You met WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi Thursday. What did you discuss?
In general, the reasons why we are having the bilateral meetings is to encourage India to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and to see how we can be helpful in having them join.
Has India expressed reservations in joining?
The biggest reservation is how it will operate and whether it will protect women who might be victims of domestic violence. I can tell you that in the US there are protections for women no matter what their visa status, ethnicity, their nationality or their age. It is an issue we take very seriously… We will put in a lot of outreach efforts in the US and in India so that women who are already there or are on their way will have this information. Plus, the organisations that are hiring the spouse can have programmes that will help women. We will talk with their HR people and suggest that everybody who comes should have someone they can communicate with no matter what the problem is.
How many Indians are embroiled in cases of parental abductions in the US?
There are 80 cases that we are aware of in which an Indian parent has removed the child from the US and brought them to India. There are also cases where parents have brought the child to the US from India. Ninety-four countries are party to this convention and there are procedural rules that apply to the cases including a time-line and how they should be handled. It gives people faith in a legal system… It is very hard for parents to access Indian courts. Various courts make decisions that are not in agreement with each other. There is no certainty about the outcome. The cases tend to be about custody and not about venue. After Mexico we have most abductions from India than from any other country. The Mexican cases get resolved, the Indian cases don’t.
In these 80 cases, has the child been brought to India by one of the parents?
In most of these cases the marriage has totally broken down. In some cases, the parent who brought the child from the US left the child with their parents in India and returned to the US. The parents are so angry with each other that they want to do things that hurt the other parent the most. And what would that be but to take the child? And the children suffer. This is about protecting children.
Many international adoptees return to India to trace their biological parents but not all succeed. Should they have easy access to their adoption records?
We had a discussion at the special commission on adoptions a year ago, encouraging countries to be more flexible in allowing children to access their records. It is very big in China. There are heritage tours and it is very moving for them. Many of these children want to find out their roots or why their parents gave them up… Not all adopted children want to know this but for many of them it is very fulfilling.
What is your view of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, which has led to criticism that there are now different parameters of eligibility for adopting a child and for commissioning one through a surrogate?
I am not going to second-guess the Indian government but I do think there is a difference between a child conceived through surrogacy and a child who is adopted. One is a transactional act and the other is the inability of the parents, for whatever reason, either they have died or are unable to raise a child and find them a permanent home. I don’t think surrogacy is bad but its not the same as adoption. I think it’s up to India to set their surrogacy laws in a way that they think protect Indian citizens. It’s my understanding that they thought that there were a lot of abuses of the system. It’s a very difficult issue. We don’t have firm laws in the US. This is something we are really grappling with… This is something also the Hague conference is grappling with.
There is a demand to reduce the age of juvenile offenders from 18 to 16 in cases of rape in India. Do you think this would be a step in the right direction?
It’s up to the courts and the legal system to determine when someone should be tried as an adult or as a juvenile. There is flexibility in our legal system to do that for serious crimes. In the states they haven’t changed the age but there is flexibility in that for serious crimes like murder. I can see the arguments on both sides but I leave that to Indian lawmakers.