About Adoption in Kerala
Adoptions: seeking continuities
By Maleeha Raghaviah
Every child has the right to a home, but there are hundreds of children who do not have homes of their own or parents to look after them. In recent times, adoption as a route to parenting has gained wide acceptance in Kerala. However, legal tangles and a web of social and emotional issues are hampering the progress of adoptions and foster care.
KOZHIKODE: "Childlessness is not an inadequacy, and parenthood is a function of the heart and not of biology" — Nilima Mehta, Ours by choice: Parenting through adoption.
The scene: Office of the Adoption Coordinating Agency (ACA) in Kozhikode. A couple in their forties, who have come all the way from Kasaragod, wait patiently for a sitting with the regional coordinator.
The couple has been married for 22 years. Their last hope of having a child of their own has been dashed despite prolonged medical treatment and they are here to adopt a girl child.
"We are here for a pre-adoption evaluation. I pray to God we will get a child to bring up," said the woman with expectation and confusion writ large on her face.
The man, a Christian farmer, was even more forthcoming and said with a broad smile: "God did not bless us with a child. We hope He would let us at least bring up a child."
The couple from Kasaragod is one among hundreds of childless couples in Kerala who are in the process of completing the legal formalities of adopting a child according to the guidelines laid down for in-country adoption by the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), functioning under the Government of India.
"It is a case of the availability of children suitable in legal and other senses for adoption not keeping pace with the growth in demand from prospective parents," says Lida Jacob, who relinquished charge as Secretary, Social Welfare, recently.
Social attitude to adoption in Kerala has undergone a sea change in the last one decade. This applies to both childless couples as well as the larger family of the adoptive parents and society in general. Says Meena Kuruvilla, State Project Coordinator, ACA, Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, Kochi, "This has a lot to do with infertility not being viewed as a stigma now and the increasing acceptance of the dictum that every child has the right to a home."
She says that `parenting through adoption' is being increasingly accepted and that even single individuals - the unmarried, widowed or divorced - have begun to show interest in adopting children.
All this has naturally meant a heavy demand for children who could be adopted. According to K.K. Mony, Joint Director, Department of Social Welfare, there are now 10 applicants for every child listed for adoption. Figures available with the department show that there has not been any marked rise in the number of adoptions in the State between 1993-94 and 2003-04 despite the sweeping changes in social attitude towards adoptions.
The highest number of adoptions was in 2000-01 - 297. The number of children adopted during 2003-04 was 254. Out of the 2,745 children adopted during the last one decade, 2,402 are adoptions by persons within the country (1,060 boys and 1,342 girls). The number of children adopted by persons abroad during the period was 343 (164 boys and 179 girls).
The history of adoptions has been a little murky in the State and institutional mechanisms such as the ACA have been put in place to check unhealthy practices such as child trafficking that were rampant in the State till a decade ago. Although nobody wishes to be quoted on it, there is the talk of unauthorised adoptions taking place in some parts of the State even now.
"This is mostly hospital-centred and related to unwanted pregnancies. We have no way of checking such practices," says an official who wishes not to be identified. Addressing a workshop on adoptions in Kozhikode recently, Ms. Lida Jacob stressed the need to curb illegal adoptions by keeping a close tab on hospitals.
The State ACA has been involved in coordinating the adoption activities of various licensed adoption agencies, of which there are more than 15 in Kerala. Although, while primarily promoting adoptions within the country, `inter-country' adoptions to countries such as U.S., Germany, and Norway are also arranged, though this number has come down following the crackdown on illegal adoptions of the 1980s.
Adoptions take place under the provisions of three laws. The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act 1956, which provides for adoption of Hindu children by persons professing Hindu religion; the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890, which enables non-Hindus to adopt children; and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000 that covers all communities.
All the three Acts have been retained because of the flexibility that each one of them offers in tackling specific situations. While the first gives the adopted child the right of inheritance and succession, the second does not do so, which means that the child and parents are free to sever their relationship on the child attaining 18 years of age. The Juvenile Justice Act is also marked by similar lacunae.
Though the Juvenile Justice Act was crafted to make adoptions simple and easy, much work remains to be done before these objectives are achieved. Usually, it takes about two years for a couple to get a child in adoption after completing all the legal formalities.
If the proposed committee is in place the mandatory procedures can be completed in a just four months. Says A.C. Dias, legal adviser of the ACA: "A loophole-free legislation to ensure that adopted children get the status of the biological child of adoptive parents with regard to full rights of inheritance and succession, is the need of the hour."
Unless there is constant monitoring by the coordinating agency, the adoptive parents might fail to complete the legal formalities and this could prove disastrous in later years, he points out.
The child's need for a permanent nurturing home and the parents' need to have a child to bring up as their own.
A sensitive issue which is highlighted time and again by the coordinating agencies and social workers involved in adoption is the revealing to the child of his adoptive status in a positive way.
Says Subair Arikulam, regional coordinator, ACA, Kozhikode: "A major issue that adoptive parents face relate to making the child aware of the fact that he/she is an adopted child. The best way to avoid psychological problems for the child is to inform him/her in a balanced and phased manner so as to avoid a shock as far as possible."
With this end in view, the Department of Social Welfare has taken the initiative to set up the Kerala Adoptive Families Organisation (KAFO) with chapters in all the districts. Through stories of Moses, Karna and others, children are prepared to accept their adoptive status. This gives them a sense of security, but serious problems can still arise, like say in the event of untimely death of the parents or other unforeseen circumstances.
By the last count, there were 43,280 children in foster care homes (orphanages) in the State, a large majority of them having reached there on account of poor or violent family background. Although they are provided food, shelter and education in the foster homes, their life skills remain under-developed. With the result that many fail in facing up to life's challenges after leaving the foster care homes.
Turn to the West
The answer might lie in de-institutionalisation of foster care and placing the children in homes that are prepared to accept them and promoting `foster mother' concept as has happened in the West. But all that can happen only when the State is ready to move beyond the present institutionalised foster care paradigm and tackles all the attendant financial, sociological and emotional issues