Sunday, 11 November 2007
Investigation of inter-country adoption in India
On Their Own
(A socio-legal investigation of inter-country adoption in India)
Amita Dhanda & Geeta Ramaswamy
Otherwise Books, Hyderabad. Pages 91. Price Rs 75.
By Syed Akbar
Children are priceless. Every new-born child is a bundle of joy. And the joy of having a child knows no bounds. Married couples, who could not reproduce for biological or other reasons, know how dark life is without a child at home. Their craving to possess a child is often so irresistible that they go in for adoption.
While there's nothing wrong in adopting a child, the methods some couples prefer to adopt are sometimes illegal and dangerous to the life of the child itself. And taking advantage of the situation, a number of child adoption agencies or child care centres have sprung up in the country in the past two decades. Quite often such agencies have made a mockery of the child adoption rules in the country and abroad.
Social activists and researchers Amita Dhanda and Gita Ramaswamy succinctly bring out in their investigative report, "On Their Own", the issues involved in adoption and how some unscrupulous adoption agencies have made a mockery of all established moral and legal rules to make a fast buck.
It is perhaps the first socio-legal investigation work on inter-country adoption in India loaded with statistical data and case studies. The report was originally prepared for Save the Children UK in November 2004. It is now published in the form of a book by Otherwise Books. The report will serve as a major reference document for research scholars and inquisitive minds alike. Between July 2001 and July 2004, 394 children were given in adoption to Indians by Sishu Vihar in Hyderabad, an in-country record unmatched by all the agencies in Andhra Pradesh put together for a decade.
One of the authors Gita Ramaswamy, who has worked extensively with agricultural labours and adopted children, personally investigates into random cases of inter-country adoption, interviewing with parents, children, officials and all those connected with issue. A highlight of the investigation is the "birth searches", a Herculean task of tracing the biological parents, adoptive parents and the adopted children now residing outside the country. Geeta Ramaswamy has earlier carried out a study on inter-country adoptions in Andhra Pradesh and she had also been actively involved in challenging the legality of these adoptions in courts.
The authors cover the subject from a child rights perspective with a thrust on legal and social inter-country adoption practices in Karnataka, Delhi, Maharahstra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, besides Andhra Pradesh.
The three part analytical study contains the legal framework of inter-country adoption within India; the findings of a comprehensive study of court documents of children adopted abroad; a revealing social investigation of the prediction towards inter-country adoption and bias against Indian parents. It also finds out how Indian adoptees have adjusted themselves both socially and psychologically.
The authors also takes pot-shots at the officials involved in framing of rules when they note down, "the adoption laws and policies seem to have been formulated oblivious of the best interests of the child. Or rather oblivious of what children consider their best interests. In fact a child's perception of his or her situation is the least important input in the decision-making affecting him or her".
Although India has ratified the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption way back in 2003, the study finds glaring omissions in the fulfilment of its obligations under the convention. The system has primarily functioned on the premise that foreign adoptions are good for Indian children, hence whosoever facilitates such adoptions does well by the child.
Along with Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh has been one of the important source States for inter-country adoptions. The volume the State provides can be deduced from the fact that even in 2000, when foreign adoption in the State was riven with controversy, 200 of the 1000 children sent for ICA were from AP.
The process of adoption has been a matter of debate in Andhra Pradesh as far back as 1977. These debates did not address adoption as a "development" or "child rights" issue. Instead, the focus was the ethics of relinquishment and purchase of babies from vulnerable communities like the Lambadas.
Whenever agencies were caught taking babies from vulnerable communities, their premises were raided by the government and their work was stopped. But agencies that were not caught continued to operate, perhaps because they were resourceful in escaping both the attention of the media and the government. This uneven implementation explains why some agencies were exposed in 1997, others were hauled up in 2001, and still others continue trying to send babies abroad even today.
Geeta Ramaswamy obtained evidence of the psychological torment caused by these adoptions when she completed birth searches of five Indian foreign adoptees. These were random searches, done at the instance of adoptees and adoptive parents. The searches have shown that none of the parents had relinquished their child for adoption. Instead they had placed their child in what they thought was temporary safe care in the orphanage. No search involved an unwed mother. In all the five cases, the papers were forged and fabricated, and signed by one parent only; in one of them, the mother who had died in 1996 was shown to have signed a notarised relinquishment deed in 1998.
In four of the five, the other parent was termed dead, in order to bypass the rule that both parents, if living, needed to relinquish the child. In all five cases, the parents of the children were traumatised by the loss of the children, depression, daily bouts of weeping, and an inability to get on with life being common.
The authors end their report with nine suggestions to authorities concerned on how to put an end to the menace. They feel the need for greater debate and dialogue at the UN and other international forums to combat violations of international conventions. "Since adoption in general and inter-country adoption in particular, are emotive issues, organisations hesitate to address them. We need to consider whether the present approach of seeing ICA as a good option needs to be changed so that ICA comes to be seen as the last option," they argue.
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