Time to suspend inter-country adoptions?

by Danish   Raza May 16, 2012

Mayank and Esha were to get new parents. Their mother, after an altercation with her husband, Ramphal, abandoned the siblings near Kashmere Gate bus terminus, Delhi. A frantic Ramphal traced his children to Holy Cross Social Service Centre- one of the seven recognised Indian placement agencies (RIPAs) in the city. He was not allowed to see the kids, then three and five years old. The agency had started the process to place the children with an Australian couple.

“They said that I should let my kids go abroad as they would have a better future,” Ramphal told Firstpost.

He then moved the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) to stall the adoption process. There he was constantly persuaded to drop the case. Haq Centre for Child Rights, a Delhi based NGO, helped Ramphal in getting a revised CWC order. The kids were returned to their father in February.

In declaring the children legally free for adoption in the first place, the CWC violated a basic principle guiding the welfare of a child – which is to first attempt to restore an abandoned child to his/ her biological family.

Ramphal with his son Mayank and daughter Esha. Firstpost/ Danish Raza

Some child welfare experts claim that Ramphal’s case is an example of widespread abuse in international adoptions, pointing to a recent spurt  of middlemen who procure children by illicit methods and provide false information about them.

“There should be a detailed investigation into procurement of children through extortion, blackmail, threats and bribery of government officials,” said Anjali Pawar of Sakhi, a Pune based NGO which filed a petition in the Supreme Court earlier this month demanding moratorium on all inter-country adoptions until a new law is in place.

This outcry comes in the midst of steadily declining numbers of international adoptions around the world and in India. Worldwide, Inter-country Adoptions (ICAs) have dipped to 29,000, down from a 2005 high of 45,000.  Adoptions originating in India have steadily decreased from 1,172 in 2003 to 613 in 2010. As of 2010, India is no longer one of the top ten countries sending children abroad for adoption.

A great part of this reduction is due to stricter ICA regulations  that were put in place in response to several high-profile exposes of illegal adoptions. In 2002, Andhra Pradesh put a ban on sending state’s children abroad for adoption, after an adoption racket was unearthed. In May 2005, police arrested five kidnappers in Chennai who had supplied over 300 children to various adoption agencies. In the same year, Delhi government ordered enquiry against 10 adoption agencies.

More recently, CBI initiated charges against Preet Mandir, an adoption agency in Pune, in 2010 after allegations surfaced that the agency had procured children through illegal means.

Among the new rules in place is the directive to agencies to follow a 80-20 ratio between domestic and foreign adoptions. If an agency has 100 children, it has to place 80 of them within the country – and will lose its license if it fails to do so. The CARA stipulates the following order of priority for placement: Indian nationals, Indian nationals living abroad (NRI), Overseas Citizen of India card holders, and lastly, foreign nationals.

But many argue that these laws do no go far enough – and, as Ramphal’s case indicates, are often violated in practice.

“There is huge money involved and when a child is sent through illegal means under the disguise of adoption, it is trafficking,” says Bharti Ali, co- director of Haq Centre for Child Rights. There is also no centralized database tracking the 60 placement agencies who undertake international adoptions, or the number of children in their care.

Pawar’s petition before the Supreme Court also pointed to the existence of 5,000 Indian parents who are still on a wait-list to become parents, even as children are being sent to foreign couples.

Others claim that international adoptions reveal a country that either cannot or will not take care of its own children.

“Just because the government fails to fulfill its obligation to provide care and protection to children, it cannot just sell them abroad in the name of inter-country adoption under the guise of giving them a better life,” says Arun Dohle of Against Child Trafficking a Brussels and Netherlands, based NGO.

Despite all above reasons, there are many who believe that demanding ‘suspension’ of or ‘ban’ on ICA is going too far.

For one, illegal trafficking cannot be solved merely by ending international adoptions. In the Preet Mandir case, for example, the CBI uncovered 5 illegal ICAs compared to 70 such domestic adoptions.

Vineeta Bhargava, assistant professor in Delhi university and author of ‘Adoptions in India: Policies & Experiences’, also points out that many children who are adopted abroad are often those who have been repeatedly rejected by Indian families.

“Children with physical handicaps, medical problems, hare lips, hole in the heart, siblings and children above three years old are rarely adopted in India,” she says, adding that foreigners often embrace such children without reservations.

There is nothing wrong if such children are provided with a better life outside their country of birth, argues Dr Bharti Sharma, former chairman of Delhi CWC.

“The right of a child to a family should not be violated. All the policies and debates should be centered on that right,” he said.