Author: Vanisha Mishra, Institute of Law Nirma University
As COVID-19 has devastated our country, reading stories about children who have become orphans after losing both parents to this sickness have been extremely heart-breaking. It's impossible to say how many people are affected. COVID has claimed the lives of more than lakhs of individuals, according to official figures, with the true figure believed to be significantly higher.
Thousands of young children have lost one or more caregivers, and the remaining family members may not be ready or capable of caring for them. Many people have successfully used social media networks to request assistance with hospital beds, oxygen, and medications. However, social media has been inundated with requests to adopt children whose parents died of Covid. However, the openness with which phone numbers and images of youngsters are shared raises concerns about child trafficking.
Desperate WhatsApp messages have been circulating, revealing horrific stories of young children who have been left to fend for themselves and promoting children for "adoption." While individuals who forwarded the letters undoubtedly meant well, we must all be aware that offering or receiving children in this manner is both irresponsible and illegal. Indeed, orphaned youngsters are today more than ever vulnerable to falling into the hands of traffickers or criminals as people rush to ‘help' without following required procedures.
ADOPTION RULES AND MACHINERY
Adoption rules in India are rigorous; each state has a child protection and welfare commission that appoints officers in each area. A number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also assist the commissions in identifying children who are at risk.
There is a national adoption portal where people interested in adopting children can register. After all essential checks have been completed and a kid has been declared "legally free for adoption" by the state's child protection committee, matches are formed. Also attempts at adoption by advertisements and posters are illegal and can attract punitive action under the Indian Penal Code, the Care and Protection of Children Act (2015) as well as the Centre’s Adoption Rules (2017).
The Central Adoption Resource Authority was established under the Juvenile Justice Rules of 2016 and the Adoption Regulations of 2017. (CARA). All intra-country and inter-country adoptions are regulated, monitored, and controlled by CARA, which is a statutory authority. Following India's signing of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoptions, CARA also issues a "no objection" certificate for all inter-country adoptions. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has also been signed by India, as a result, all authorities and courts have a legal obligation to safeguard children. Furthermore, the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956 allows anyone who practise the Hindu religion to adopt.
The Adoption Regulations establish severe mandatory processes for the rehabilitation of all orphaned, abandoned, and surrendered children. Specialized adoption organisations conducting home study reports determine the eligibility of potential adoptive parents living in India who have been duly registered on the Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System (CARINGS), regardless of marital status or religion. For a passport and visa to leave India, a final ‘no objection' certificate from CARA or a compliance certificate under the adoption convention is required.
WHY PEOPLE ARE DISSUADED FROM GIVING THE ORPHANS TO STATE RUN SHELTER HOMES
While it is true that many child shelters do an excellent job of caring for children in need, it is also a sad fact that the majority of them never evaluate the children in their care for adoption. Most shelters retain children indefinitely, surviving on contributions from the public until they are old enough to fend for themselves. While shelter homes are preferable to being abandoned on the streets, the child will not receive the same level of care, attention, and sense of belonging that a parent can provide, he will have fewer opportunities for a good education and a secure future, and will be more vulnerable to abuse and trafficking. During COVID, shelters suffer as well, with employees unable to attend to the children and contributions dwindling.
When there is a legal adoption process in place and many people wish to adopt, it is inhumane to keep abandoned and orphaned children in shelters or other unsafe settings. With hundreds more children at risk of being orphaned by COVID, we must act quickly.
HOW CAN THE PROBLEM OF ADOPTION PLEAS BE SOLVED
CARA must run a public awareness campaign on social media, in newspapers, and on television, warning people not to accept any unlawful adoption proposals under any circumstances. The National and State Commissions for the Protection of Children's Rights must play a more proactive role as watchdogs.
All occurrences that come to the attention of social activists, NGOs, and illegal pleas must be reported. The media must publicise and shame all those involved in this disreputable occupation whereas police authorities must be extra vigilant in apprehending criminals. Respective State Legal Services Authorities have the infrastructure and machinery to stamp out such unlawful practises brought to their attention.
Relative adoption is common and often goes unnoticed, but we now lack a reliable system to track and verify if these children are secure. The epidemic should be used as an opportunity to implement such a system. District child protection units should check on orphaned children who are taken in by relatives by default on a regular basis to ensure that the relative is capable and that the child is in a safe setting. If the kid has been neglected or mistreated, the child should be removed from the care of relatives as soon as possible, and the following actions, including possible adoption, should be considered.
If this pandemic teaches us anything, it should be that we do not want to be a country that institutionalises, trafficks, or illegally adopts children or leaves them begging for assistance. Let us give these children, who have already suffered enough, the opportunity to be fiercely protected and cherished by a permanent family through legal adoption.
Juvenile Justice Rules of 2016