Why are child adoption rates declining in India?

According to India’s Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, adoption is the process of legally transferring the rights and responsibilities of parenting from biological parents or legal guardians to adoptive parents. It creates a permanent and legal parent-child relationship between the adoptive parents and the child. And offers a secure and nurturing environment for children who cannot be raised by their birth parents.

In-country adoptions are on a downward trajectory

It is estimated that India has over 29 million children who are orphaned, or abandoned. As of April 2023, over 30,000 prospective parents are awaiting adoption opportunities. But only a fraction — 2,131 children — currently hold legal eligibility for adoption. A report in the Hindustan Times further adds that 1,356 of these children have special needs. 

Over the past few years, according to CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority), the nodal body for adoption of Indian children, in-country adoption is showing a downward trend. 

Adoption 2019-2020 2020-2021 2021-2022
In-country 3351 3142 2991
International 394 417 414

Compare this to countries like the United States. The US sees an increasing number of adoptions each year, with over 65,000 adoptions in 2019. In 2021, 25% of children in foster care in the country were adopted. The US has a well-established adoption process, including private, agency, and foster care adoption services, supported by a strong legal framework.

What’s holding India back?

Those who are looking to adopt in India have a lengthy process to go through before they can finally bring a child home. It begins by registering with an authorized adoption agency. This is followed by an eligibility assessment, background checks and home studies. Once all the paperwork is completed, the prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) are entered into CARA’s waiting list.

Currently, it takes anywhere from 2 to 3 years for a PAP to get matched with a “healthy” child. Children in the special needs category are available for faster placement. Once a child is matched to a family, there is a process to obtain a court-granted adoption order. This establishes the legal relationship between the child and adoptive parents, granting them all rights and responsibilities. 

Why is there such an appalling delay in matching a child to a family? This is because the process of classifying children as available for adoption is just as long as the matching process. According to the law, it is not automatic that all abandoned or orphaned children become legally available for adoption. Instead, these children are initially presented to the district child welfare committee and placed in a childcare institution. 

Efforts are then made to locate and reunite them with their immediate or extended families. If unsuccessful, the child welfare committee determines the child’s legal eligibility for adoption. The district child protection unit connects these children with an adoption agency, and subsequently, the child is registered with CARA. This can take up to three years, and many children in care homes fall through the cracks and never go through this process.

Where are India’s Children (WAIC) is an NGO working to ensure that all abandoned and orphaned children go through the process to become eligible for adoption.

Making the adoptive process better

In essence, adoption in India is hindered by complex laws and bureaucracy, as well as a need to improve the system to ensure that all eligible children enter the pipeline for adoption. 

Overall, experts suggest a few simple, systemic actions can help improve adoption rates in India.

  • Streamlining and simplifying adoption procedures 
  • Increasing public awareness about adoption 
  • Systematically ensuring eligible children in care homes are identified for adoption
  • Providing comprehensive support services to adoptive families 
  • Addressing cultural and social stigmas 
  • Promoting foster care and kinship care options 
  • Enhancing collaboration between adoption agencies and child welfare organizations

With such changes, there is an increased possibility that thousands of children will be matched each year with adoptive parents to build the happy families they long for. 

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