MADURAI: The recent incident of child trafficking and illegal adoption through a city-based NGO, Idhayam Trust, has put the highlight on the need to educate society against stigmatising childless couples and sensitise it to the nitty-gritty of legal adoption system.
“A family is not complete without a child,” *Rani and *Rajan are told repeatedly by those around them. Having been childless for over a decade, the couple found themselves at the receiving end of heartless stigmatisation, isolation, and humiliation, most of it directed at Rani.
“We were treated a failure by our family members. We were ridiculed during social gatherings and ostracised from family functions. My in-laws called me maladi and said they would get rid of me and make my husband marry a ‘fertile’ woman. My husband was supportive, but I lived with the insecurity for years until we moved out and cut ties with our families,” said Rani.
For Rajan, the harassment was centred on social status. “My colleagues and elders from the family told me that I would need a child to look after us in our old age and to perform my last rites. When others discussed schools and future plans of their children, I would be ridiculed and ignored,” said Rajan.
The case of Rani and Rajan is not an isolated one; almost all childless couples come across such situations. Many of these couples have already applied for adoption. As for Rani and Rajan, they are waiting for a call from the government for the past three and a half year now.
Speaking to Express, members of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC-Madurai), B Pandiaraja and L Shanmugam, said: “Most often, middlemen approach childless couple with the promise of getting them a child within a short span of time. Desperate couples do take the bait, often willing to pay any amount the middlemen demand. When a legal issue crops up or when the middlemen start blackmailing them for more money, they approach adoption agencies to make the same child a legally adopted one, which is not possible.”
Further, many couples are not willing to adopt any child available. “Many couples seek infants believing it would not, later in life, know that it was adopted. There have, however, been incidents wherein an adoptee accepting the adopted parents after growing up and seeking out its biological parents,” the CWC members told Express.
‘Adoption system is child-centric’
While couples applying for adoption expect the system to work faster, Dr Augustus Samuel Dodd, Medical Superintendent and Projects Correspondent at Grace Kennet Foundation Hospital(one of the two special adoption agencies in Madurai), explains that the adoption system is child-centric and is aimed at being a safety net for the children.
“One of the basic rights of any individual is the right to a family life. Adoption is done only in the interest of the child. An orphanage, an organisation, or any institution could never be a safe abode for a child; the safest place for a child is with a family,” said Dr Augustus.
On the process of adoption, he said that several rounds of screening would be carried out for a child to be certified ‘free to be adopted’ by the CWC. “Both normal and special children would be shown to Indian parents. But, most Indian parents do not opt for special children. The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) would then show the children with special needs for inter-country adoption. A normal child could never go for inter-country adoption,” added Dr Augustus.
Once the couple registers for adoption, the nearest special agency gets notified to carry out a home study and several other procedures. If everything goes well and the couple/adopting parent finds a child matching its criteria, the adoption committee — comprising the director of the organisation, one social worker, one official from the District Child Protection Unit and one Probationary Officer — decides that the child can be given for adoption to the couple/parent. The child, however, will remain under the ‘foster care’ of the adopting parent until the family/district court finishes perusing documents and orders relevant to the child’s adoption.
“The ultimate authority is the court. After the court verification, the adoption agency will do follow-ups on the adoption once in six months for two years to complete the whole process,” he said. It takes anywhere between 1.5 and 4 years to get a child through the legal-adoption system. While around 40 to 60 children are given for adoption annually in Madurai, the waiting list of couples waiting for children is infinite. “The long waiting period and social stigmatisation make couples impatient and resort to illegal adoption, which would ultimately become their undoing,” he added.
Prospective adoptive parents are categorised into – married, single male, and single female. Married couple and single female can choose a child of any sex, but single male can adopt only a male child. All the parents are allowed to choose the child from a particular State, more than one State or go for open adoption
Categories of children free to be adopted
- Orphaned children – those who lost both the parents
- Abandoned children - those whose parents/family cannot be traced
(In the case of abandoned children, it first needs to be verified whether they were indeed abandoned or are lost. A police complaint is filed within 24 hours of find the child, and the CWC would take temporary custody of the child. If the family cannot be traced even after an intense search by different government bodies and paper publications, a report would be submitted to the CWC, which has the ultimate authority to declare that a child can be adopted. The details of the child will be uploaded on the website of Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA)
- Surrendered children - children delivered by minor mothers/ the parents who are economically weak to support the child. Sixty days are given to the parents to decide whether to surrender their child