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Data: Adoptions decreased in 2020-21 as number of Orphaned children increase on account of COVID-19

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Data indicates that the number of adoptions in India in the year 2020-21 was the lowest since 2013-14. While the COVID-19 lockdowns & restrictions may have resulted in reduced numbers, the pace needs to pick up especially in the light of the impact of COVID-19. The recent amendments by the government might increase the pace of adoptions.  

The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) under the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) is the designated nodal agency to coordinate the entire adoption process in India. CARA is also the designated Central Authority to deal with inter-country adoptions in accordance with the provisions of the Hague Convention on Inter-country adoption, 1993, ratified by the Government of India in 2003. CARA primarily deals with the adoption of orphan, abandoned, and surrendered children through its associated/recognized adoption agencies.

Only those ‘Prospective Parents’ who qualify the eligibility criteria can adopt

Adoption in India is governed by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children Act), 2015. According to the relevant guidelines, the eligibility criteria for Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAP) are the following.

  • They should be physically, mentally, and emotionally stable; financially capable and should not have any life-threatening medical condition.
  • Any prospective adoptive parent, irrespective of his/her marital status and whether or not he has his own biological son or daughter, can adopt a child. In the case of married couples, the consent of both spouses is mandatory.
  • Single female is eligible to adopt a child of any gender.
  • Single male person is not eligible to adopt a girl child.
  • No child shall be given in adoption to a couple unless they have at least two years of stable marital relationship
  • The age of prospective adoptive parents as on the date of registration shall be counted for deciding the eligibility of prospective adoptive parents to apply for children of different age groups.
  • In the case of couples, the composite age of the prospective adoptive parents shall be counted.
  • The minimum age difference between the child and either of the prospective adoptive parents shall not be less than twenty-five years.
  • The age criteria for prospective adoptive parents shall not be applicable in the case of relative adoptions and adoption by a stepparent.
  • Couples with three or more children shall not be considered for adoption except in certain conditions

Number of Children adopted in 2020-21 is the lowest since 2013-14

As per data available on the CARA website, a total of 31,439 children were adopted between 2013-14 and 2020-21 in India. This includes 27,276 in-country adoptions and 4,163 inter-country adoptions. While 2015-16 accounted for the highest number of adoptions in the said period, 2020-21 recorded the lowest number of adoptions in the country since 2013-14. While the numbers were declining since 2018-19, the pandemic-induced lockdown & restrictive measures may have further aggravated the situation.

On average, about 3400 in-country adoptions and 520 inter-country adoptions took place annually in India during 2013-14 & 2020-21. The number of in-country adoptions was more than 3,900 in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and dropped to 3,142 in 2020-21. The trend in inter-country adoptions has been fluctuating. It increased from 340 in 2013-14 to 666 in 2015-16 and dropped to 394 in 2019-20. In 2020-21, 417 inter-country adoptions took place.

3 out of 5 adopted Children are females

During each of the 8-year period, more female children are adopted as compared to male children. The trend is similar in the case of both in-country and inter-country adoptions. The gender-wise trend in the adoptions reveals that an average of 1572 males and 2358 females are adopted annually since 2013-14. The numbers also show that the number of males adopted has never crossed 1900 while the number of females adopted never crossed 2700 during this period. Overall, 60% of the adopted children are females, and male children constitute the remaining 40%. In other words, 3 out of every 5 children adopted are females.

Approximately 1 in 5 ‘In-country’ adoptions took place in Maharashtra

Of the 27,276 in-country adoptions during 2013-14 and 2020-21, close to 6,000 adoptions took place in Maharashtra. Maharashtra alone accounted for nearly 22% of the in-country adoptions during this period, with an average of 746 adoptions annually. Karnataka is next in line with more than 2,000 in-country adoptions with an annual average of 285 in-country adoptions. Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Kerala have accounted for more than 1,000 in-country adoptions each in the 8-year period.  Together, the 10 states accounted for almost 72% of the in-country adoptions that took place in these eight years.

Gujarat, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar, and Jharkhand have reported an average of 100 adoptions each year during this period. Including these states, the top 15 states together contributed to 88% of the in-country adoptions between 2013-14 and 2020-21. The trend in adoptions in these 15 states is in the chart below. It should be noted that the data for Andhra Pradesh in 2013-14 and 2014-15 includes that of Telangana as well, as the state was bifurcated only in 2014.  

The trend across states reveals that the number of in-country adoptions in Maharashtra has fallen by 44.4% in the eight years. West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana, and Jharkhand have also witnessed a decline in the numbers over the years. On the contrary, only Tamil Nadu has reported an increase in the adoptions by 88% in 2020-21 compared to 2013-14. All the southern states are among the top 12 states with a higher number of adoptions.

Maharashtra accounted for 24% of the inter-country adoptions in 8 years

24% of the inter-country adoptions were from Maharashtra in the eight years between 2013-14 and 2020-21. Maharashtra reported 997 inter-country adoptions, followed by Delhi with 354 adoptions and Telangana with 243 such adoptions. Odisha, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal also reported more than 200 inter-country adoptions each. Together, these 7 states accounted for 59% of the inter-country adoptions in 8 years.

1.19 lakh children in India lost primary caregivers to COVID-19 as per a Lancet study

According to a Lancet study published in July 2021, between 1 March 2020 and 31 April 2021, an estimated 11.34 lakh children experienced the death of primary caregivers globally, including at least one parent or custodial grandparent. The study estimated that as many as 1.19 lakh children in India lost their primary caregiver due to COVID-19. India was estimated to have the third-highest number of orphaned children after Mexico (1.4 lakh) and Brazil (1.3 lakh). However, the rate of loss of primary caregiver per 1,000 children stood at 0.3 for India, much lower than other countries like South Africa (5.1), Brazil (2.4), Russia (1), and the US (1.5). The study also noted that the rapid increase in COVID-19-associated deaths from February to April 2021 in India was associated with an 8.5-times increase in the number of children orphaned or losing caregivers in April 2021 as compared to March 2021.

50% of orphaned children were from UP, MP, and Bihar

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)’s provisional data submitted to the Supreme Court on 30 May 2021 stated that 9,346 children were abandoned or lost one or both parents between 01 April 2020 and 29 May 2021. This number is as per the data submitted on the Bal Swaraj portal.  Of them, 1742 children had lost both their parents. However, only 364 children were in Children Home, Open Shelter Home, Observation Home, Orphanage, or Special Adoption Agency while the remaining lived with some guardian or relative. About 880 orphaned children, accounting for 50.5% of the total orphaned children were in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh.

Amendments aimed at reducing the delay in the adoption process

Various estimates indicate that the number of orphaned and abandoned children in the country has increased because of the pandemic. These children are at a high risk of becoming victims of trafficking and illegal adoptions. But the lengthy & complicated adopted process is a stumbling block in their rehabilitation. The adoption process in India is slow & the need to simplify the process has also been raised in the parliament, especially on account of the pandemic’s contribution to the increase in orphaned children.

While around 27,000 prospective parents were registered as of 21 November 2019, only 7,505 children were registered for adoption and about 2,100 children were adopted in that period which points towards a lengthy adoption process.

To address delay in adoption cases, amendments were made (‘The Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection Of Children) Amendment Act, 2021’ ) and notified in August 2021. The changes empower the District Magistrate to deal with the child protection and adoption process. The government has also notified the Adoption (Amendment) Regulations, 2021 in September 2021. The government also launched the ‘PM-CARES for children’ scheme aimed at supporting children who lost both their parents or caretakers to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether these changes reduce the delay in the adoption process & increase the adoption numbers remains to be seen.

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