Compassion, a matter of rights

Within a political climate of minority bashing, the request for derecognition of the adoption centres by the Missionaries of Charity (MoC), has acquired a political hue. The Union minister for women and child development (WCD), Maneka Gandhi, has accused the nuns of giving children to Christian parents.

In the public debate, the recent guidelines issued by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), an autonomous body under WCD, are projected as secular. They entitle unmarried singles persons to adopt as opposed to the policy of the MoC that married couples are prioritised over single persons.

An article, Be fair to the sisters by Derek O’Brien, Trinamul Congress MP, shed some light on the controversy. According to him the accusation by the minister that MoC has been giving children only to Christians is unfounded as he personally knows of several Hindu couples who have adopted children from MoC. Further, adoption forms only a small part of the activities of MoC. Their primary concern is to care for the infirm, the aged, unwed mothers and abandoned children. The services are offered free of charge to the needy across religions.

However, it is an admitted position that married couples are prioritised over singles while giving a child in adoption due to their belief that a married couple would be able to provide the child a stable home environment. This was not their only concern in asking for derecognition. They also had objections to the new procedure which permits the adoptive parents to select a child after scrutinising the profile of six children. They feel this would commodify kids.

Thankfully, a PIL filed in the Bombay HC by a parent seeking to adopt and an unwed mother has helped shift the focus away from religions. The PIL has challenged the CARA guidelines on precisely the same points which were objected to by the MoC. The Federation of Adoption Agencies in Maharashtra, which is a party in the PIL, has also objected to the digitisation of the procedure on the ground that most people in our country do not have access to technology. The MoC is a part of the federation in Maharashtra.

This will give an opportunity to the court to examine the objections raised by the MoC. The government has assured the court that it is willing to consider the objections and issue fresh guidelines. This is a step forward. However, several other concerns need to be foregrounded.

Despite best efforts the number of children being adopted through these adoption centres is negligible. While there are 20 million destitute children in India, in 2014-15 just over 4,000 were adopted — 3,988 within India and 372 by parents abroad. According to CARA, this constitutes a mere 0.04 per cent of abandoned children. We also need to examine the context in which the autonomous body, CARA, was formed in the first place and the need for evolving a comprehensive scheme arose.

The main concern was to curb adoption rackets. There were instances of agencies luring poor parents to sell their infants, picking up abandoned babies, or kidnapping infants to sell them to foreigners. An important point to note is that the adoption centres of the MoC have never been under the scanner for such malpractices.

The guidelines made it mandatory for Child Welfare Committee (CWC) to verify the whereabouts of each child before it is placed for adoptio. The ratio of in-country and inter-country adoption, which was 50:50 at that time, was to change to 80:20.

As per the 2011 CARA guidelines, a couple in a live-in relationship was not entitled to adopt. A couple had to be in a “stable” marriage for at least two years. A person below 25 years and beyond 50 years was not eligible to adopt a child under three years, and the aggregate age of parents could not be more than 90 years. For adopting a child above three years, the age bar was extended to 55 years and the aggregate age to 105 years.

A single person was entitled to adopt, but the age bar was more constricted — between 30 and 45 years for adopting a child under three. A single male could not adopt a girl. While gays and lesbians could not adopt as a couple, they were eligible as single persons. Whether any of these stipulations have been changed now is not clear.

It does appear that the MoC did not raise any objections to these guidelines at that time and seems to have abided by them. Hence, it is difficult to understand the present controversy except regarding the choice of six children and the digitised online procedure. About the apprehension that single persons may be gays or lesbians, this has been a concern for all adoption centres, not just the MoC. But, gradually, there seems to be a change in approach. So both the government and the MoC need to examine the issue from a more inclusive perspective.

The writer is a women’s rights lawyer

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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