By Ila Ananya
When Vinita, a Delhi school teacher, first began the lengthy procedure of adopting a child, she felt uncertain about picking one among three children based on their photographs. It made her uncomfortable because she felt like she was in a sari shop with many options. “A baby is not an object. But I was also scared that the pressure of having to choose would be too much. What if I came home and wondered what would have happened if I had chosen someone else? Would that make me a bad person,” she asked.
So it isn’t surprising that Vinita is enthusiastic about the Central Adoption Resource Authority’s (CARA) new rule for prospective adoptive parents. According to CARA, all prospective parents will be shown only one child (instead of three), from 1 May onwards. They have 48 hours to accept or reject the child, and if they do reject, they will be referred another child within 90 days. A second rejection would give them a third option (again in 90 days), and if they reject another time, they go all the way to the bottom of the seniority list. And it’s an extremely long waiting list — there are around 15,000 prospective parents in India and only 1,800-2,000 children up for adoption.
Lieutenant colonel Deepak Kumar, CEO of CARA, has given two reasons for this new move. The first is, of course, the same clause that had made Vinita uncomfortable. Kumar has reportedly said that they are actively trying to “discourage commodification of adoptable children where parents can pick and choose”. At the same time, he has also said that the move will help fasttrack the slow rate of adoption currently, where children remain in the referral cycle for longer time.
Many parents like Vinita believe this new rule is a step in the right direction. Srobona Das had adopted a child under the old system (she got her court orders in 2011), in which you interacted directly with an adoption agency that matched you with a child after a home study.
Das, along with Swarna Venkataraman, runs ‘For & Of Heart Babies’, a private and extremely pro-active Facebook group that counsels adoptive parents. In the last two days, Das said she has seen many conversations on the group about the new rule. “The idea of ‘pick and choose’ has always been one that most parents on the group have thought should go. Most have said that taking away this choice is a good move,” Das said, adding that after all, we wouldn’t have a choice with biological children.
Rishika, a prospective parent, even frantically called CARA and found that the new rule would not affect their seniority number on the waiting list (a source of perennial anxiety for prospective parents) until their third rejection. CARA representatives said they still get options, although with this gap.
However, this is not to say that everyone is on board with the new regulation.
Some parents say they don’t understand why choice is a problem. “What is wrong in looking at a photo and feeling like the child looks like me, or that I’ve immediately connected with the child in the photograph?” Vinita heard someone say when news of the change in rules broke.
She disagrees, however. “I think the question is on what basis is someone feeling this connection. How can it be anything other than looks when all you have is a photograph?” she asks. And looks, she added, is not the way to begin a relationship with a child.
Mridula, who works as a dentist in Bangalore and is currently on the adoption waiting list, was horrified when remembering her experiences on this front. Adoption agencies she visited said that some children remained in the system longer than others because of their skin colour. “The new rule seems like a good idea,” she says.
But she agrees with Srobona Das that “the 48-hour rule is too harsh”. Parents must get more time. And frequently, prospective parents have to drop everything and rush to visit the child, who is more often than not in another state. In some horrifying cases (before the new order), parents even missed CARA’s message telling them about a child they are eligible to visit because of some snafu, and were sent to the bottom of the list. With the new 48-hour clock ticking, chances of this happening again are high. Not to mention high levels of anxiety added to an already difficult decision.
Das suggested that CARA bring some of this tight scheduling to other stages of adoption. “How come there aren’t any such dates for court orders?” she asked, since the power to issue an adoption order lies with a sessions court — a process that often takes many months or even a year.
However, just as all adoption agencies aren’t on board with CARA’s 2015 move to centralise the entire adoption system, not all agencies are convinced by this new idea either. Anand C, who runs Shishu Mandir (started in 1983) in Bangalore, and is listed as an authorised adoption agency, argues vehemently that while the 2015, centralisation move made adoption seem like online shopping, and this new move will further decrease adoption rates.
As per the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s figures, 5,964 children were put up for adoption in 2011, which dropped massively to 2,406 (till January 2017). Anand also argued that there’s no reason to believe that this will help children be adopted faster, or ensure that children don’t get rejected multiple times. “The effect of rejection on the child by one parent will be the same as when it was earlier.”
Anand also makes alarming allegations of corruption in the world of adoption. “There is a scope in CARA to collect huge amounts of money,” he said. “I have heard of some NGOs telling people to come see the child. They say, ‘If you like the child, I’ll make sure you get the child with CARA’s approval, but you have to pay.'” he said.
Anand rues that nobody is attacking the real problem: That children are sent into illegal adoption.
In Bangalore, Dr Aloma Lobo, who co-authored The Penguin Guide to Adoption in India with Jayapriya Vasudevan, has been a beacon of light to prospective adoptive parents for decades. Mother to six children (three biological and three adopted), she has previously been part of CARA, and has also served as chairperson of the Adoption Coordinating Agency of Karnataka. Lobo said the new rule is an important change. “In principle, a child is not a commodity. We know how a large number of parents adopt children, going by skin colour, and how a baby looks, and this pressure will help change that,” she said.
At the same time, Lobo also understands how much pressure it can be for parents to pick a child, and having three choices (which, was actually six, before it was brought down in January 2017) didn’t make this easier. “Now, when the parent has just one option and a 48-hour window in which to decide, the system could move much faster,” Lobo said, because there isn’t any choice.
Sister Pratima, who runs Society of Sisters of Charity, an adoption agency in Bangalore, agreed with this, “The focus should be on getting a child out of the system faster. I do not help find a child for a family, but a family for a child — and that makes a huge difference,” Lobo had once said in an interview.
To many prospective parents, CARA’s new rules seem like a step in that direction.
(Names and identifying details of some parents have been changed)
Co-published with Firstpost.