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The orphans of Covid-19: Everything you need to know about legal adoption and govt rules

"No individual organization or individual is legally mandated to keep such kids unless authorized by Government. Only Childline / CWC / police & district authorities along with State governments are legally mandated", informed Union Minister Smriti Irani.

The covid-19 pandemic has brought the worst out in the world. However, what we are seeing and experiencing is only the tip of the iceberg. There are countless underlying problems that society is either facing or will soon face in the coming days. From hunger to lack of jobs and from loss of lives to children becoming orphans due to Covid-19, there are issues that need to be addressed with sensitivity and empathy.

Recently, a post went viral on all social media platforms about two orphan girls. The message urged people to adopt those girls as their parents died due to Covid. The message read, “Adoption!! If you or your parents wish to adopt a daughter. Please contact [phone number]. One is 3 months old, and the other one is 6 months old. They lost their parents due to Covid.” In one such message, it was added, “I’m posting this because I arranged a bed for their father, and now they both are homeless. Arranging resources are good but providing them shelter is the needs of the hour.”

Viral message about adopting girl child

At first, one may think of forwarding the message without a second thought. However, in such times, it is necessary that you read the message carefully. Here the message was for two girls that apparently had the same parents. Their parents died due to Covid, and now they are orphans. Till now, everything looks fine. However, when you look at their age, things will start to raise red flags. One girl was 3 months old, and the other was six months old. Biologically it is not possible for any parent to have two girls with an age difference of three months.

Similar messages with different ages of the said girls with the same mobile numbers were floating on all social media platforms. Unfortunately, even after Union Minister Smriti Irani and PIB Fact Check debunked the claims and warned netizens to be careful, such messages are still circulating on social media platforms. The same message is available in different languages, which has increased the reach further.

Similar message in different languages

PIB debunked the claim

The Press Information Bureau’s Fact Check department debunked the claims. In a post, they said, “A post is being shared with a claim that two girls who have recently lost their parents can be adopted by calling a number. This claim is #Fake. A process has to be followed to adopt a child. It is illegal to adopt a child if proper guidelines are not followed.”

Smriti Irani urged everyone to understand the law

Smriti Itani, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, penned down a thread on such social media forwards about adoption. In the thread, she wrote that if someone comes to know about such children, who have lost their parents to Covid, they must inform the Police or Child Welfare Committee of the district. Alternatively, they can call on 1098. She added that it is everyone’s legal responsibility to inform the authorities about such children.

Irani further added that it is illegal to adopt such children or give them away for adoption. “Such children should be taken to Child welfare committee, which will take necessary action in the best interest of the child,” she added.

Irani said that if someone comes across posts or contacts regarding orphan children available for direct adoption, it could be a trap, and it is essential to inform the authorities immediately. She added, “We all must ensure legal adoption, otherwise children can be trafficked in the name of adoption. Save them. Inform Police or Child Welfare Committee or Childline 1098 if you come to know of any such child.”

She further urged people not to share pictures and contact details of vulnerable children in distress situation on social media platforms. “Their identity is to be protected as per law. Instead, inform the police, Child welfare committee or Childline 1098,” she said.

The National Commission of Women quoted PIB’s post and said, “Due procedures are to be followed for adoption. Posts claiming otherwise are misleading. Please refrain from sharing such posts and immediately contact National Commission for Protection Of Child Rights and Child helpline 1098  if you come across any illegal adoption practices.”

Possibilities of child trafficking and child labor

One of the major issue with such posts is that they may lead to child trafficking and child labour. While talking to Hindustan Times, Sonal Kapoor Singh, founder of an NGO working for children at risk or having experienced traumatic events said, “We have been working to help children in 40 slums for 10 years to help them recuperate from various traumas. The last few months have been very disturbing. Excluding children, who have lost both parents to Covid, there are cases where the condition of children is worse than those orphaned by the pandemic.” She added that in many cases, young girls were forced to do hard labour for lesser wages as both their parents have died of Covid.

Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi recently posted on Twitter that his organisation is ready to help such children. He wrote, “We are ready to provide food, shelter and education to such children whose parents have died of Covid.” He urged people to inform his organisation about such children. But there is a catch.

Though the sentiments might be right, as per law individuals and organizations are not authorized to take in orphan children without permission of the authorities.

Someone questioned Smriti Irani about such individuals or organizations extending support for such children on Twitter. Irani straight away replied that only Childline, CWC, police, and district authorities, along with State governments, are legally mandated to take care of such children. Individuals and organizations are NOT authorized to take such children in. She said, “No individual organization or individual is legally mandated to keep such kids unless authorized by Government. Only Childline / CWC / police & district authorities along with State governments are legally mandated.”

The legal process of adopting a child in India

Many of us are not aware that India has well-established rules for legally adopting children. Central Adoption Resource Authority or CARA comes under the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India.

The adoptions are divided into several categories such as Resident Indian Parents, OCI/Foreigner Living in India, NRI/OCI/Foreigner Living Abroad/Relative Adoption and Adoption by Step Parent. There are terms and conditions for every category.

For Indian resident parents, in order to adopt a child, a couple or individual must register with the said authority as adoptive parents. There is a long list of eligibility criteria for registering as a parent. If a couple wants to adopt a child, they must have at least two years of stable marriage. They must be financially and physically capable of taking care of the child. A single female can adopt a child of any gender, but a single male cannot adopt a girl child. There are several other conditions that the couples or individuals must follow before registering as adoptive parents. They can be checked here.

For in-country relative adoption, the prospective parents shall register in Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System and follow due to legal proceedings. Consent of biological parents or permission of the Child Welfare Committee shall be required as per law. If the child is above five years of age, his or her consent would be required. More details can be found here.

For inter-country relative adoption, a Non-Resident Indian or an Overseas Citizen of India interested in adopting a relative’s child may approach concerned authorities as per the law. Once the authorities receive an application, they will conduct a background check of the family before proceeding further. In case of countries that are not signatories to the Hague Adoption Convention, in respect of Indian citizens, family background report of the relative’s child and prior approval letter from the authority shall be forwarded to the Indian Mission of that country, which will issue a recommendation letter to the authority. Once approval is received by the authorities, the couple can follow the guidelines provided. More information can be found here.

Detailed steps and procedures for adopting a child can be found here. Please note that from time to time, these guidelines may change based on the new laws introduced by the parliament or judgements passed by the Indian courts. The couples who are interested in adopting a child must check the latest guidelines and prepare their case accordingly.

For the general public, it is illegal to post any sensitive information about a child in distress. You may get trapped in legal trouble if you post photographs, or identity, location details of a child in distress. As per law, you must contact the authorities and inform them about the child. Make sure you provide complete details so that the authorities can provide the required support.

OpIndia asserts again that individuals, NGOs, or any other organization are not authorized to take in any child in distress without permission from the government authorities. If anyone approaches you for the adoption of a child in distress, it is your duty to inform the authorities immediately so that the child can be rescued. In these times, there is always a possibility of child exploitation, sexual exploitation, and child trafficking. As a citizen of India, it is your duty to help the authorities in saving the child from the hands of criminals. Please contact the authorities immediately if you come across any such posts.

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Anurag
B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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