A few days ago, a friend sent me a tweet of a video of an abandoned child from Rajasthan which had gone viral on social media. Soon, in quick succession, others, who knew my interest in adoption ( I am a mother who has adopted and have co-hosted India’s first adoption podcast) shared the tweet with me and some even the video on WhatsApp.

I was heartbroken, yet again, but also very disturbed. Then I saw another tweet by a director and journalist couple on Twitter asking for that child’s whereabouts and stating their intent. A close look at their timeline will show that they did not rescue the child as seems to be the popular narrative in mainstream media. Soon, the journalist-director couple had gone ahead and named her (after a movie of the said director) and with the help of local journalists had got enough information where she was and they set off to meet her. In the meanwhile, they tweeted their intent to “adopt” her and tweeted to the Union Minister of Child Welfare among others.

Twitter was soon abuzz with the greatness of their souls and the “noble deed” they had set out to do. Many ‘blue tick’ influencers and journalists alike lauded their intention and not one seemed to want to highlight the fact that there is a well laid out procedure as per the Juvenile Justice Act for declaring a child ‘legally free’ before he/she is adopted. Not to mention, the thousands of parents – current wait list of parents wanting to adopt is over 24000 – and the current wait time is anywhere around 20-24 months for a child under two years.

What was shocking is that very few in the mainstream media and celebrity journalists who were celebrating this couple seemed to want to discuss how the procedure works and why this couple felt so entitled to talk about ‘breaking queue’ openly on social media. I wish they had taken a leaf out of other celebrities like Sunny Leone and Sakshi Talwar who followed the process and did not try to use their considerable leverage to outdo it. I wish they had set an example by educating the public about the process (As a journalist-isn’t that the least she could do?) and not simply attack folks from the adoption community who critiqued them. (As I write this, many from the adoption community have been blocked by this couple and attacked as being “miserable” and “not knowing the law”.

Under the current system of adoption, children are classified into categories such as “orphan”, “abandoned” and “surrendered.” There are different periods of time in these categories, by which children will finally come into the system and up for adoption.

According to the Adoption Regulations 2017, “an abandoned or orphaned child is legally free for adoption within a period of two or four months, from the date of production of the child before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC)”. In the case of those who have been ‘abandoned’, attempts are made to trace parents by the local police to find the biological family and only if the police are unable to trace the parents within three-four months or convince the nearest biological family member to raise the child. A legally mandated two month wait time is also applicable in case of “surrendered” children (children whose parents have legally given up parental rights), giving time for biological parents to reconsider their decision. The CWC uses 60 days to counsel the immediate and extended biological family, to take the child back. This time for reconsideration is as per the law.

After all this due diligence has been done, then a report, declaring the child “legally free” for adoption prepared by the CWC and enables the specialised adoption agency to put up the child’s profile on the centralised adoption website CARINGS managed by Central Adoption Regulatory Authority (CARA).

Similarly, prospective parents who desire to start their family through adoption too have to follow a procedure which begins with registering themselves on the CARINGS website. A social worker then visits them and meets with them to carry out what is known as a “home study report”. Once this report is approved and uploaded, prospective parents join the wait list to bring home a baby. Prospective parents can only choose the age and gender of the child they wish to adopt and if they are open to children with special needs or not (it is another issue that in the year 2017-18 only 47 children with special needs were domestically adopted).

There is a system in place which currently works- is it the best am not sure. But while systems can be changed and updated as can child welfare policies- what really needs work on is the attitude people have on adoption in India. For far too long, as I have written in this Twitter thread, people have thought and continue to think that adoption is about picking children off the street and is an act of sympathy and “humanitarian” gesture.  This attitude and thought is far from the truth and is very damaging to the psyche of the child. Can you imagine how it must feel for a child who was abandoned- whether because of her gender or because her biological father didn’t want her or because the kid had a cleft lip or club foot? A conversation about adoption is a nuanced affair and needs to be done in a similar manner.

For far too long, people have thought and continue to think that adoption is about picking children off the street and is an act of sympathy and “humanitarian” gesture.  This attitude and thought is far from the truth and is very damaging to the psyche of the child.

Adoption is none of this. Adoption is about the desire to start a family followed by the best interests of the child coming together. Most importantly, like a guest on our show, anti-child trafficking expert  Arun Dohle says, “adoption must be the last resort,” when it comes to best interest of the child.

I would also like to highlight another prevailing attitude that has only increased in the age of social media-we seem to think that it is okay to violate a child’s privacy and air her photos and videos on public forums.  People seem to forget that the child has her own agency and her own rights and will grow up to a cruel world which will never let her forget that she was abandoned- nor will the internet.  Not to mention, the publishing of the photos by folks other than parents is legally not permissible as per the JJ Act.

Which brings me back to the point I raised earlier about attitude. Why do, we, the middle class and upper caste think that it is OK to share videos and photos of abandoned children, street children and the poor, with no concern for their privacy or their lifelong trauma? Why do we not think that they don’t ‘feel’ things and that they should be ‘grateful’ to their ‘saviors’? When will we pause to think that they are individuals in their own right and acts like these, in the name of ‘humanity,’ erodes at their agency one little bit at a time? If that isn’t a form of systemic violence to feed into one’s own ego, I don’t know what it is.

In conclusion,  I want to leave you all with one thought- It is not enough to have the intentions to adopt. It is equally, if not more, important to have the right attitude towards adoption and those who have been adopted.

Picture Credits: VistaNews.ru

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Padma Priya is the editor and co-founder of Suno India, a podcast platform for issues that matter. She co-hosted, along with her husband Rakesh Kamal, India’s first podcast on child adoption Dear Pari. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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