India’s Orphans: FOR EXPORT ONLY

A personal Inquiry

by Anant Asthana on Thursday, November 1, 2012

Me: I don’t understand you guys’ opposition to inter-country adoption. You are extremists.

Arun:  Anjali! Give that book to Anant.

Anjali: But I have brought that book for registrar.

Arun: No, give it to him. It makes more sense to give it to him than registrar.

Anjali: Ok

So that’s how I got hold of this book called ” The Untold story of the Romanian ‘orphans’ ” which carries a tag in bold ” FOR EXPORT ONLY”. Anjali is a friend of mine, based in Pune, Maharashtra and works exposing the dark side of foreign adoptions (inter-country adoptions). Arun is from Germany where he was given into adoption from India when he was a child. Exposing the cruel side of inter-country adoptions is something very personal to him, having been a survivor of it. Their tireless campaigning on this issue is inspirational and their anger is provocative.

My first encounter with Arun was over Skype when he told me that I should not be feeling very proud of having been part of a Committee which drafted Bill for Indian Secular Adoption Law. Of course he was concerned that it also permitted inter-country adoptions without even understanding what it was. He hoped that this Bill could never see the day of light. At that point of time I felt miserable on being told so on my face but then onwards I kept on meeting Anjali, Arun’s India counterpart and listening to scary stories of children given into foreign adoptions from her made me have a rethink.

And now I have this book which gives me opportunity to look at “Foreign adoptions” in Romania. Same story there. Thankfully Romania got rid of it, closed down foreign adoptions completely but in India, it remains a debatable issue.

The very basic question which Anjali-Arun duo pose is “How Adoption is a Child Welfare Instrument?”. They ask me to think about it. I think and think a lot. I meet people and ask them about their opinion. Bharti, one of my teachers in my child rights work, says, “I am yet to see a family who went for adoption because they wanted to help a child. Each one of them tried to have their own child, went to doctors, took all medical measures and when failed, ended up in adoption”. So then what Anjali-Arun say makes a lot of sense.  Adoption is not a measure to help a child who needs better care. It is about adults’ need to have a child. This book also says the same. Before I go ahead, let me just say something about this book and its author. Author is Roelie Post and this book is result of her diary which she kept during her work for the European Commission that aimed to help Romania reform its child protection. Romania needed to reform its child rights policy as one of the conditions for its future membership in EU. Book says that Roelie, during her work, found out that the inter-country adoption system in place was nothing short of a market for children, riddled with corruption.

Book tells us that after Romania redrafted its laws putting in modern child protection alternatives, a ferocious lobby that wants to maintain inter-country adoptions stepped out.

In India, this lobby is at best. No wonder when India’s Juvenile Justice Law was being amended, a clause which restricted adoption to Indian parents, got deleted just before it was notified in August 2006. The December -2005 report of Parliamentary Committee which examined the draft did not contain any comment in favour or against this clause. How it got deleted? I am trying to find out with no success so far. Then Bharti tells me that this happens all the time when anything is done on adoption. Things change without even one noticing or knowing about it at the very last moment. She tells me that when guidelines for regulating adoptions were being drafted, a consultation was called and inputs were taken. When the final guidelines came out, it contained provisions which were not suggested by anyone in the consultation. From where did those provisions come in? Lobby? I don’t know.

What I have come to know so far is that there are parents, extremely poor, living in villages and small towns of India, hoping that their children are getting educated somewhere in a foreign country, oblivious of the fact that they were made to sign adoption deeds in the name of education papers. They don’t know that their children are never going to return and that they will die in hope only. Anjali helps such people in finding their “Lost” children, conducts private investigations to expose culprits and approaches Courts to punish the culprits. Anjali tells that the fight is not easy and no one supports this kind of work. No charity or funding organisation comes ahead to financially support this work. She depends on individual help to sustain her work. Same is the story of Arun. He works as an insurance agent, earns money from that work, feeds his family and saves money to be able to come to India occasionally to do advocacy and meet people. When I met him just few days back at my house, he was in India for a short while on a similar visit. This time he met me and he wants me to do cases in Courts on this issue.

I am growing in understanding that everything done in the name of “Child Rights” is not always so. There is a market and money behind it. Charity is not always charity. There is a politics involved in it. “Compassion” is not always “Compassion”, there is “Need” and “Greed” involved in it. I hate knowing all this as it takes a toll on my zeal. I don’t want to be part of dirt. It disillusions me. But then I also know that it is better to know rather than not knowing as the later is dangerous. One may end up doing exactly the opposite of what one wanted to do.

Knowing all this gives me one more reason to be opposed to Foreign Funding. One may never know who is giving “donations” for what? What I see happening here in India is that by the time one knows, it is too late. One gets so complicit that it becomes impossible to just stand up and walk out. This is the evil involved in foreign funding. Or maybe it is just part of Globalisation where “good” or “bad” / “Right” or “Wrong” has to been seen and understood, not in domestic contexts but then “Is Internationalism not imposing domestics of powerful nations?

Writer is a lawyer specializing in children related laws and public interest litigation. He practices in Delhi High Court and can be contacted as