Adoption During Covid-19

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    The second wave of Covid-19 has left many children extremely vulnerable, particularly those who have been orphaned.

    About the Issue

    • Childline 1098 has been recording a considerably large number of calls for children whose both parents succumbed to Covid-19.
      • Childline 1098 is the national helpline for children.
    • Earlier in May 2021, child rights activists started adoption appeals for children who had been orphaned due to the Covid-19.
    • The Ministry of Women and Child Development flagged such adoption requests as illegal and urged people to prevent trafficking in the garb of adoption.
    • It requested people to report all such cases to 1098 or police or a Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
      • Only a district CWC can decide the future of children found orphaned in such circumstances.
    • It also asked the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to add a column in hospital admission forms asking patients to specify in whose custody their children can be left in case of any eventuality.
    • Difference between Covid Orphaned Children and Others
      • For the Covid orphans, the nature of being abandoned is slightly different.
      • Their economic interests cannot be ignored as they do not lose everything, like children getting orphaned after an earthquake or tsunami.
      • In the case of Covid-19 orphans, they may have grandparents or uncle and aunts who are willing to take care of them.
      • The intervention required in such situations is assistance and support for the prevention of family separation.

    Procedure for Determining the Status of a Child

    • The district CWC first makes efforts to find members of the birth family and then makes an assessment.
      • The district CWC includes psychologists, sociologists, medical doctors and lawyers.
      • The local unit of the child rights protection committee can also help. 
      • Moreover, every police station in the country has a designated child welfare officer who also helps in making the social investigation. 
    • If no one comes forward to claim such a child, the CWC refers the child to a special adoption agency for interim care.
    • The District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) undertakes a social investigation, which includes efforts to find members from the extended family who can be given the custody of the child.
    • Failing which, the child may be declared orphaned, surrendered or abandoned before being declared legally free for adoption.

    Laws Related to Child Adoption

    • To follow the legal route in getting a child to an adoptive family, any concerned citizen can call Childline at 1098 to report a child who has been abandoned or orphaned.
    • Citizens could follow the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, or the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, 2015 to adopt or seek legal custody under the Guardianship and Wards Act of 1890.
    • Section 45 of the JJ Act provides for sponsorship and to send children for institutional care.
    • In July 2018, the JJ Act was amended to enable speedier adoption of children.
      • Prospective parents who wish to adopt will not be required to make several rounds to the courts to seek an adoption order as District Magistrates or District Collectors will be authorised to do so.
    • All Child-Care Institutions (CCIs) will have to get registered and linked to the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA).

    Adoption Process

    • First and foremost, under the JJ Act a child should be declared legally free for adoption.
    • The child should be produced before the District CWC, duly constituted under the law in every district.
      • Section 31 of the JJ Act mandates the entire process is to be followed with the consent of the district CWC.
    • A social investigation report and a home study report (of the child) are also done for the committee’s assessment before the child is given up for adoption.
    • What is in the best interests of the child is decided and only after this, the match-making with prospective parents can begin.
    • The CARA provides extensive details of the process.

    Concerns

    • Children who have faced crises such as a loss of family members or separation from their parents due to death and desertion, have emotional trauma.
    • There is an inherent disadvantage in the adoption process as children are not made aware of the situation and are kept in the dark.
    • Cutting them off from their roots for the sake of putting them up in a child welfare institution or under the care of an NGO is not ideal.
    • It is a common misperception that child shelters are a better option to care for an orphaned child. Many child shelters do a good job of taking care of kids in need, but most of them will never assess the children under their care for adoption.
    • The trafficking of such children is a challenge, especially in the eastern part of the country like Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
    • The legal adoption pool has less than 2,500 children now though there are more than 30,000 parents registered and waiting for a child.

    Suggestions

    • Psychologists and child rights activists reason that adoption is neither the first or best option for such children and recommend kinship care (non-institutional care with a family) as a more suitable alternative.
      • Non-institutional care with a family is far better for the child’s evolution and normal growth.
    • Additional measures should be taken such as assigning DCPUs the task of surveillance as well as follow up of children directly affected due to loss of one or both parents, or those whose parents are in hospital with nobody to look after them.
    • State governments must make kinship care part of the child protection system.
      • For example, Maharashtra’s Bal Sangopan Yojana, where the State grants educational support of Rs. 1,000 per month to families to look after orphaned children
    • NGOs can help in doing the home study and the social investigation report to enable the district CWC in its task and can also help in sponsorship and play the role of a facilitator.
    • The Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) anti-trafficking unit should be permitted by states to access records and take up cases to protect these vulnerable children from trafficking.
    • The legal adoption pool should be enlarged.

    Central Adoption Resource Authority

    • It has been set up as a statutory body of the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
    • It functions as a nodal body for the adoption of Indian children and is mandated to monitor and regulate in-country and inter-country adoption.
    • It deals with adoption of orphan, abandoned and surrendered children through its associated adoption agencies.
    • It is designated as the Central Authority to deal with inter-country adoptions in accordance with the provisions of the Hague Conventions on Inter-Country Adoptions, 1993, ratified by the Government of India in 2003.

    Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

    • It is a multilateral treaty which came into existence in December 1983.
    • It is an international treaty to ensure the prompt return of the child who has been abducted from the country of their habitual residence.
    • It applies to children under 16 years.

    Source: TH