ADOPTIONS in India are governed by guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court, in its judgment in the Lakshmikanth Pandey vs Government of India case in 1984, and by the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA). As per these guidelines, a baby can be given in adoption by an agency only if it is voluntarily relinquished or abandoned. It is said that there is more room for manoeuvre in the case of relinquished children than in the case of abandoned ones.
Each adoption centre has about 20 agents scouting around in rural areas for babies. They encourage people to give away their female babies for prices ranging between Rs.500 and Rs.3,000. After the 'transaction' the baby is handed over to the adoption home. There are instances of babies being 'booked' even before they are born.
Procedure requires that the parents be first counselled against giving away their baby. They can take the child back within 60 days of relinquishment. After relinquishment, the baby and its biological parents have to be photographed and their addresses noted down. In the case of inter-country adoption, the prospective adoptive parents have to apply to the Voluntary Coordinating Agency and the scrutinising committee for clearance and to CARA for a 'no objection certificate'. Then the family court will have to pass an order making the child legally free for placement. In some instances, the requirement of a court order is dispensed with. In the case of in-country adoption, the file relating to adoption is "just left in the court" and not registered. These procedures take about nine months.
In many cases the relinquishing document is not signed by the child's biological parents. Even if they are the real parents, they are made to affix their fingerprints on a piece of blank paper. A look at the documents shows that middlemen themselves 'sign' away the children. It is also not difficult to find two witnesses who are required to sign the document. After the child is "relinquished", the agency starts preparing the documents to make the child legally free for adoption.
Although the adoption centres are supposed to give first priority to Indian couples (who pay around Rs.30,000), they prefer inter-country adoption because it is more lucrative. The majority of homes collect $3,000, which includes the fees for the child's visa and passport and Rs.150 for each day that the child stays at the home. In the case of inter-country adoption, the child is at times handed over to the adoptive parents without following the procedures. They take the child along with them, claiming that its parents reside abroad and that they are only escorts. A child taken away in this manner will have no legal or hereditary rights and could end up as a domestic help. And, more important, it will have no agency monitoring its progress in an alien environment.
Investigations reveal that adoption agencies in Andhra Pradesh by and large have at one time or the other violated CARA guidelines. Many of them stand accused of soliciting babies and paying for them, falsifying documents, substituting the names and photographs of babies who have died with new ones, dealing directly with representatives of foreign adoption agencies, ignoring the role of CARA, and so on.
With adoptions embroiled in a controversy in the State, children whose adoption has already been cleared have been forced to wait longer in the homes. Family Courts in Hyderabad are also expected to seek more time to clear pending files of adoption.