TIRUCHY: Childless couples, too impatient to adopt children legally, are turning to illegal means of adoption. But the process is not safe and can put the futures of both the child and parents at risk, rue activists and officials.
More often than not, single mothers from poor backgrounds are targeted. And the mediators negotiating the deals are mostly middle-aged women belonging to fishing hamlets in coastal regions of Chennai and Kanchipuram districts, who travel across cities to sell dry fish. “Most of the time, the baby is reserved even while the mother is pregnant. Already under a lot of pressure, the mother too tends to let go of the child as the chances of the baby having a bright future is better with adopted parents. The practice is prevalent amongst both literate and illiterate communities,” said a Chennai-based child-rights activist.
Other than the prolonged waiting time in legal adoption, fear of not making to the cut as per government’s adoption procedures, age and pressure from relatives are other factors that drive couples to the illegal route. Another dangerous factor is the age-old belief that raising another person’s child can cure a woman of her curse and make her conceive.
With Ranjini* childless for eight years after marriage despite expensive treatments, her mother who worked with the fishing community in Kasimedu, helped her ‘purchase’ a month-old baby girl for `5,000 in 2007. And although Velu*, Ranjini’s husband working in a government firm, is entitled to many benefits for him and his family, his adopted child, now 11-years-old, has not been enrolled for any such scheme as Velu has no legal documents validating that he had adopted the child with the consent of the baby’s biological mother.
“Regardless of not conceiving after adopting the child, I love my daughter. Fearing criminal punishments, we have postponed applying for legal documents. Now, with my husband falling ill frequently, I fear for her future,” worries Ranjini.
Ranjini’s case is just the tip of an iceberg. Many babies bought illegally face a bleak future as most parents do not get the required documents made on the child’s name. When the parents die, the child cannot inherit any asset of the family unless one of the relatives helps the child selflessly, which is quite uncommon, according to parents Express spoke.
But where legal adoption is long and convoluted, adopting through ‘word-of-mouth’ happens secretively within a few months or even few days when both the selling and buying parties agree with the gender of the child and the price. Kanchana*, who had witnessed one such negotiation in a fishing hamlet near Kalpakkam, told Express, “Babies born out of illicit affairs and born to unwed women are sold rapidly as their families don’t want the news to spread. Of course, this is not told to the adopting parents. Baby boys are sold at `1-2 lakh, while girl babies are sold at a maximum of `1 lakh.” She added: “Two babies from Chengalpattu have been sold in the last six months to couples living in Chennai.”
Lack of mechanism
“Despite having a member of the Child Welfare Committee in fishing hamlets to provide tip-offs, even a single case of illegal adoption has not been registered in Kanchipuram district. Officials too do not proactively pursue such crimes,” said Zahiruddin Muhammad, member of CWC. In spite of regulations put in place set by the government, there is no set mechanism to trace illegal adoptions unless valid tip-offs are given by members of CWC from their allocated places in various parts of the state, say sources.
An official of the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU), Kanchipuram district, said, “The scale of illegal adoption cannot be estimated as most cases are secretive. But as chances of trafficking happening in hospitals and orphanages are high, necessary sensitisation has been undertaken by both DCPU and CWC. Government hospitals, primary health centers where pregnant women visit frequently are constantly under scanner. All village-level child protection units are also being advised to keep track of developments from the primary stage.”
According to data by the DCPU of Kanchipuram district, only 57 children have been adopted since 2015. And prospective parents on the waiting list are 104 (till August 2018). However, around 72 abandonment cases have been registered between 2015-18. And officials at DCPU say the number of abandonment cases in Chennai is twice as high. “Nationwide, prospective parents are high but donors are comparatively low. Further, as the child is provided under seniority, the waiting period is bound to get extended,” said an official at CWC.
But the DCPU officer said, “The procedures are faster than before. Couples wait for almost 10 to 15 years to have babies through medical procedures. Yet, they are unwilling to even wait for a year to adopt a baby legally. The prolonged waiting period does not justify illegal adoption. Many prospective parents forget the easier way will put them behind bars.”
Talking about the risk factors involved in illegal adoption, he said, “In the legal route, the motive of parents is thoroughly checked. However, in illegal adoptions, the child is vulnerable to child pornography, organ transplant, trafficking, prostitution and more. May be most illegal adoptions are done with good intentions, but that won’t make it legal.” (* names changed)