[Editorial] Adoption Policy in India

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice recently submitted the “Review of Guardianship and Adoption Laws” report to both the Houses of the Parliament. It calls for bringing more abandoned children into the adoption process. However, whether its recommendations for doing so will address the multiple issues impeding the process warrants more discussions.

What are the issues in adoption?

  • Under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956, mothers are treated as subordinates to their husbands when it comes to rights as a guardian. This is in violation of the right to equality and the right against discrimination guaranteed under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution.
  • The report pointed out the huge mismatch between the number of children who are legally available for adoption and the number of people seeking to adopt children.
  • Despite there being millions of orphans in India, only 2,430 children were available for adoption according to the report. Meanwhile, some 27,939 prospective parents are registered with CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority) as of December 2021.
  • Some 6,996 children- orphaned, abandoned or surrendered- were in childcare institutions, but only 2,430 were declared legally available for adoption by the Child Welfare Committee. In 2021-22, only 3,175 children were adopted.
  • Though the number of people wanting to adopt has been historically higher than the number of children available, this chasm has been increasing.
  • The waiting time for adoption has increased from 1 year (in the past 5 years) to 3 years at present.
  • LGBTQI people who seek to adopt children, face institutional discrimination. Also, the 2017 Adoption Regulations is silent on adoption by people of the LGBTQI community- i.e. neither banned nor allowed explicitly.

What did the report recommend?

  • According to the report, remedy lies in making children- orphaned and abandoned- found begging on the streets, be made available for adoption at the earliest. For this, periodic district surveys to identify such children has been suggested.
  • The panel recommends equal rights as guardians for the mothers as well- under the HMG Act (Hindu Minority and Guardianship, 1956).
  • It calls for a new legislation that harmonizes the provisions of JJ (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956.
  • In marital disputes, typically, child custody is restricted to just one parent- usually the mother. The report recommends empowering courts to grant joint custody if it is conducive for the child’s welfare. Otherwise, one parent could get sole custody of the child while the other gets visitation rights.
  • It proposed allowing members from the LGBTQI community to adopt children. The law should also cover the LGBTQI community.

What is the way ahead?

  • The report’s proposals on guardianship isn’t new- it has already been put forth by the Law Commission in its 257th report in 2015 and in its 133rd report in 1989. It is yet to take effect.
  • Over the years, the adoption process has been tightened- both legally and procedurally. This happened in response to the inter-country adoption rackets and malpractice.
  • When it comes to LGBTQI people seeking to adopt, there is a need to note that merely allowing such adoptions would not be sufficient. The law should be amended to recognize them as prospective guardians even when applied as non-single parents, as in case of applicants in marital relationships. Notably, civil union among the LGBTQI community is yet to get legal recognition in India, even though the Supreme Court legalized homosexuality in 2018.
  • It is imperative that India take care of its orphaned children. However, an equal attention should be paid to the finer points in child care.
  • The report assumes that when an orphaned child is placed in a home, there is automatic happiness. There is a need for caution here.
  • The policy guiding adoption in India should be guided by child-centric philosophy.

Conclusion:                                 

Policy interventions that aren’t informed by ground realities tend to become an exercise in self-gratification for the authorities. It brings little to no benefits for the target group. The intention to do good must be matched by knowing what the right action is in a circumstance.

Practice Question for Mains:

What are the issues plaguing adoption process in India? What can be done to address them? (250 words)

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