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Monday, April 05, 2010

Challenges in adoption

Arrival of our girls through adoption filled our hearts with joy and our home with noise. They’ve changed our lives forever. Incidentally, both had arrived on the same day three years apart.

Adoption is the best form of rehabilitation for a child that needs care and protection. No wonder the Juvenile and Justice Act (JJ Act) of India accords very high preference for adoption immediately after biological families. There are only two ways that a child can come into the adoption stream namely ‘abandonment’ and ‘relinquishment’.

In abandonment, a child is found, police files an FIR, child is handed over to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), CWC hands over the child to the adoption agency (AA) with a temporary custody order, AA advertises in the newspaper for claimants and waits for 60 days, CWC declares the child free for adoption if no claimants for 60 days.

In relinquishment, a child is surrendered by the family after CWC counseling, CWC hands over the child to AA with temporary custody, 60 days of time for decision reconsideration, CWC declares the child free for adoption.

Challenges posed are of three kinds namely ‘People’, ‘Procedure’ and ‘Legislative’ and can be attributed to negligence, ignorance and arrogance.

PEOPLE CENTERED:
Often prospective adoptive families begin with unreasonable expectations of a child while being ignorant of the procedures to be followed. Families also fail in post placement follow ups. Families can be empowered through pre-adoption counseling but it is not offered regularly.

According to ‘Central Adoption Resource Authority’ (CARA) guidelines, minimum average family monthly income supposed to be Rs. 3000/- but rarely a child is placed in a home with that kind of income in the ‘best interest’ of the child.

Some adoption professionals go beyond the government set guidelines in choosing families. For example, Section 41 (6) (a) of the JJ Act allows any person irrespective of their marital status to adopt but singles are denied adoption on the premise of the ‘best interest’ of the child. JJ Act and subsequent CARA guidelines have already factored the best interests of the child when the law/ guidelines were made.

Police (giving the abandoned child to NGO’s instead of CWC’s), Lawyers (continuing to finalize the adoption under ‘Guardianship And Wards Act’ (GAWA) instead of JJ Act) and the Government officials (non cooperation due to loss of control on adoption to CWC) also have contributed their share of challenges to the field of adoption.

PROCEDURE CENTERED:
Cost reimbursement guidelines set forth by CARA are uneven. Maximum itemized reimbursable expenses for in-country adoption is Rs. 25,200/- where as it is the fixed fee of US$ 3500/- for inter-country adoptions (ICA). It is the same child but different costs for different families calculated differently (itemized versus fixed fee). Temptation to favor ICA over a domestic is irresistible.

Another challenge is the procedure of ICA. Currently, child is given to an inter-country family under GAWA and then the adoption is to be completed under their domicile law. When families don’t complete the adoption, they remain as guardians. Recently a child was repatriated to India from the US on ill health grounds with no accountability for the care takers because they are only guardians not parents.

LEGISLATION CENTERED:
In relinquishment, family has an opportunity to reconsider their decision to give up the child up to 60 days. What if the family exploits the 60 day window with an ulterior motive (medical care for example) to claim the child on the 59th day? Is that fair for the adoption agency who may have incurred medical and maintenance expenses for 60 days?

Unless and until such challenges are addressed effectively, adoption will remain a distant dream for many children and families. Here are few solutions:

SOLUTIONS:
  1. Strengthening of CWC system.
  2. Mandated pre-adoption counseling certification done by a neutral private party.
  3. CARA must adjust the price disparity between domestic and inter-country adoptions.

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