Just 40 special needs children across the country were adopted from April 2018 to March 2019, reveal government figures, highlighting societal bias and the reluctance of adoptive parents to take on the responsibility of dealing with the challenges of disabilities minor and severe.
The 40 children accounted for 1.12 per cent of the 3,374 children adopted in 2018-19, according to an RTI reply by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) of the Women and Child Development ministry.
Of the 40, 21 are boys and 19 girls; 34 are in the 0-5 age group and only six above the age of five, CARA said in response to an RTI query by PTI.
Even Within Special Needs Adoptive Children, People Prefer Younger Children
Behind the numbers are the narratives of children struggling to find a loving home and parents wary of accepting them for a variety of reasons, including lack of awareness, perceived stigma and financial considerations, said officials and childcare experts.
‘Special needs' means a child who is mentally or physically challenged, experts said. Physical disabilities include dwarfism, chronic eczema, cleft lip-cleft palate and club feet. Mental disability takes into account speech impairment and intellectual disability among others.
According to officials, over 1,000 special needs children are living in various childcare institutions around the country and looking for a home.
As children get older, their adoption becomes more difficult as most parents, even if they opt for a special needs child, want somebody younger, said Anuj Singh, the superintendent of an orphanage in Delhi.
Indian Parents , Parents Even Return the Children
Like in the case of a 15-year-old with intellectual disability who was abandoned by his mother when he was two and has been living in a Delhi orphanage since.
The teen, whose identity is being protected, has difficulty in understanding words and has been returned twice by different sets of adoptive parents who found it difficult to take care of him.
“None of the odds are in his favour. He is getting old and is suffering from intellectual disability which makes it extremely difficult for him to find a home.”Anuj Singh
A senior official said it is extremely difficult for special needs children to find a home within India.
“Some disabilities in these children with special needs are so minor that they could be corrected over time with the right treatment. But the mentality of Indian parents is such that they still are wary of adopting these children,” he said.
“Our mindset is that we want a child to be healthy and fair… the child should not have any health issue. If that is not the case, they do not want the child.”A senior official said.
More Mechanisms to Care for Special Needs Children Abroad
Adoptive parents from abroad are more open to adopting children with special needs, mainly because they have mechanisms in place to take care of them back home and also because all “normal children” get adopted in India so there are not many options for them, the official said.
According to Bharati Dasgupta, founder of the Pune-based child welfare organisation Catalyst for Social Action, Indians prefer to not adopt special needs children because of the stigma and the huge responsibility associated with it.
“We also don't have a social security system in place like other countries.” She added that special needs children need special help and treatment which is not available at most childcare institutions.
While experts argue their case, a single parent from Mahararashtra gave her point of view.
“I can take care of a child who had minor disability which could have been treated but taking responsibility of a child with serious challenges is extremely difficult. Secondly, I don't think I have the monetary support to take care of a special needs child,” said the woman who has adopted a child.
One Mother Takes Conscious Decision to Adopt Child with Down’s Syndrome
Prachi Kumar bucks the trend. The Lucknow-based mother said she took the conscious decision to adopt a child with Down's syndrome.
“I knew I could afford to give this baby better facilities than a childcare institution. In the last seven years, I haven't regretted my decision even once. She was the best thing that happened to me. There needs to be awareness among parents that these children need the love and care of a home like any other child and people need to be counselled over it,” Kumar said.
To adopt a child, prospective parents have to first fill up a detailed form with required documents. They get the option to choose between a boy or girl, select the state and choose between a normal child, mentally or physically challenged or both.
Once the form is filled, prospective parents get a visit from a social worker who assesses their living conditions and confirms the information given by them.
Based on the social worker's assessment, the prospective parents are placed in the waiting list for adoption. The waiting period for adopting a normal child is at least two years. For a special needs child, the wait is shorter, officials said.
(Written by Uzmi Athar for PTI)
(The above is a syndicated copy, and only the image has been altered by FIT)