Lies and the cover-up: How Kerala woman was failed by child welfare bodies

There are two child welfare bodies involved in this story — the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and the Sishu Kshema Samiti (Kerala State Council for Child Welfare, KSCCW).
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It has now become evident that 22-year-old Anupama, whose newborn was snatched away by her father, was failed not just by her family but also by the system. In this story, The News Minute looks at how various child welfare bodies muddied the case, deliberately hid facts, and jeopardised the future of a child.

According to Anupama, three days after her child's birth on October 19, 2020, her father Jayachandran, a local CPI(M) leader took away her baby. When Anupama protested, her mother promised her that they would take care of the child in a secret place until her elder sister’s marriage, which was scheduled for November 2020 and later postponed to February 2021, was held. “I agreed to that, but I kept on asking to see my child but they refused to show me. Until my sister’s marriage, they refused to show me the child. After the marriage they told me that I will never get my child back. That is when I realised they had abandoned him,” Anupama says.

There are two child welfare bodies involved in this story — the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and the Sishu Kshema Samiti (Kerala State Council for Child Welfare, KSCCW). CWCs are established in every district under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and are the final authority when it comes to children in need of the state’s care and protection. The KSCCW is supposed to look at the welfare and interest of children and also runs ‘Ammathottil’ or an electronic cradle baby system, where people abandon babies.

As mandated, on October 23, 2020, CWC published news in the media announcing that a girl child was received at an electronic cradle and she was named Malala. But later it was revealed that the child was a boy and CWC Chairperson Advocate Sunanda agreed that it was a mistake. Action was taken against two nurses at CWC over this. On the same day another baby was also abandoned in the cradle; he was named Edson Pele. It has now become clear that Edson Pele is not Anupama’s child as a DNA test has ruled it out, therefore the question arises why the CWC recorded the other child as female.

Anupama alleges that her father had informed KSCCW that he would be bringing the child to the Ammathottil facility and the child was handed over to the CWC within 24 hours as the rules say. She alleges that the first step of cover-up was registering the child as a girl, and this was done by the CWC.

Another CWC member TNM spoke to from a different district in Kerala says that this ‘lapse’ could be sinister.

“In 2017, a similar issue happened in Malappuram, where a boy child was given away through illegal adoption and they published the news that they had received a girl child. They changed the baby’s gender intentionally. Then action was taken against the CWC chairperson. So a change of gender while publishing in the media as part of procedure has serious implications. Even if the mother whose child was kidnapped reads the newspaper ad placed by CWC, she will not realise it is her child,” an officer with CWC Ernakulam explained.

The many versions of the CWC

On April 22, 2021, Anupama and Ajith contacted CWC asking about their baby. They had a meeting through video conferencing.

When TNM approached Advocate Sunanda on October 17, she said that a DNA test was held on one child, but the second baby had been adopted by the time Anupama and Ajith approached them. She added that Anupama did not know any details, including the gender of the child or any identification marks.

However, it was soon established that the child was handed over to a family in another southern state for pre-adoption foster care only in August 2021. So why did the CWC not act from April to August and stop the adoption process?

When this question was posed by Asianet News to Sunanda, she claimed that Anupama approached them in April, but gave no written complaint, and therefore the CWC did not act. She also added that Anupama and Ajith did not come in person to the CWC office.

However, this claim is wrong. WhatsApp screenshots that Anupama shared with TNM clearly show that after contacting the CWC over phone, she also forwarded a copy of her complaint given to Peroorkada police with CWC member advocate Dhanya Shine on April 22. Following this, a video conference was held with officials. In this video conference too, CWC did not reveal that the adoption process of the child had not been completed.

In fact, in this video, CWC chairperson tells Asianet that Anupama did not send them any written complaint, with Dhanya Shine standing next to her.

Anupama and Ajith told TNM that due to the second wave of COVID-19 in April 2021, CWC officials asked them not to come in person. When they forwarded the police complaint, they were told that the police would handle the case. “This went on for many weeks, and finally they agreed to meet us in August,” Ajith said.

“Initially they asked us to come on a date, later when we contacted them, they again extended the deadline. Finally they told us there is no use in going to CWC, instead asking us to contact the police. They said only the police can help us,” she said.

Was LFA given without proper procedure?

A Legally Free for Adoption (LFA) certificate for the baby was given in February 2021. Children who have at least one biological parent alive cannot be given away for adoption in India. So the question arises — were child welfare officials aware that it was Jayachandran who dropped the child at the cradle? If yes, then why did they not probe further? Only a police investigation can determine whether Jayachandran acted in connivance with officials, as alleged by Anupama.

“The adoption procedures should have been blocked at the moment they knew there was a dispute. When the parents contacted the CWC and if the baby was there, the procedures should have been stopped. Apart from legality, that was the ethical way of doing it,” Adv Manikandan, a former CWC chairperson Malappuram, said.

But despite a complaint in April, the Thiruvananthapuram CWC went ahead with adoption, and the child was given for pre-adoption foster care in August 2021.

“According to the rule either the KSCCW or the CWC will have to file a complaint at the local police station to find who abandoned the child and who are the parents. In many cases, police never find that,” said Advocate M Manikandan.

A police officer who sought anonymity says that enquiry on babies abandoned in the cradle will be namesake for the procedure purpose. “If babies are abandoned in some other places, there used to be a proper enquiry. But if abandoned in a cradle, police don’t take it seriously as the system itself is meant to abandon children anonymously,” said the officer.

Details of adoptee parent leaked

If the trauma caused to Anupama and Ajith wasn't enough, child welfare authorities have also leaked details of the adoptee parents to the media. One Malayalam channel even went to the house of the adoptive parents to 'find the child'. They then did a live broadcast with Anupama and told her they had seen the child.

Adoption processes in India are kept strictly confidential but the rights of the adoptee parent were clearly violated too.

Despite all this, on October 26 Tuesday, when the issue was raised in the Kerala Assembly, Minister Veena George said that CWC followed all procedures and that the adoption was legal. The government did not agree that the CWC’s procedure was flawed in not stopping the adoption procedure. 

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