What is being done to improve adoption rates in India?

This image shows a swaddled baby, illustrating that adoption rates in India are low, despite the high number of abandoned and orphaned children

Adoption rates in India are low, despite the high number of abandoned and orphaned children. Image: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Vidyadhar Prabhudesai
Co-founder , LeadCap Ventures
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  • An estimated 29.6 million stranded, orphaned and abandoned children live in India, out of which just up to 4,000 get adopted annually.
  • While thousands of prospective parents are waiting to adopt in India, there is still a stigma associated with adoption that deters many from that route.
  • A social movement needs to develop to get adoption considered ahead of other alternatives, such as surrogacy or IVF.

There are many life stages that change the direction of our lives. Becoming a parent is one such turning point. Parenthood changes the way we live and the way we think. When our daughter came into our lives, via adoption at four months old, it changed all of our lives for the better.

When we decided to adopt, we registered with the Central Adoption Resource Authority-Nodal Agency for Adoption in India (CARA), which is a legal requirement. After two and a half years of waiting, we were matched with a baby girl and after completing the legal paperwork we welcomed her into our family.

Our daughter is extremely happy and energetic, but she was abandoned in a forest by her biological parents. There she was bitten by insects and caught bacterial infections. Thanks to the emergency service ambulance crew, she was saved. Although we were warned that there was a risk that she may suffer from kidney disease, fortunately, our daughter has been given a clean bill of health. I'm telling this very personal story to draw everyone's attention to the issue of India's abandoned children.

India has a huge problem with parentless children

It is estimated that there are 29.6 million stranded, orphaned and abandoned children in India, out of which, according to CARA, not even 500,000 make it to institutionalised care and just 3000 to 4,000 get adopted annually.

As of July 2022, there were over 16,000 prospective parents in India waiting for adoption referrals, but the number of children legally available for adoption is far less than this. Moreover, there are almost 260,000 children living in 7,000 childcare institutions (CCIs) in the country.

In India, if there is no family to take care of an orphaned child or a child that has been abandoned, the government steps in. Yet only abandoned children, who cannot be cared for by extended family, can be adopted by strangers. This is a paradoxical situation where there are a large number of parents willing to adopt, but not many children of the millions of abandoned or orphaned children available for adoption.

When any child is abandoned (and this is normally immediately after birth), they are often discarded in an inhumane manner – dumped in wastebins or left in bushes or along the roadside, etc. Abandoned newborns are sometimes barely covered. They are exposed to extreme temperatures, rain, insect bites and injuries that impact their overall health and well-being, some of these children don't survive. This is a violation of the fundamental right to live with human dignity under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

CCIs are authorised to accept abandoned children and they even place cradles, cribs, baby hatches, etc. within which people can safely leave their children. Yet, sadly people often do not use these safe environments. This might be because they do not know about them, they fear being spotted using them, caught on CCTV or by the police, etc. Hence, they prefer the inhumane way to volunteering a safe handover.

The problem is complex and challenging. To resolve the problem of cradle points and its awareness, the Women & Child Development and the Road Transportation and Highway ministries and their internal departments must work towards making cradle signage mandatory and implementing it across India. Through my campaign to 'Make Cradle Signage Mandatory' India has become the first country to introduce Cradle Signage to the world.

Apart from this, the government could also offer more support to those considering abandoning children and encourage the use of cradles. They should offer counselling to avoid abandonment and provide financial support to those unable to financially care for their children, etc.

Reasons for low adoption rates in India

The reasons for low levels of adoption in India are multifold. Firstly, there aren’t enough children available for adoption, because the ratio of abandoned or orphaned children (29.6 million) to children in institutionalised care (500,000) is highly unbalanced and even then many of the children in care are not eligible for adoption. This is further exacerbated by the never-ending social stigmas of caste, class and genetics, which continue to be a major deterrent. Even today in India, the majority of families will not consider adopting a child whose parental lineage is unknown, an attitude that needs to change.

Even infertile couples often do not consider adoption. Ironically, while there are millions of children without parents, there is a rising number of infertile couples. According to the Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction, 27.5 million couples, or almost one in six couples, living in urban India have fertility issues.


Improving child adoption in India

We have what could be referred to as a 'chicken and egg' situation. The best strategy in such situations is to opt fo either a 'push' or 'pull' approach. A complex problem like this requires a heavy demand-driven institutional pull. This pull can be easily initiated through the Citizen-Private-Government-Institution (CPGI) Model. India has been improving literacy rates, quality of education, reducing the gender gap, reducing malnourishment, improving infant mortality rates, etc. These goals, however, are for children who are already in the institutional system or belong to a family unit, irrespective of their demographic or economic strata.

Increasing adoption rates in India must also be a goal of international institutions, such as the United Nations. And, the adoption drive movement needs to take inspiration from successful programmes, such as the institutionalised organ donation movement. 'Organ India' spreads awareness about organ donation and transplantation through social media, films, animation, radio, television, blogs, etc. It also conducts sessions in schools, colleges, hospitals, corporates, housing societies and welfare associations across India. It also conducts pledge programme campaigns involving celebrities who pledge to donate their organs and further influence citizens to pledge.

We require a movement like this, perhaps called 'Adopt India,' that addresses the need gaps, sanitises social stigma and puts adoption as the 'First Consideration' ahead of other alternatives, such as surrogacy or In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

Corporate India could offer additional perks and benefits to employees for adopting children, similar to maintaining fitness, getting involved in social causes or even providing direct financial returns in the form of cash or shares. A few companies, such as NatWest, Cyient, Cure.fit and Diageo, are leading the way for this in India.

There is a strong need to conduct a detailed study on middle-class childless couples who thrived to achieve success. We must map their attitudes towards adoption, create archetypes and draw strategies for channelising adoption consideration among the largest segment in India.

India will continue to be one of the youngest countries till 2050. For any country, children are their future capital asset. If this demographic advantage is to be reaped, they require guided nurturing. Hence, it is important to realign our policies towards children to give them a better chance at life.

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