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CURRENT AFFAIRS    

MISSING CHILDREN

THE BUSINESS OF ADOPTION

Sanjay Dubey finds that instead of restoring lost children to their parents, the capital’s adoption homes are selling them

 

In their urge to mint money, these agencies have separated many kids from their natural homes,

says a DSW report

Four-year-old Mohit is lucky. A distant relative, who wanted to settle a score with his parents Prem Sagar and Arti, kidnapped Mohit on May 10 and abandoned him at the Old Delhi railway station. Fortunately, he was rescued and sent to the Delhi Council for Child Welfare, a private adoption agency better known by its other name, Palna.

A frantic Sagar traced his boy to Palna and reached there on the morning of May 11. The officials there were extremely uncooperative. The parents were not allowed to meet their son. “After hours of waiting and pleading, Mohit was finally shown only to my wife and that too from a distance of some 10-15 yards,” says Sagar.

As the weekend fell over the next two days, Palna officials flatly told the parents that they could take Mohit home only on Monday, three days later. “They again refused to entertain us on Monday. We then had to go to the juvenile court, which directed us to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Kingsway Camp,” Sagar told Tehelka.

The government has established CWCs all over the country for the welfare of children who need care and protection. CWC’s are vested with judicial powers and on CWC’s orders and the intervention of some good Samaritans, Mohit was finally restored to his family on May14.

In Mohit’s case Palna disregarded two cardinal rules spelled out in the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA).

»It is mandatory for the police or Childline (a centralised number for missing kids 1098) or any voluntary organisation to produce a missing child before a CWC.

»Every effort should be made to restore the child to his or her biological parents.

Over 34,000 children have gone missing in Delhi in the last 20 years (as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data). Most of them aren’t as fortunate as Mohit. In last three years alone, 6,687 children in Delhi have been declared untraceable by the Crime Branch’s Missing Persons Squad. A senior Department of Social Welfare (DSW) official lays the blame for this on voluntary adoption agencies. “They are fated to live either an orphan’s or an adopted child’s life, all thanks to various voluntary organisations,” he says.

Mohit’s is just one instance of how rules under the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) and Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) guidelines to help missing, abandoned and runaway children are routinely ignored. Instead of providing them a ray of hope, adoption agencies only add to their misery.

CHILD PLAY
 
34,000 children have been reported missing in Delhi in the last 20 years
6,687 children have been declared untraceable between 2004 and 2006
200 Indian couples are waitlisted on an average with each agency. Non-Indians are still preferred
Rs 10,000 is the maximum amount non-Indian couples can be charged for adopting a child
Rs 2,00,000 is the minimum amount non-Indians pay to adopt an Indian child
Rs 20,000 is the average amount paid by Indian couples to adopt a child. By law they should just pay for the expenses

Confidential reports on the functioning of adoption agencies issued by DSW and accessed by Tehelka reveal how Palna routinely flouts norms and rules. A 2005 DSW report states, “Childline and the police are unduly helping the agency [Palna] in procuring children for it in violation of statutory provisions.” It calls Palna’s style of functioning “whimsical, arbitrary and manipulated.”

The report also charges Palna with not presenting children before the CWC or the police. “Why did Palna receive them [the children] and keep them without producing them before the committee. The matter requires to be taken up with the Commissioner of Police,” it says.

The report also says that Palna charges an arbitrary amount of money from people who adopt children — both Indians and foreigners. “All this also reveals how the police and Childline are flouting the statutory and mandatory provisions of JJA, and putting the welfare and fate of innocent children at stake at the hands of such agency [Palna].”

Adoption agencies ignore the poor in the list of prospective parents since they canít cough up enough money
At the time there were 10 placement agencies for orphans and abandoned or lost children in Delhi (eight of those continue to operate) and, according to the DSW’s confidential reports, their style of functioning is not very different from Palna’s. “Further investigation of these organisations revealed that they are not providing any social service to anyone,” says another report. “They are getting children through legal or illegal means and are selling them in the market. The foreigners give higher prices therefore they prefer to sell them to the foreigners.”

Clause 4.35 of CARA guidelines unambiguously states that an adoption agency must be run on a non-profit basis and it shouldn’t look to make money from adoption. Documents with Tehelka show that recognised adoption agencies such as the Church of North India, Welfare Home for Children and Palna, among others, charge about Rs 20,000 on an average from Indians, instead of just the amount to take care of expenses. The guidelines specify that foreigners can be charged a maximum of Rs 10,000 but they routinely have to pay lakhs of rupees.

Clearly, adoption is a lucrative business. This could explain why organisations don’t make any special efforts to restore children to their biological parents, and why children are not produced before the CWC.

The reports also point out that adoption agencies ignore prospective parents in the waiting list who are poor and unable to cough up a high sum of money. SC and CARA guidelines also specify that Indians have to be given preference over foreigners for adoption, but despite there being a long queue of hopeful Indian adoptive parents, adoption agencies do the opposite and prefer foreign nationals seeking to adopt children.

The JJA states that before putting up a child for adoption, the adoption agency must publish his particulars in at least four leading newspapers, of which two must be in regional languages. But “private adoption agencies … have resorted to just a farcical eyewash, by publishing their self proclaimed names and self estimated dates of birth without any photograph, that too only of a few children, in some less popular newspapers, off and on only.” The report says that the agencies do this, “to avoid finding their natural parents.” Commenting on this a CWC member asks, “How can parents recognise their offspring by such an absurd publication which does not even have the child’s correct name ?”

“Most private agencies seldom prepare child histories, in total disregard of the directives of the Supreme Court. Such history sheets could help in tracing the natural parents of a lot of children… These agencies have thus separated innumerous (sic) children from their natural homes… in their urge to mint money through adoptions.”

Had Mohit’s parents not reached Palna, says a senior DSW official, “he would have been in Palna for months without the required effort to trace his family. The agency then would have secured a release order — mandatory to give a child in adoption — from the CWC, finally to give him to a total stranger in return for a huge amount of money.”

This, sources say, is the fate of most children found alone in Delhi. But, what has happened to the reports prepared by some honest DSW officers? “There were all sorts of pulls and pressure on the then director of DSW, Jitendra Narayan, as these agencies are run by very powerful people. Narayan, was ultimately transferred and the new dispensation, after sitting on the matter for a whole year, did nothing more than giving a mild warning to all the organisations,” says a DSW official.

» Writer’s e-mail: sanjay@tehelka.com
July 07 , 2007

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