Covid-19 has been a disruptor and an unprecedented tragedy. Millions died all over the world. The second wave of the pandemic spelt disaster for India. According to an affidavit filed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, more than 3,600 children have been orphaned as a result of covid and other causes since the start of the pandemic, The official figure quoted by the Minister of Women and Chid Development (WCD) is paltry 600 orphans – hard to believe by any standard, when more than 200,000 lives were lost during second wave alone.
Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), under the WCD Ministry regulates adoption of orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children – that fits the adoption category for children impacted by Covid-19. The average number of children in CARA Pool has hovered around 2200 over last five years. One would have expected a significant number of children impacted by Covid-19 to have found their way into the CARA pool, given the hue and cry and attention hogged by the multifold tragedy. Even if we were to allow for the procedural delay of declaring children legally free for adoption, that usually takes anywhere between 2-5 months after a child is reported to an orphanage, the number of children in CARA Pool should have increased by at least couple of hundreds, if not by thousands – in alignment with the data quoted by the WCD Minster. Surprisingly, the needle hasn’t moved one bit. On the contrary, the number of children in CARA Pool actually dropped sharply after COVID with a greater fall in percentage of healthy children within the already shrunk pool. A closer look at the data suggests some worrisome trends.
Based on data from CARINGS, the system maintained by CARA (see Figure above), there were about 1883 children in CARA Pool in 2018. Roughly half of them were grouped under Special Need category. The most sought-after category of healthy children below 2 years of age had only 11% children, then. Cut to 2021, and despite the pandemic, the number of children in CARA pool actually dropped from 2317 in March 2020 to 1936 by Dec 2021. What’s shocking is that percentage of healthy children below 2 years of age (excluding siblings) shrunk from 51% in 2018 to just about 3% in 2121. The share of children in Special Need category has swollen from 51% in 2018 to 64% in 2021. One really wonders if our adoption agencies have simply become dumping grounds for children, if 64% of the population has a special need, that neither their families or prospective adoptive parents wish to care for!
A deeper analysis of this data delivers an even more worrisome trend. The share of siblings and healthy children below two years of age has remained by and large the same in last three years (8% and 4% respectively). The total number of children in CARA pool has also remained around 2200-2300. Therefore, the increase in the pie of special need category is directly at expense of drop in share of healthy children above 2 years of age. Though one understands that the pool is not static, and there is net inflow and outflow of children, across adoption cycles, given the statistics of special need and older children adopted by Indian parents (which is actually negligible), it won’t be an exaggeration to infer that many of our children above 2 years of age, are turning into special need children, while in the institution. What else can, otherwise, explain the rise in share of children under special need category, with an equal drop in percentage of healthy children above 2 years of age – when 85% of parents registered with CARA only adopt a healthy child below 2 years of age!
It appears that neither CARA, nor WCD is following the big picture. CARA does not even have a fully functional CEO for more than an year now. There have been inordinate delays in getting children into legal pool, referring children to parents and completing adoption formalities during Covid-19. All this could be condoned. What is unacceptable is turning a blind eye to deliberate trafficking that is preventing deserving children to enter the adoption pool, administering proper care to children in adoption agencies, and being indifferent or seemingly helpless to growing number of children in the special need category, in an already shrinking adoption pool, when the disaster around you is actually throwing up more and more children, who should have entered the adoption pool BY NOW.
There is a direct correlation between low percentage of healthy infants available for adoption, and trafficking of the same outside CARA. Obviously, which parent would want to wait for 3 years to get a referral, when a child is readily available through touts in the gray market. Conversely, as there is rampant trafficking of children in adoption, there is hardly any healthy child being channeled through CARA. The huge chasm between adoption laws, namely, HAMA and JJ Act is directly responsible for this trafficking.
It is high time CARA and WCD Ministry accord attention to the vulnerable and invisible community of children silently suffering ion our institutions, probably neglected because they are not even a vote bank!