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Lilliput has a new home

One of the first to be taken into foster care since the Centre issued model guidelines on this form of child welfare, the 9-year-old says she doesn’t miss her old care home any more — “wahan pe sirf ek jhoola tha...”

Centre issued model guidelines on foster care in 2016, Foster Care, Foster Care Homes,  Foster Care Rules notified in 2014 under the state Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, 2000 and the JJ Rules, 2011, Indian Express Sunday Special When she joined the family, Lilliput was a quiet child, guarded, even a bit stubborn, often picking up fights with the domestic help, and scared of the family dog Scooby. (Express Photo by Mahim Pratap Singh)

It’s a relaxed Saturday morning for nine-year-old Lilliput. It’s an off day at school, the usually harsh Rajasthan sun is calm behind an overcast sky, and the grey Aravalis that surround her home are a lush green from the first monsoon showers. “Cycle chalana sabse achcha lagta hai (I love cycling the most),” she says, pedalling down the street outside her foster home at Chitrakoot Nagar on the outskirts of Udaipur, the city of lakes.

“Uff, iski chain nikal gayi (the cycle chain has come off),” she says softly, her smile now turned upside down, much like the sad emoji, as she drags the small bike with support wheels inside the house. Lilliput, as her new family calls her affectionately, is one of the first children to be taken into foster care after the Centre issued model guidelines on foster care in 2016.

In 2008, the police had found her in Chittorgarh. An unclaimed child born to a victim of sexual assault, she was barely a month old then. She spent nine years in a care home, before being recently brought in by a 52-year-old Air-India duty manager and her 11-year-old daughter, into their home.

In January this year, the 52-year-old became a foster mother to the little girl. Originally a resident of Delhi, the A-I employee had sought a transfer to Udaipur after she fell in love with the city during a brief visit in 2005. That was when she adopted her first daughter, inspired admittedly by actor Sushmita Sen.

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“I would read reports in local newspapers about girl children being abandoned or dumped in trash and I found it very disturbing. So I decided to adopt,” she says. In 2007, the woman went back to Delhi but returned to Udaipur in 2015, this time to make the city her home for good. “I wanted another child…my daughter wanted company too, so I applied to adopt another girl. That is when they told me about fostering and I liked the idea,” she says.

While India has had several experiments with foster care, the institution is still in its infancy. In Rajasthan, fostering is governed by the Foster Care Rules, notified in 2014 under the state Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, 2000, and the JJ Rules, 2011. While the Centre’s model guidelines provide for adopting a foster child after five years of care, the Rajasthan rules, while giving priority to the foster family in case of adoption, leave that decision to the discretion of the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs).

“Most people think of fostering as a shortcut to adoption, since the latter is a complicated, time-consuming process. But fostering is different from adoption in several ways,” says Shilpa Mehta of the Udaipur-based non-governmental organisation Foster Care Society. While adoption applies to “legally free” children — those whose biological parents are either dead or have surrendered the children — fostering brings in children whose parents or relatives are either unwilling or incapable of raising them.

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“Adoption is permanent while foster care applies till the child turns 18. Foster care is important because while a child’s basic needs are met at a care home, her socialisation, integration in the community and overall personality development suffers,” says Mehta. “Often, children in care homes are neglected and so, they tend to pick up bad habits like stealing, lying or a lack of interest in studies etc. A foster home and a family check these tendencies and allow the child a more wholesome life,” she says.

The 52-year-old understands the temporary nature of foster care. If the child’s parents turn up any time during the five-year period, they could claim the child, subject to the CWC’s approval. She hopes the Rajasthan rules are aligned with the Centre’s guidelines so that five years later, the nine-year-old can become a permanent member of her family.

“While I hope she will stay with me for good, I realise she could be taken away if her mother turns up or if the CWC decides so. But I don’t care. I still want to raise her right for the time she’s with me. I put some money in her account so even if she doesn’t end up staying with me, she will have some financial security,” she says.

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When she joined the family, Lilliput was a quiet child, guarded, even a bit stubborn, often picking up fights with the domestic help, and scared of the family dog Scooby. The nine-year-old keeps peeping from behind the curtain, flashing a bashful smile as her foster mother talks about her journey. “Initially, it was difficult for her. She would steal things from the kitchen, refrigerator etc because it was all new to her… she had not seen most of those things. So I would ask her what she liked. If she said grapes or pomegranates, I would get so much of those things that she’d be fed up of them,” says the mother.

But not anymore; Lilliput now goes to an English-medium school, learns Kathak and badminton with her foster sister at an activity centre nearby, goes to the mall to shop and watch movies, and has struck a cordial relationship with Scooby. “She loves movies, cycling, going out, pasta… everything except studies,” says the 52-year-old, in jest.

While Lilliput has watched Tubelight, Despicable Me 3, and The Beauty and the Beast, her favourite film is Baahubali: the Conclusion. The elder daughter says she “loves” her “new sister”. “Earlier she used to be really quiet and we’d be a little worried but now, she doesn’t stop chattering,” the 11-year-old says, laughing.

The two girls now get along “very well”, the mother adds. “Lilliput recently got invited to the birthday party of one of her classmates. Her sister dressed her up for that. The 11-year-old is very attached to me… after all, she has been with me since she was six days old. But Lilliput has started showing signs of attachment only recently.”

“I have clearly explained to my elder daughter what fostering is so that she is prepared if anyone asks about her sister. What’s the point hiding? It will only spread awareness about fostering and might even encourage others to do so,” she adds. A visit to the mother’s extended family in Delhi this Holi helped Lilliput bond better with the family. “I loved meeting all of them, especially Mridul didi and Manu bhaiya,” Lilliput says.

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She no longer misses her care home, she adds. “Wahan pe sirf ek jhoola tha… yahan toys, cycle sab hai… mumma aur didi bhi hai (At the care home, there was only a swing; here there are toys, cycle… and mummy and sister).”

First published on: 23-07-2017 at 12:22:15 am
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