There are 99 couples on the waiting list of Adoption Coordinating Agency (ACA), Karnataka, some of them patiently awaiting their turn since 2006. ACA is an NGO recognised by the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) that facilitates adoptions across the country. The wait is due to a shortage of healthy babies below one year at these agencies, And most parents want to adopt babies very young.
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Behind the Wait
It’s a common story across agencies in Bangalore. “There are not enough healthy infants and toddlers in adoption centres and most Indians only want to go for a healthy child with no medical problems,” adds Shanthi Chacko, member of board, Ashraya, Indiranagar. She doesn’t share the number of people on the waiting list but adds that couples who are in a hurry to adopt an infant are often recommended to approach agencies in other states like Orissa or Maharashtra, through the ACA, Karnataka.
Dr Aloma Lobo, chairperson of ACA, says “it’s the checks and balances required to declare a child ‘legally free’ for adoption that add to the delay and consequently in the lack of children in agencies.” Dr Lobo doesn’t mince words and says this encourages illegal methods. “One of the reasons behind few healthy children in agencies is also because of a parallel system of illegal adoption, done through hospitals and nursing homes.”
There are two ways children come into adoption agencies. They can be relinquished by their parents and by unwed mothers. In case of the latter, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) interviews the mother and releases the child for adoption after a foolproof process, says Dr Lobo. “For abandoned children, the CWC process to declare them legally free for adoption can take up to four to five months,” she adds.
The Juvenile Board declares an abandoned child legally free for adoption after a long and complicated procedure that involves various arms of the government like the police, courts, government run homes, etc. In case the child’s birth parents are found, they are given an opportunity to reconsider their decision. Relinquished children have to remain in institutions for a two month period, to enable their biological parents to reconsider their decision. It’s only after the courts declare the child free for adoption that the agency can inform couples on the waiting list.
Open minded City
Despite the delays and hurdles, Bangalore seems a city with a definite positive attitude and interest in adoption.
Koramangala’s Sameer Haldar and his wife Tharini got their eight month old daughter home recently. Tharini says that they opted to do this instead of endless visits to doctors to figure out why she couldn’t conceive. Haldar and Tharini had to wait for more than a year before their daughter came home. They are now in the process of getting the adoption formalities completed in the civil court through a lawyer.
Talking of higher number of adoptions in Bangalore, Rajendra Bandi, professor at Indian Institute of Management says, “I would count Bangalore and Pune as fairly open societies,” he says, attributing it to awareness, liberal mindsets, a cosmopolitan crowd and higher education levels. He sees the long wait as a positive thing. “Part of the reason for the wait is also that a growing number of people are accepting adoption in the legitimate way.”
Dr Lobo thinks it’s double incomes and global exposure that has contributed to the increasing interest in and willingness towards adoption. “We get a lot of people of Indian origin who have come back to settle here. Our biggest group of adoptive parents are in the upper middle class, followed very closely by the middle class,” she informs us.
“Adoption is becoming more and more a way of extending a family. Earlier people waited 15 years after marriage trying to have their own children. Now many younger couples are coming forward to adopt instead of going through painful fertility tests or sometimes simply because they wish to adopt a child. There is more awareness and acceptance,” says Dr Saraswati Shrinath, founder-president, Sudatta, an active support group for adoptive parents in Bangalore.
Bannerghatta resident Kanika Sharma (name changed) and her husband have two children. Their first daughter was adopted through Ashraya and they had a biological daughter three years later. “We started the paperwork for our daughter in August 2005 and by February 2006 she was home,” says Kanika. In her case, the court process went quite smoothly, something she attributes to the agency and the lawyer recommended by them. Kanika has several friends in Bangalore who have adopted. She says for her, adoption has been a choice and not a last resort. “That’s what we are going to tell our daughter.”
For Pramila K (name changed) it has been a new lease of life. She went through a bad marriage and after her divorce, felt that she wanted a child to feel complete. “I went to five or six agencies in Bangalore and many were not very encouraging… They felt that ideally a child should have both the parents.” Being a single parent, the process was slightly more complex for Pramila who even had to go for psychiatric assessment before she got legal guardianship of her daughter. Pramila has great support in her mother, who’s helped her raise her daughter.
There are support groups to help such adoptive families. Sudatta, is among the most active groups across India. They often hold interactive sessions, picnics, counselling sessions and workshops. They also help the parents understand the legal procedure behind it. Pramila, who is a member, says meeting other adoptive families with Sudatta has helped with her daughter’s questions and feelings. “She often talks of another family and says, oh so their daughter is also like me.”
The trend in Bangalore also seems to be for girl children. “Many people come to us because they want to make sure the second time around they have a daughter,” says Shanthi Chacko. This is more obvious among affluent couples, she observes.
Interestingly, some corporates too have been sensitised enough to offer support to adoptive parents, though the number is rare. “We have had a couple of employees who have adopted children. To support them with the adoption, we have a policy on adoption leave,” says Riti Garg of Human Resources, Biocon. They offer eight weeks maternity leave if the child being adopted is less than three years and one week leave with full pay if the child is above three years. Some IT firms in the city are also said to be supportive, often on a case to case basis. Central government employees have it easier with 15 days child adoption leave for men and 180 days maternity leave for women- the same as any biological parent.
Miles To Go
Tellingly, both Shanthi and Dr Lobo add that despite the rising number of adoptions in Bangalore, there is still a long way to go. Shanthi thinks despite the exposure, adoption is still looked upon as a last resort. “The majority of affluent couples who come to us would rather try all other avenues before,” she says, referring to infertility treatments. Long held prejudices are hard to let go and this is where pre-adopotion counselling, offered by ACA, agencies and support groups like Sudatta helps. Dr Lobo adds how people usually want a fair child and in some cases, even want to know the child’s religion and caste. “A child here for adoption has no religion,” she states emphatically.
Counselling has also made several prospective parents ignore the scary H word and select HIV False Positive children, i.e., cases where children have tested positive because the mother’s antibodies have been transferred to them. “It makes people recoil at first but once we explain to them that the test is repeated at regular intervals and the antibodies are gone after a while, they are open to taking the child,” Dr Lobo says.
One common demand by most parents is a younger child (below one year). However, in some cases it’s not possible as adoptive parents need to have a composite age of 90 years or less to adopt infants and toddlers. Dr Ali Khwaja, Chairperson of counselling centre, Banjara Academy and honourary secretaray, ACA, adds that after pre-adoption counselling, some elder couples have gone in for an older child. “One of the main reasons why people are averse to it is because they feel an older child has already developed a personality,” he adds.
The lengthy court process could also be a hindrance.
Some couples mention the long waits at the Civil court in Mayo Hall and the judges who are not all that sensitive add to the agony.
According to some reports, the CARA has complained of court delays to the Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court. Despite a Supreme Court order directing the courts to conclude adoption cases within two months of filing an application, some have apparently been pending for as long as 10 months.
However this has not dampened the spirits of waiting parents. Professor Bandi says, that it’s not the occasional hurdles or waiting period that is a cause of concern. “We need to ensure that every child in need of a home goes through the formal adoptive process instead of the large informal, parallel network that exists. If some of that is controlled, you can reach out to many more parents waiting for a child.”