the adoptee and the adopter must be above 25 years.

The bottlenecks

The WCD Minister rightly pointed out that the due process is important to ensure that the children do not fall under the fangs of trafficking. However, with an objective of “ensuring that every orphan has a loving and caring family”, the Act seems to have had limited success.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating. India had 5,693 adoptions in 2010 which declined to 3,351 in 2020. This while PAPs wait 18-24 months for being matched with a baby.

The biggest issue seems to be in identification. In 2018, only 0.5 million children out of the 30 million (UNICEF estimate) orphaned and abandoned children were under institutional care.  The Child Welfare Committees have not taken enough suo moto cognizance and individuals have been shy of reporting such cases despite it being a legal requirement. Also, out of these 0.5 million children under care, only about 2,000 children are registered every year with CARA for availability for adoption due to non-compliance of children’s homes to register with CARA.

 The other major bottleneck often stated is that PAPs are inclined to adopt infants and not older children. Especially now with the entire process of adoption being made digital, the institutions may not be able to persuade a parent about a good match with an older age. It is encouraging that the government has taken a step through an amendment Bill to the JJ act to reduce the time between a match with a child and adoption by authorising district magistrates to pass adoption orders.

What you can do

Support children in your own extended family so that they are not abandoned. The government should effectively implement schemes to educate and provide financial support to such willing relatives to provide a family atmosphere. This will help the already overburdened child care machinery and at the same time, provide familiar surroundings for the child. 

Given the process of adoption, it is unlikely that those interested to support unrelated kids orphaned due to COVID will be able to directly support them through adoption as quickly as they would like. However, there are many steps that one can take to help in such cases. Given the magnitude of under reporting, one should report any known cases of orphans and educate their circles to do the same. 

We can also consider donating to shelter institutions as this would indirectly support the kids as most reported cases are likely to land here. When eligible for adoption, those with the financial capability should be open to adopt these COVID impacted children, some of whom, due to the pandemic, have health conditions.

A general appeal

During the pandemic, our society and in particular the youth has realised the power of the community. Blindsided by a disease which paralyses physical aid, we have witnessed amazing stories of fundraisers for fulfilling oxygen needs, multiple social media channels for resource identification as well as selfless services of the frontline staff.

We must not unlearn the value of the community once the health crisis subsides as the community will face a bigger social and economic crisis which lies on the road to recovery —  especially for the families which would emerge from this pandemic incomplete. But together, we shall conquer.

All views are personal

Medha works at Sammunati Financial Intermediation & Services, while Hari is an ex-private equity associate from Warburg Pincus. You can contribute to their fundraiser here