Children without Parental Care in India

Orphaned and abandoned children in India

16/05/2012 – Despite growing numbers of domestic adoptions in India, there remain a large number of children classified as “orphans”. Finding adequate and legal care for these children is more complex that one might think.

Indian orphanages and group homes are crowded with a mix of orphans, abandoned children and a complicated category of children from families who have placed them in institutions to obtain education and a better life, but have not technically forfeited all parental rights.

Thinking and practices on how best to care for these youngsters in a nurturing, safe and legal manner have undergone some changes. The Hague Convention on inter-country adoption of 1993, for instance, protects children, standardizes processes and prevents child-related crime where internatonal adoptions are concerned. 

In 2008, India's Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) announced plans to make it easier for foreign families wanting to adopt children. At the time, Canadian media reported that the number of orphaned children awaiting adoption was between 25,000 and 11 million (as estimates varied). Then, in 2010, the Times of India reported that CARA was looking at cutting down the number of children up for international adoption from 50 per cent to 20 per cent of the total number of children waiting to be adopted. It also looked at stopping adoptions to countries not part of the Hague conventions on children's protection.

Now, with the United Nations’ (UN) adoption of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children in 2009, the best practices for caring for children without parental care were made clearer.

Family-based care is preferable to institutionalization, as the family is recognized as the fundamental group unit of society. Poverty should not be a cause for the separation of children from their families. Instead, better support should be offered to vulnerable families. Alternatively, children should find homes with other family members.

International adoptions may not be the first avenue that should be pursued considering the best interests of the child. According to the Guidelines, any arrangements for the alternative care of children should aim to keep them as close to their homes and communities as possible, so as to minimize the disruptions to their lives.

Globally, the number of inter-country adoptions has been almost halved in a few short years, from 45,000 in 2004 to 25,000 in 2011, says Peter Selman of the UK’s Newcastle’s University.

Many Indian children remain in need of care, including some of the 31 million orphans estimated by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to have lost one or both of their parents. But, encouraging individuals or couples in India to adopt children domestically has proved challenging.

Social class, or “caste,” is important in Indian society. Adopting a child from outside the extended family, a child of unknown caste or religion, may be an unpalatable decision for some families. Yet, wealthier classes of couples with no children living in major urban centres are overcoming these attitudes. Two years ago, only 5,700 children were legally adopted. While a small figure in relation to the needs, this represents real progress—a 300 per cent increase from the previous year, reports the Washington Post (citing CARA).

While the number of couples seeking a child to adopt is growing, not all children living in institutions can be adopted. Durable solutions should be made for institutionalized children with living parents who have not relinquished parental rights.