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COVID Has Orphaned Many Kids. What’s the Legal Way to Offer Help?

Advertising for an orphaned / homeless child is illegal and could land you in legal trouble. Here’s what one can do.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image of a child’s hand in an adult’s used for representational purposes. 
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During the ongoing second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all received messages on social media about children having lost both parents to the disease or both being in hospital with no one to care for the kids.

Through these messages, requests are made for anyone willing to adopt and look after these children to contact the concerned person’s phone number. It seems to be a simple way of helping out during these unprecedented times.

Such messages obviously pull at one’s heart strings and evoke a deep sense of empathy and responsibility for taking action. Individuals or families who have been desirous of adopting kids are easily influenced by these messages. Adoption of such orphaned or abandoned kids seems to be the perfect way of doing social work, and at the same time, adopting a child can be a way to complete one’s family.

However, the reality is that such messages and offers are not the right way of going about helping these children.
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Illegal Means Used to ‘Rehabilitate’ Kids Could Land You in Trouble

It is illegal to take abandoned children under one’s shelter and can lead to the child being ultimately taken back by authorities, thus resulting in further trauma. The person giving shelter can also land up in trouble. The danger of a few ill-intentioned persons can not be ruled out as they can use these kids for child labour or trafficking.

The correct option — when one meets or is made aware of such children — would be to call Childline on their helpline number 1098 or contact the nearest police station.

They would then do the needful through the Child Welfare Committee, always keeping the context and best interest of the child in mind. They would probe the facts, talk to the child as well as relatives and neighbours and thereafter place the child in a suitable temporary environment. This temporary placement could be in an institution or with known relatives or in short-term foster care. Legal adoption would then take place as per well-defined procedures.

What’s Child Adoption in India Like?

Child adoption in India has been practised since time immemorial; mythological stories about baby Krishna being adopted by Nand and Yashoda are also known to one and all. Adoption within families used to happen frequently and takes place even now, in total disregard of the legal procedures. There used to be many success stories but one has also heard of cases going wrong.

The need for clear adoption laws, guidelines and procedures was realised. Fortunately, child adoption has now come under the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare of Government of India and is being controlled by the Centralised Adoption Resource Agency (CARA).

All information is available on their website.

The procedure for adoption begins after the child is declared “legally free for adoption” by the Child Welfare Committee. Prospective parents register on the CARA portal and the agency prepares a home study report and assesses parents’ eligibility in terms of age, physical and psychological health along with their social and financial status. The child study report, along with a medical report, is also prepared. The suitability of the parent/s is assessed by a team of social workers and psychologists. If the child report is acceptable to the parent, a meeting ensues and the legal process begins.

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The Nuances & Myriad Facets of Child Adoption & Rehabilitation

Having volunteered as a psychologist carrying out pre-adoptive and post-adoptive counseling of children and parents in Delhi over many years, it has been starkly evident that the process of child adoption has several psychological aspects to be considered.

It is important to carry out a thorough assessment to ensure that the child will receive a healthy home environment after adoption. Such children may have already suffered trauma and cannot afford to be exposed to any risks.

The initial honeymoon period may lead to resentment and dissatisfaction in adoptive parents at not having their expectations met. There can be adjustment issues and it has been found that regular follow-ups, post-adoptive counselling and support groups are of great help. In these times of crisis, amid a raging pandemic, the abandoned child may have witnessed the trauma of one or both parents being very sick, the child may not have eaten a proper meal in many days, and definitely would not have received tender love and care that is so necessary in the formative years. Hospitalisation of parents increases the physical and psychological impact on the child. Some lucky ones get cared for by well-meaning relatives, friends or neighbours for brief periods of time.

But in the event of prolonged hospitalisation and the death of one or both parents, the child is suddenly all alone, afraid and extremely vulnerable. They become susceptible to short-term impact as well as long-term psychological consequences.

Call Childline, Police or Local Administrative Authorities If You Spot an Orphaned / Homeless Child

Many psychological implications are possible, including internalising disorders such as guilt, anxiety, phobia, attachment issues and depression, and externalising disorders such as aggression, substance abuse and antisocial behaviour. Therefore, taking care of these children has to be handled very carefully.

Younger children do not understand the concept of death, and breaking the news of a parent’s death needs to be done very sensitively in an age-appropriate manner.

They are vulnerable and can easily fall into the wrong hands and be subjected to abuse, child labour and even trafficking. Therefore, it is imperative to spread public awareness about the right way of dealing with these children affected by the pandemic.

Thus, to reiterate as above, in case one comes across a child left homeless or without parents, the best option is to call Childline at their 24/7 phone number 1098 or contact them through their website. Another option is to contact the local police authorities or the District Child Welfare Committee.

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Do Not Advertise for an Orphaned or Homeless Child — It’s Illegal

One should never resort to advertising. We may have very good intentions and only offer short-term care but the case must be reported to local authorities as soon as possible.

Let them arrive at decisions regarding the placement whether short-term relative care, or foster care or in an institution — depending on the best interest and protection of the child. If one is keen on adoption, it is advisable to go through proper channels and to follow the prescribed procedure, even if it takes time and effort. Each of us needs to be an aware and responsible citizen in these times, and rise above one’s own selfish interests.

(Dr Renu Kishore retired as Associate Professor in Psychology at Daulat Ram College at University of Delhi. She is a member of several academic organisations, such as National Association of Psychologists, Indian Academy of Applied Psychology and Indian Association for Family Therapy. She specialises in Developmental Psychology and Counselling. She has been closely associated as a psychologist with the erstwhile Co-ordinating Voluntary Adoption Resource Agency. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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