No Child’s Play

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Even as the government wants to increase adoptions in India and has
laid out new guidelines, the Missionaries of Charity has pulled out of this sector, citing differences

By Sujit Bhar in Kolkata


Kolkata’s Missionaries of Charity (MoC), founded by Mother Teresa and one of the most respected NGOs in the country, has come in for some friction with the law of the land that now allows single parents to adopt children.
The law has wide ramifications within the current Indian scenario, being singularly and uniformly secular against the backdrop of a country where majority religious sentiments are polarizing at an alarming rate.
Maneka Gandhi, the Women and Child Development minister, is known to be passionate about the issue of adoption, and hence did not wait for parliament to pass the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014, and notified the rules under the existing Act instead.

Sisters with kids new
We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty. —Mother Teresa

In a country where the collective situation of children, especially orphans, is abysmal, even the adoption rate is low despite a large number of people wanting to adopt. This is because of the legal system and its bottlenecks. Despite some 9,000 parents willing to adopt, only 800 children are free for adoption. However, this year, some 1,200 were adopted. The minister said that her target for adoption for next year was 50,000. She said many NRIs were eager to adopt children from their country of origin, but, finding the Indian legal system too hard to crack, have started moving to China for babies. Maneka Gandhi wants to speed up the process and new guidelines have made it easy for single people to adopt.

However, MoC found these guidelines unacceptable and wrote to the Central Adoption Resource Authority seeking de-recognition of the registered (for adoption) orphanages. A call by India Legal to MoC elicited no comments. The MoC runs 16 orphanages across the country, of which 13 are authorized to give children for adoption.
The revised guidelines on adoption came into effect in July, and by August, MoC homes had stopped facilitating the adoption process. They shifted out the remaining children to other registered homes. In this imbroglio, it’s the children who are suffering.

SISTERS’ OBJECTIONS
MoC has set three preconditions. First, it would be giving children out to married couples only. Secondly, none of them can be a divorcee. Third, parents have to accept the child the organization offers and will not be able to choose from six children, as the ministry guidelines lay out. This leaves out single parents. Already, one applicant from Assam and another from Bihar were reportedly rejected by MoC.

MoC’s stand has been backed by the Vatican, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI) and even by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Her statement on this issue was: “We fully support Missionaries of Charity and Sister Prema in their decision to opt out of the adoption program. They have a right to do so.” Vatican Radio, while not directly commenting on the issue, quoted Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, the Archbishop of Ranchi, on the issue. He reportedly said: “I support the sister missionaries. Children are not objects; each of them is a precious gift from God. The Missionaries of Charity are at the service of the most vulnerable and those abandoned children cannot be given to any parent.” The CBCI, too, echoed these sentiments.

CHANGED WORLD
Sandhi Mukherjee, a retired bureaucrat who is involved with many social organizations, says: “One, perhaps, can appeal to their (MoC) hearts that they come back to the dialogue table. This is an organization that is reputed for its fairness in the treatment of children, and prospective parents are positively predisposed when they apply to MoC. While it is true that the reputation of MoC has been built over decades of hard work and dedication, one has to remember that the world outside has changed, and divorces are as commonplace as live-in relationships.”

He further adds that it is important to keep in mind that marriages do not always work, and divorce is a fair and respectable way out of this. “This does not tarnish a man’s or a woman’s character. What happens to a woman who has been brutalized and divorce is the only way out? Does she forego the right to have a child?

“Secondly, if you look at women such as Sushmita Sen (former Miss Universe) or Neena Gupta (actor), both of whom are single mothers, you see their children growing up with a lot of care.

Sushmita-Sen new
Sushmita Sen is successful single parents

“Third, MoC must remember that they were not forced to start and run orphanages in India. Having done so, they have implicitly agreed to adhere to the law of the land. So many children have benefitted from the excellent care that MoC provides. Now, should they be shoved into organizations that have neither the ability nor the willingness to provide such care?”

TIME TO MOVE ON
Another issue is homophobia. Even as debates continuously take place over the LGBT issue, the MoC asks a startling question: “What if the parents (single) turn out to be lesbians or gays?” This shows how far behind it is with the times.

According to social worker Soma, there lies a middle path. “This is an issue that cannot be solved through legislations. One has to keep in mind MoC’s reputation while dealing with the issue. Even Pope Francis today is showing leniency towards issues of the modern world.”

Another point of contention with the MoC is prospective parents being given a choice of six children to choose from. Sister Amala of MoC has said: “Mother’s idea was adoption to counter abortion. When a woman gives birth to a baby, is she allowed a choice? She gets what God gifts her. Here too we allow only one chance, we match the baby as per the parents’ background, skin color, etc., but parents are not allowed a choice, even if the child has a deformity. ”
One hopes the clash between law and religion does not result in orphans suffering and falling into wrong hands.

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