In the first episode of eShe TV, where we meet interesting women and learn new things about our world, editor Aekta Kapoor talks to Pune-based child-rights campaigner Smriti Gupta about solutions for stopping child abandonment and creating awareness about ‘safe surrender’ of children to the legal adoption pool.
Co-founder of Where Are India’s Children, an organisation building lasting solutions for India’s most vulnerable children, Smriti is also a partnerships and marketing professional, and has studied at the Indian School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, and The Cooper Union. She has previously worked with technology companies such as Wikimedia Foundation, PayPal (eBay), and Synopsys.
Watch their discussion here.
Here’s an edited transcript of the discussion.
Aekta: Tell us about your organization, WAIC, and what’s the focus of your work?
Smriti: Our organization, Where Are India’s Children, specifically focuses on abandoned and orphaned children. As per the 2016 UNICEF report, there are about 30 million abandoned and orphaned children in India. But if you look at what’s happening to these children, you will not find many answers.
Maybe some of them are being absorbed in their communities, maybe some are ending up on the street, maybe some are in shelters, maybe some are being trafficked. But what we do know is that we are definitely not putting them on the path of reaching a new family.
The total number of children in India’s legal adoption pool is just 2000 at any point. Yes, 2,000 – that’s less than 0.1 percent of abandoned and orphaned children in India. Contrast that with about 30,000 parents waiting to currently legally adopt a child!
We need to ensure that abandoned and orphaned children who do not have a caring and safe guardian reach the legal adoption pool, and that’s the goal of WAIC.
You’ve been advocating adoption especially of special needs children. In fact you yourself have adopted two daughters. What is the current scenario of adoption in the country and how long does it take a prospective parent to go through the process?
There are two parts. The first is that children have to reach the legal adoption pool. The second is about the parents adopting these children. As a country, we have streamlined the second part – the legal adoption process for parents is transparent, centralized, and the process/paperwork part of it is very efficient. But when the first part doesn’t happen, when enough eligible kids do not reach the legal adoption pool, then parents have to wait just to get matched with a child.
I do specifically want to talk about adoption of children with special needs. More than 50 percent of children in the legal adoption pool have a special need and it’s a range, from mild/moderate to perhaps slightly higher special need. These children thrive amazingly after adoption but not enough people are willing to adopt them. I have seen firsthand the huge positive impact of adoption, of having a family, in transforming these children. So every time I talk to somebody about adoption, I request them to at least think about special-need adoption.
As we discussed before the show, many of these children are healthy at birth but end up with special needs or physical or mental disability because of the circumstances in which they are abandoned. So we as a society have wronged them. And it’s up to us to do something about it. Tell us, what is your new Change.org campaign all about?
We already talked about children not reaching the legal adoption pool. At the same time, we continuously see news reports about children being abandoned, or dumped, or killed. Why? The families of these children can legally, safely, and anonymously surrender the child at a specialized adoption agency, but they are abandoning the child.
There is huge lack of awareness in our country about the fact that children can be safely surrendered and how to do it. That’s what our petition aims to fix.
We are asking the new media to make a simple change in how they report child abandonment. In every news report about child abandonment, the media should include information on how parents or guardians can safely surrender a child at an adoption agency.
This simple change can create massive public awareness and prevent future child abandonment and death. I request everyone to please sign the petition: https://change.org/SafeSurrender
Why aren’t shelters for homeless children or orphans surrendering them to adoption agencies already? What is stopping them?
A government report in 2018 showed that more than 55,000 children from child shelters can be brought into the legal adoption pool. An NGO’s research showed that 22 percent of currently 4 lakh children in shelters should be evaluated to be brought into the legal adoption pool.
But these children haven’t reached the adoption pool yet. There are few reasons why shelters don’t put these children in the adoption pool. I will share a couple:
- Shelters are incentivized to keep children, not help them reach families. They get donations and government funding to keep children. So that’s their focus rather than saying that this orphan child has been with us for two years, no relative visits her, let’s check if she can be made legally adoptable and reach a family – this is not what they are incentivised for.
- Second issue is mindset. We, as a country, don’t understand every child’s critical right to a family. We don’t understand that shelters can keep kids alive, but that’s not a family, that’s not life. All of us go to shelters and feel happy that someone is doing charity work. How many of us ask the shelters why these kids are not in the legal adoption pool? Why is the shelter not working to help the child reach a family? So the country and the shelters have the same mindset. That needs to change.
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