New Delhi: In the past few weeks, several messages have been circulating on social media for the adoption of ‘Covid orphans’ or children who lost both parents to the virus.
Government authorities have come down heavily against these posts as they expose orphaned and traumatised children to illegal adoption or worse, child trafficking and child labour.
As reported by ThePrint Thursday, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development (WCD) has told the health ministry that parents infected with Covid-19 who are being admitted to hospitals should declare in a form who their children should be handed over to if they die.
WCD officials told ThePrint that the form does not mean that the existing procedure for adoption will be circumvented in these cases. Instead, such a declaration would only come to the child welfare authorities’ aide, which will still be bound to follow due procedure for adoption of any child.
As Covid fatalities rise across the country, several children under the age of 18 have been orphaned. In view of this, ThePrint explains the legal processes of adoption, why authorities are discouraging social media posts about adoptions and how it is illegal to take a child into one’s custody without following due processes.
Legal process for adoption in India
Adoption is the process of legally establishing a parent-child relationship between persons who do not share this relationship biologically.
In India, the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) is the statutory body of the WCD ministry, which functions as the nodal agency for adoption, and is mandated to monitor and regulate in-country and inter-country adoptions.
The adoption of orphaned (parents have died), abandoned (parents have deserted) and surrendered (parents legally gave up custody) children are all regulated by CARA through its associated or recognised adoption agencies.
Three laws govern adoption in the country: The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956, which is applicable to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs, the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890, which is applicable to Muslim, Parsi, Christian and Jews in adoption, and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act of 2000,
Ordinarily, to adopt a child in India, a Prospective Adoptive Parent (PAP) has to upload their application for adoption and relevant documents on CARA’s website. A home study of the PAP by a social worker of a Specialised Adoption Agency (SAA), which is an agency recognised by CARA, is then conducted, and uploaded on the website.
Profiles of children identified as legally free for adoption are then shared by the SAA with the prospective parents, who are supposed to “reserve” a child within 48 hours. The SAA is then supposed to “match” the child with the prospective parent within a period of 20 days.
According to the JJ Act, earlier the SAA along with the prospective parent were supposed to file a petition in the designated court regarding the final decision on adoption.
However, earlier this year, the Union Cabinet cleared amendments to the Act, allowing powers to the District Magistrate instead of the district court to grant final approval in adoption cases. This was done to expedite the process of adoption.
What happens if a relative wants to adopt the child?
According to Section 51 of the Adoption Regulations, 2017, if a family relative wishes to adopt an orphaned child, the process remains the same. The prospective parents have to register on the Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System (CARINGS).
While the SAA will not provide the prospective parents with profiles of other children, the rest of the process is similar.
Consent of the biological parents or the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) — in case the child is in their custody — will be required.
In case the child is above the age of five, his or her consent is also recorded.
Adoptive parents are then required to give an affidavit regarding their financial stability and social status, and then approach the DM for the final approval of adoption.
Can legal process be waived during crisis situations?
The due processes of adoption cannot be waived even during a pandemic. However, in this situation, a declaration by parents stating who their children should be handed over to, in the event of their death, serves two purposes.
One, it ensures the child, who would be under immense trauma, can be handed over to a trusted person on an immediate basis. Two, it makes the job of the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) easier by establishing the credentials of a prospective adoptive parent in the eyes of the child’s biological parent.
However, this does not mean that the adoption can take place informally. The child’s custody has to be taken legally by the adoptive parent, who must follow protocol.
Social media posts on adoption
If one sees a social media post for adoption, first and foremost, they should not be circulated further as doing so is illegal. Such posts must be reported to the District Child Welfare Committee or on the child welfare helpline (1098).
Earlier this week, WCD Minister Smriti Irani tweeted, “If you come to know of any child who has lost both parents to COVID and has no one to take care of her/him, inform Police or Child Welfare Committee of your district or contact Childline 1098. It is your legal responsibility.”
It is illegal to give or take orphan children of any one else in adoption. Such children should be taken to Child welfare committee, which will take necessary action in the best interest of the child.
— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) May 4, 2021
Furthermore, in the last few days, authorities have made it clear that one cannot adopt children informally on the basis of social media posts, as that could expose traumatised children to the risks of child labour or trafficking.
“It is illegal to give or take orphan children of any one else in adoption. Such children should be taken to Child welfare committee, which will take necessary action in the best interest of the child,” Irani said. “If anyone contacts you regarding orphan children available for direct adoption, do not get into the trap & stop them. It’s illegal. Inform local Child welfare Committee or Police or Childline 1098 about such children.”
She further said that posts of children for adoption should not be shared, as protecting their identity is mandated under the law.
(Edited by Rachel John)