Now that the clickbait headline has brought you here, want to hear something really very sad?

According to the UNICEF, India has close to 30 million orphaned or abandoned children. Of these, less than half a million are in institutionalised care. If you aren’t shocked enough at these figures, according to yearly reports from CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority), adoption rates in India are so abysmally low, that only a fraction of these half a million children find homes and families. In 2017-18, only 3,276 children found families, down a whopping 57% from the 5,693 children who went to their homes in 2010.

Now, anyone who isn’t living under a rock in India knows the unholy obsession we have with procreation. Well-meaning relatives, nosy neighbours, even assorted acquaintances think nothing of haranguing a childless couple with all sorts of unwelcome advice. With close to 18% of the world’s total population, and 34 births registered every minute, it isn’t as though couples in India are having second thoughts about children. According to the Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction, 27.5 million couples are currently experiencing infertility and have signed up to conceive through ART.

Now, visualise the numbers in your head again. 30 million children need families. 27.5 million couples want a child. This should be as simple as it looks, right? How is it then that there are only 20,000 couples registered to adopt with CARA. Also, how is it that each of them must wait at least between 18-24 months to adopt a child less than 2 years of age? The older age groups take progressively lesser time, but still way longer than it should.

Since, the older a child, the more she or he has internalised the feeling of being unwanted, shouldn’t we be doing everything we possibly can to find all of these children a family? The process is all written down, taking care of each step along the way from when a baby is found, mostly by the police, often from hospitals, sometimes from railway stations — and the one that makes one despair of humanity — from behind bushes and roadside rubbish heaps. Following all the steps of this process, though, by various government, non-government, and judicial agencies, takes unforgivably longer than it should. And so, even the few couples who have registered, wait and wait, while children continue to languish in childcare centres waiting for their families.

Although limited by the time everything must take in India, CARA introduced some changes in 2016, in the hope of making at least a few adoptions quicker. The immediate placement section, which can be reached from the link on the left column once one is logged into one’s account on the CARA website (after one’s HSR has been approved, of course), allows prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) to reserve a child immediately, without needing to wait for their seniority in the system to come up for a scheduled referral. This has been a fantastic development, and many, including us, have found their children waiting for them in this list.

Our daughter was almost 15-months-old by the time we saw her dumpling face b looking out at us from Page 5 of the immediate placement list. We had registered six months after she was born, and it breaks my heart each time I think of all the time while we were waiting to find her, and she was recovering from multiple instances of chest infections. She could’ve been home and maybe avoided these completely, but she spent a night in the hospital – probably alone and afraid – while we slept in our beds. We eventually met each other more than a year after she was born, and nine months after we’d registered.

When we saw her profile, we knew that reserving a child from the immediate placement list would not affect our seniority, but that wasn’t what we were banking on at all. We just desperately tried to reach the social worker at the place she was in, and breathlessly told her we’d be there to meet our baby as soon as we could. But this feature, I can imagine, would be greatly appreciated by many. What this means is that if one were to reserve a child from the IP List, and then eventually not accept the child for any reason, one’s seniority, or place in the regular queue, will not be affected. This, as opposed to one’s seniority going down to the bottom of the list if one were to not accept a child one has reserved on the regular referral system.

The children whose profiles are put up within the IP List are those who are, what CARA refers to as, ‘hard to place’. Again, I worry for humanity when I hear that phrase, but this is what constitutes the list of children who find it hard to find homes:

1. Older children, especially above 5-6 years of age often fall out of the system, because there are fewer takers. My sister came home to us when she was 10-years-old, and is as much a part of our family as are my brother (the same age as her) and I, our parents’ eldest child. So fears of children not settling in are, anecdotally and factually, unfounded.

2. Sets of siblings, who should find a home they could be together in. Losing their parents should be as much as these children should ever be put through, and to separate them from each other as well would just be unimaginable cruelty. That does mean, of course, that there would be fewer couples willing, or able, to make place in their homes for two, or three, children together.

3. Children who have been referred many times, but have not been accepted due to various (often specious) reasons, like skin colour, physical attributes, minor medical ailments, or slightly slower developmental milestones, which is common to all children in institutionalised care.

4.Children who have been repeatedly unwell, while the agency has had to wait until they’re better to put them up for a referral, and they fall ill again before their turn for referral even comes up.

This too, is common for children in institutionalised care where they often pick up infections from other children they live with. A severe chest infection, fever, diarrhoea, and other common childhood illnesses keep them out of the referral system, until the agency or the powers that be at CARA decide that this child should get priority, so that they can find their way home quicker, and recover faster. This is a category not officially admitted to by CARA, but I, and a few others I know, have been given this as the reason for our children being on the IP List. Maybe, CARA should officially add this to the reasons under which children are chosen to be put on this list.

When you see a child’s profile on the IP list, you can also download and go through their Child Study Report (CSR) and the Medical Examination Report (MER). You’ll get to see one photograph, which will in all likelihood be from a few months ago. Once you have reserved the child, you could try to ask the social worker to share more recent photographs, but remember, your social worker may in all fairness not agree to do so in order to maintain the child’s privacy. In which case, you’ll want to rush to your child even faster to see how he or she looks like now! And if all goes well, which I hope it does for you too, you can bring your child home under pre-adoption foster Care within 2-3 weeks at most.

Doesn’t this choice seem so very simple? It isn’t, of course — and it is, just like other important life decisions, to be thought about and considered well. The heartbreaking drawback of this option being available is that it sometimes ends with, well, heartbreak. There have been reports of PAPs quickly and excitedly reserving a child from the IP List, and rushing off to meet him/her.

Sometimes, they meet the child, and the story ends right there because they wanted this child to fit an image they had in their heads. Sometimes, it’s also that the child doesn’t really look like the family — either the nose isn’t long enough, or the colour isn’t fair enough — or that the child didn’t immediately smile at her/his prospective family. Often, it is that PAPs don’t want to take a chance with slower developmental milestones. They meet the child, take them to a paediatrician, who tells them that by this age the child should be doing-xyz, while they’re only doing half that. Though the doctors are medically informed and technically correct, they are as unaware of the realities of institutionalised children as the PAPs themselves.

There are also instances where the PAPs sign the foster care agreement, and take the child home, and then realise that this child isn’t really what they wanted, and then with something resembling Buyer’s Remorse, they go right back to return the child, as if it were a handbag bought in haste. Family Therapist Nancy Verrier wrote a book called, ‘The Primal Wound’, which gives one a heart-rending look into the psyche of adoptees who internalise being ‘unwanted’. This ‘returning’ of a child is bound to further damage her/his psyche, resulting in lifelong feelings of inadequacy.

Although CARA initiated the immediate placement option to speed up the adoption of children from categories that make it harder to find homes, it is also a fantastic option for PAPs to bring home their child faster than it could ever possibly take with the regular process. But, to alter Spiderman’s famous words, ‘with great ease, comes great responsibility’ — or, should come great responsibility.

The couple, or single person, who decides to adopt should be certain that they have it in them to open their heart and their home to a child who needs one. If they feel confident enough to sign the foster care papers and tell a child that he/she is coming home with them, even the thought of the child going back shouldn’t arise. Medical surprises and behavioural issues don’t just come up with children who were adopted, but can and do appear just as often with children born to their parents. Adoption may just be a technical process for the PAPs, but has massive emotional and psychological meaning for the adoptee, even for infant adoptees.

To return a child back to the environment that you took them away from exposes them to heartbreak and long-term personality issues, and could be seen as being as unforgivable as sex selective foeticide is. CARA, and other organisations working in the sphere of child adoption, hold pre-adoption counselling sessions, that prospective parents should try to attend, to prepare themselves for the gamut of surprises that life with a child who was abandoned could throw at them. This is especially true for when one thinks one is ready to bring home an older child, without completely understanding the issues that the child, at each age, will challenge one with. To be aware of the issues, to educate oneself on the psychologically and ethically correct ways of dealing with them, and to look within oneself to truly know whether you’re up for the challenge should be an essential personal check-list before one decides to look through the immediate placement list.

I’ve often heard people say, ‘adoption isn’t for everyone’. But, why should that be so? The obsession with ‘one’s own flesh and blood’ should have run out by now, but clearly hasn’t. Egg and sperm donations are de rigueur, but adoption is still a tough choice to accept for many people. I’ve also seen articles where a young iconoclast author boldly holds forth on the dismal future of our planet, declaring remaining childless to be the biggest step she/he has taken in order to be a Green Warrior.

Each time I read these articles, I wonder if the decision has really been thought through as a voluntary life choice (which, if so, is fantastic, of course), or whether it is a rebellion to society’s set structures. Because if it’s the latter in at least some cases, I wish they would consider not being a martyr to protect the planet, and open their hearts and homes to a child, already born to further burden the Earth, who also needs a parent.

In the end, I realise that I’ve made it all sound so hard and dismal, but it isn’t all bad. The good news is that while CARA takes steps to make the process smoother and quicker, once you have registered and had your home study approved, all you need to do is to open up the immediate placement list, and bring your child home.

Aanchal is a book-hoarding, Kindle-reading, compulsively-Instagramming, freelancing media professional, and mother to an almost three-year-old daughter and two mad dogs.

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