In a country where blood and ancestry ‘martyrs’ make,
adoption is the last resort of the desperate. In most cases, adoption is
considered when all other attempts to conceive have failed. All things taken
into consideration – our vast population, crippling poverty and the Indian
reluctance to adopt – one would assume that orphanages would welcome prospective
parents with open arms.
However, orphanages in India have the opposite problem – bafflingly long waiting lists.
A part of the problem is the process. The Quint spoke to Veena Naregal, a single mother who adopted her daughter from an agency in Pune seven years ago. The paperwork is rigorous (not without good reason) and it can take up to two years to finally become a parent. In other words, the process is more than twice as long as a pregnancy.
Veena told us that she spent about a year with an adoption agency before even registering and filing the paperwork.
You have to be prepared for an indefinite waiting period. Typically, because of waiting lists, it may be as long as two years before a suitable child is available for adoption.
Given rampant child trafficking and concerns over sexual abuse, agencies require a daunting amount of paperwork.
The formal application requires that you submit an extensive dossier. In addition to identification, they require references from people who know you well and can vouch for you, your income tax returns, certificates from your employers, and if members of your family are involved and supportive, a letter from them claiming responsibility for the child in the event of your demise.
Indian adoption laws do allow single parents to adopt children. However, as Veena learnt while filing her papers, the law is not free from prejudice.
I was required to submit a letter from a ‘father figure.’ As a single mother taking sole responsibility for the child, who was I supposed to approach? I found it very odd. And given that men aren’t traditionally looked upon as caregivers, I can only imagine the hurdles single men looking to adopt must cross.
However, getting around archaic laws is only a part of it. Dealing with the adoption centres themselves can be difficult and traumatic, so much so that Veena had to change agencies.
I knew I wanted an infant, but I chose not to state a gender preference. The first agency I went to was unhappy that I was single and unwilling to choose. They first told me that I may have to accept an older child. I agreed. Then they told me that the child may be HIV positive or have a mental illness. My conversation with them ended there.
On an average, the entire process from start to finish takes a minimum of two years and a prospective parent can expect to spend between 10 and 20 thousand rupees on the child’s maintenance and medical bills, if any.
In September 2015, the country’s Woman and Child Development Ministry, headed by Maneka Gandhi changed the rules. Adoption is now a centralised process and prospective parents are required to register with the Child Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). CARA maintains an online database with the details of children awaiting adoption and registered parents.
While centralisation has introduced transparency into the process and made it more organised, Veena is not so sure the change is as successful as everyone seems to think it is.
The new laws have taken autonomy away from the agencies. Now that the primary care-givers have been eliminated from the process, prospective parents need not visit care homes. For the kids, family visits were exciting; they were events to look forward to.
She likened the situation to online dating and she’s right, the process of selecting a child is not unlike looking for a date on Tinder. Parents are sent photographs and profiles of children who match their specifications and are asked to take their pick.
Moreover, I’m not so sure how accurate CARA’s database is – agencies often submit information which is not up-to-date. The entire process has become personal, it’s like shopping on Amazon. Children are ‘chosen’ on an online database.
Veena said that despite the hurdles, she would not have done it any other way. She and her daughter are a happy family.
If more people are to adopt, there are certain rusty hinges in the system that must be oiled. The process has to become more efficient in order to create vacancies in orphanages so that more children can be put up for adoption.
An IndiaSpend article reports that in a country with 50,000 potentially adoptable children, no more than 1,600 children are up for adoption. Of the 1,600, half have medical problems. 7,500 families are in queue for the 800 ‘normal’ children.
The data raises more questions than it answers. In a country where children are abandoned every day, why are only 50,000 adoptable? Where are the others? If the number of families waiting to adopt is as small as 7,500, why is the waiting list prohibitively long?