After the body of three-year-old Sherin Mathews was found in a culvert in suburban Dallas in Texas — the child’s adoptive father said she had choked on milk that he had tried to “physically assist” her in drinking — External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj last week requested Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi to look into the circumstances of Sherin’s adoption.
The child was adopted two years ago from Mother Teresa Anath Seva Sansthan orphanage by Wesley and Sini Mathews, an Indian-American couple living in the US. The baby was called Saraswati; they named her Sherin.
Who can adopt an Indian child?
According to adoption guidelines notified in January this year, prospective adoptive parents have to be physically, mentally and emotionally stable, financially capable and should not have a life-threatening medical condition. Singles are eligible, but a single male cannot adopt a girl child. A couple must be married at least two years and their cumulative age at the time of adoption cannot exceed 110 years (55 in case of a single parent). The minimum age difference between the child and either adoptive parent should not be less than 25 years. “Preference shall be given to place the child in adoption with Indian citizens and with due regard to the principle of placement of the child in his own socio-cultural environment, as far as possible,” say the Fundamental Principles of Adoption.
What formalities must prospective parents resident outside India fulfil?
All prospective parents irrespective of nationality have to register with the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). After registration, children are assigned by turn, and foreign couples are treated at par with Indian ones. Any Non-Resident Indian, Overseas Citizen of India or foreign prospective adoptive parents, living in a country which is a signatory to the Hague Adoption Convention and wishing to adopt an Indian child, can approach the authorised foreign adoption agency or the central authority for preparation of their home study report, and for registration in the Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System. Alternatively, they can approach the government department or Indian diplomatic mission concerned in that country.
The home study report, which looks at the couple’s family, circumstances, etc., is prepared by the adoption agency. It remains valid for two years, and is the basis of any adoption attempts that the couple make during that period. Parents are given a chance to adopt on a first registered, first served basis. They are shown photographs, child study reports and medical examination reports of up to six children in their preferred category. The process of matching must be completed in 15 days.
When is a child eligible to be adopted?
A child has to be declared legally free to be adopted before being shown to a couple for adoption. When a missing child is found, the District Child Protection Unit has to advertise the particulars and photograph in a state-level newspaper with wide circulation within 72 hours of receiving the child. Local police have to submit a report about the child’s parents or any living family. The Child Welfare Committee declares the child legally free for adoption as per laid down procedures.
What legal process has to be followed?
The adoption petition is filed in court by the adoption agency. Adoption proceedings have to be completed within two hearings and the petition has to be disposed of within two months of its filing. The certified copy of the order has to be obtained by the agency within 10 days. It must also obtain the birth certificate of the child with the names of the adoptive parents.
How many children are adopted in India every year?
Figures available with CARA show that between 2010 and 2017, adoptions have gone down drastically in the case of in-country adoptions, and by a smaller factor in the case of inter-country adoptions. In 2010, 5,693 children were adopted within India and 628 outside the country. In 2016-17 (until March 31, 2017) these figure were 3,210 and 578 respectively. The fall, officials said, is because norms have been tightened to protect the children. Despite the safeguards though, not all adoptive children stay safe, as Sherin’s death shows.