That afternoon is indelibly printed in Saddam’s memory. He and his two-year- old sister Jabeen were playing in an auto rickshaw parked near their home in Washermanpet area of north Chennai. A man, who Saddam remembers, as “tall, short haired with a limp in his right leg”, appeared on the driver’s seat. “Next moment, I recall, he was maneuvering the auto-rickshaw through the alleys.” As the vehicle slowed down at a speed breaker, the boy, then four years old, jumped out. Watching the vehicle going afar, helplessly, he shouted non-stop, “Someone save my sister.”
Jabeen never returned. That was November 1998.
Six years later, Chennai police arrested two men, Sheikh Dawood and Manoharan, suspecting their involvement in a child trafficking racket. During interrogation, they confessed to have sold children to Malaysian Social Service (MSS), an adoption agency in Tamil Nadu.
Jabeen, as police found in MSS records, was adopted by an Australian family in the year 2000. She was one of the 100 children MSS had given up for adoption overseas. With a new name, fabricated history and an obviously uncertain future, the children were handed over to adoptive parents in the West, the organisation told police.
On Tuesday, child rights activists and families who have lost their children to overseas adoption demanded a stay on inter-country adoption until a child protection mechanism was put in place. They underlined the dark side of inter-country adoption even as Central Adoption Recourse Agency (CARA), a body under the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, is holding an international conference on adoption on February 19 and 20.
More than 5,000 children were reported missing in 2011, said Minister of State for Home Affairs, Jitendra Singh, responding to a query in Rajya Sabha.
In other words, a child goes missing every eight minutes in India.
Between 2010 and 2011, the number of cases of kidnapping and abduction went up by 43 percent, as per a report prepared by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
More than 3700 children went missing from Delhi in the last five years and are still untraceable, according a status report filed by the Delhi government in Supreme Court during the hearing of a PIL.
“As these cases show, many such kidnapped and missing children are victims of gangs which place children in overseas adoption with the help of adoption agencies,” said Anjali Pawar of Sakhi, a Pune based NGO, referring to the families who had come to the national capital to protest inter-country adoptions.
Arund Dohle of Against Child Trafficking (ACT), Netherlands and Brussels based organisation, which claims to have reunited 20 plus adopted kids to their biological families, said, “In the discourse on foreign adoption, we have forgotten Jabeen and similar other cases.”
Dohle added that in cases where adopted children were able to trace their parents of birth, the damage done was irreparable. “By that time, they are grown up adults. They don’t speak Hindi and are not accustomed to the Indian culture.”
There is no law governing adoptions in India. There are only CARA guideline based on child protection principles and provisions mandated in Juvenile Justice (care & protection of children) Act.
CARA guidelines say that adoption agencies have to follow 80-20 ratio between domestic and foreign adoptions, failing which they can loose their licenses.
The guidelines say that while sending children for inter-country adoptions, agencies should give priority to Indian nationals, Indian nationals living abroad (NRI), Overseas Citizen of India card holders, and foreign nationals, in that order.
Between 2009 and March 2012, more than 13000 children were placed in domestic adoption against 1848 inter-country adoptions, as per CARA data.
For every adoption, domestic or inter-country, Child Welfare Committee (CWC), a quasi- judicial body formed under the Juvenile Justice Act- has to declare a child legally free for adoption.
But in many cases, says Enakshi Ganguly of HAQ- Centre for Child Rights, a Delhi based NGO, the committee’s role has been unsatisfactory. “Gangs involved in adoption mislead the committee,” she said.
Citing the case of siblings Esha and Mayank, earlier reported by Firstpost, Ganguly said, “On their part, the committees don’t do enough to restore the child to the family."