Adoption of Indian children by NRIs and foreign nationals living overseas is rising while domestic adoption is falling, but hidden in the data is one of the reasons this is happening--the rising share of special needs children available for adoption.
As the data journalism website Factly pointed out earlier this week, in-country adoption in India has been falling, more so since the introduction of new adoption guidelines in 2015. Adoptions from foreign countries have not declined, but have increased slightly. In 2016-17, Americans, Italians and Spanish nationals adopted the most Indian children.
Adoption agencies say that one of the reasons for this trend is that the 2015 changes made it a little easier for foreign nationals to adopt special needs and older children, who are now moved sooner to the list of prospective adoptive children for foreign nationals if they are not picked for adoption by Indian nationals after a specified period of time. "Even from before, foreigners were more ready to take special needs children, Now it has become a little easier for them, so they are doing it more. They have better state support and medical facilities there, and Indian parents do not prefer special needs children," the head of a well-known Pune-based adoption agency said, asking not to be identified.
The number of special needs children adopted by foreign nationals equal - and in some years, exceed - the number of 'normal' children adopted by them. The term 'normal' is used in official data by the Ministry and by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). On the other hand, the number of 'normal' children adopted by Indian parents dwarf the number of special needs children adopted by them, official data shows.
The vast majority of adopted children, particularly in domestic adoptions, are comparatively younger - under 2 years of age. While the government does not have current data about the number of older children in orphanages currently awaiting adoption, data for 2015-16 shows that over 70% of both male and female children adopted were under the age of 2. Just one girl over the age of 14 was adopted. Adoption agencies say that foreign nationals are also more willing to adopt older children, along with the challenges these adoptions pose.
As of March 2017, there were 3,772 children in the Specialised Adoption Agencies that are authorised to care for them and participate in the adoption process, according to data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Of these, over half have not yet been declared legally free for adoption, meaning that their background checks and other formalities have not yet been completed. Some states are particularly slow at clearing legal processes; just 8 of the 565 children in Manipur's adoption agencies, for instance, are legally free to be adopted at the moment.
CARA could not provide data on the share of older children and children with special needs currently awaiting adoption, but adoption agencies say that these two categories of children are forming a growing share of children available for adoption. "The number of unwanted pregnancies is generally coming down and more families are able to care for their two or three children. However many poor families are still unable to care for special needs children, and abandon them," the Pune-based adoption agency head said.
Jeannie Paul (name changed) is a Chennai-based French expat married to an Indian, and has one biological son and one adopted daughter. Her daughter had slight developmental delays and a physical deformity in a limb when she was made available to the parents. "We are lucky that we had the resources and knew that we could afford extra medical attention and remedial classes if she needed them later, so for us it was an easy decision," Jeannie* says. "I am still shocked by how easily people comment about her limb here, so I am not surprised Indians are wary of adopting special needs children," she says.