The government will soon simplify child adoption rules. The Ministry of Women and Child Development is framing model rules to make it easy for overseas citizens to adopt children from India. It is also putting in place stricter background checks for child welfare officials and greater scrutiny of childcare institutions.
Adoptive parents who wish to move to a foreign country along with their child within two years of adoption will also be allowed to do so under the new rules.
The ministry headed by Smriti Irani has initiated talks with various states in this regard. “Suggestions have been called for from the states with regard to the amendments made in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. A meeting is scheduled to be held shortly with all district magistrates for finalising rules and regulations,” an official added.
In July, Parliament passed an amendment Bill to strengthen the Juvenile Justice Act, permitting district magistrates and additional district magistrates to issue adoption orders, a power that was formerly vested only with judges.
While introducing the Bill in the Lok Sabha, Irani had argued that the amendments not only addressed some of the gaps flagged by the SC in the existing Act, but also provided better protection to children.
The ministry is also planning to allow adoptive parents to relocate abroad even if they do not remain in the country for the mandatory two-year period. It has notified changes to the adoption rules for the same. However, such parents will have to comply with the directions of the Indian Diplomatic Missions abroad and fulfil all follow-up procedures, the official added.
In India, adoptions are also governed under the Hindu Adoptions & Maintenance Act (HAMA), 1956, a personal law applicable to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs that does not deal with inter-country adoption. On the recommendation of the Ministry of Law and Justice, the child development ministry is in process of issuing an amendment in the Adoption Regulation, 2017 to issue no objection certificates for inter-country adoptions under HAMA, an official said.
“Many parents who have adopted children under HAMA have approached courts saying they are facing difficulties getting a passport or a visa made for their child under existing rules as it requires an NOC from CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority). HAMA does not provide for inter-country adoptions. We have tried to address that,” another official said.
CARA is the nodal body for the adoption of Indian children, and it is a statutory organisation of the child development ministry. On inter-country adoptions, India is a signatory to the Hague convention, a multinational treaty that is deemed to be more “child-centric” than “parent-centric”. Under the new rules, CARA will grant NOCs on the basis of the recommendation made by a DM who has been mandated to “exercise due diligence”, a senior official said.
The ministry has also proposed that Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) be brought on par with Non-Resident Indians in the matter of inter-country adoption of Indian children.
Officials said there will also be background checks for people wanting to start childcare institutions and a mandatory security check of all those running them right now to ensure that none have a criminal history.
In 2018, a social audit report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) on shelter homes had revealed that out of the 2,874 children’s homes, only 54 were found to be complying with the Juvenile Justice Act, and out of 185 shelter homes which were audited, only 19 had records of children residing there.
Officials said that the ministry had found that district child protection units were often filled with contractual employees who did not have the power to summon those who ran childcare institutions, who in turn were often members of child welfare committees.
“There was this nexus that was not just a conflict of interest but damaging to the child's welfare as she had nowhere to complain. Now, with the DM and SP having more control, there will be more scrutiny of these institutions,” a senior official said.