A family needs them

Ambika Shaligram
Monday, 12 November 2018

In conversation with Smriti Gupta, member of Where are India’s Children? (WAIC), a people’s movement to ensure that the rights of vulnerable children are restored to them

Smriti Gupta is a mother to two adopted girls and come November 14, Gupta, alongwith other parents, will be writing an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and heads of other government bodies. They want the authorities to take notice of Indian children, who are abandoned, orphaned and have not found their way to adoption pool. 

The digital campaign titled, Where are India’s Children? (WAIC) has been conceptualised to raise awareness of people towards the cause and also the apathy of government bodies.
 
THE BEGINNING
Gupta, who worked in Wikimedia Foundation, adopted two daughters — one in 2014 and another in 2016. The two experiences introduced her to the nitty-gritties of adoption process and the eco-system, how the children come into the adoption pool and what happens in the child shelters. 

“In 2017, I decided that I would quit my position at Wikimedia Foundation and I started working in the adoption and child rights space. As I got involved in it and interacted with other people, I realised that in India, the path for children to come into the adoption pool is broken. For example, India has 4000 domestic adoptions (within country) per year. If you look at China, which is similar to India in geographical size and with a similar scale of problems, they have 40,000 domestic adoptions, per year. The USA also has 40-50,000 domestic adoptions. The UNICEF report says that there are 30 million children, who are abandoned and orphaned in India, but only 2,000 children are available for legal adoption,” informs Gupta.

The city-based activist, alongwith a few like-minded people, decided to look into this and thus a people’s movement — Where are India’s Children? was formed. “We realised that India has guidelines and legal mechanism in place. But it doesn’t get implemented on ground and so children don’t get into adoption pool. We realised that we have to collectively raise the voice of society and say this is not acceptable,” she adds. 

THE ISSUES INVOLVED
In our society, children cannot demand their rights, because they are not vote bank. Also, often parents speak for their children. But what about those kids who are abandoned or orphaned? Who will speak for them?

Gupta makes another pertinent point. “There is no publicly available data or tracking mechanism for these children. They could be trafficked, they could be on the streets, or in child labour. Some of them might be with their relatives. We need to find them, get them off the streets and under the legal framework,” she says.

Explaining the process, Gupta says, “Once the kids are tracked down, they should be brought to the shelters and from thereon into the adoption pool. That is not happening. If they are brought to shelters which has an adoption agency, then they can find families. But if they are brought to shelters with no adoption agency, then in all likelihood, they will spend the rest of their lives there. Also, in India, kids are gradually abandoned. Some mama, chacha might come and say, ‘I can’t look after this kid. His father is an alcoholic and his mother has passed away, so please keep him in the shelter’. The relative puts the child in the shelter and doesn’t come back for 10 years. Why is the child sitting in the shelter? The authorities should be checking every quarter, review his file and see that the relatives come and at least meet the child, take him home for holidays. See, cases like Muzzafarpur happened because the relatives dumped the children there and never came back. Nobody checked them on either. This is the second part of the broken system.”

MAKING THE GOVERNMENT HEAR
There are two district level bodies — District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) and Child Welfare Committee (CWC), which report to state government. Every state should ensure that there are these two bodies and they are functioning correctly. But, Gupta says, that in their visits to shelters and interactions with committee members, they didn’t get any positive response. 

“When we tried to talk to some members, their response wasn’t forthcoming. Why do we have such people in these bodies? The ground implementation is completely busted, which is why we came up with this campaign. First, we have to make people aware. Second, we have to make government take cognisance,” insists Gupta.

She then explains how the digital campaign will unfold. “We are asking people to register to campaign and on November 14, we will reach out to them and give them messages and letters and government handles, and ask them to write to the agencies. Our hope is that when thousands of messages will hit their inboxes, Twitter, FB, WhatsApp, then the government bodies will at least register that people are concerned. As we are working on the digital campaign, we are realising that this is new to Indians. We are getting responses, ‘Where do I click the button?’, ‘Where is my name?’. We tell them ‘You have to do more than this’,” adds Gupta.

After this campaign, the WAIC team will be working on a three pronged approach. “First, we will continue with the awareness campaign. Second, we will work on the ground implementation of legal provisions. We will be talking to shelter authorities, government officials so that we can create a path for more and more children to come into the adoption pool and meet their families. The third aspect is the legal one. We want to know how can shelters keep a child forever. They have no legal right to do so. How can child welfare committee members not put a child in adoption pool and get away with it?,” says Gupta, adding, “The three pronged approach would keep on evolving.” 

ST READER SERVICE
You can watch campaign videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5cUBR1gyHA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_A7tDGeaig
You can access campaign handles-- https://waic.in; https://www.facebook.com/whereareindiaschildren; Twitter: @waic_campaign‏
Instagram: waic_campaign

Excerpts from the open letter to Prime Minister Modi, drafted by WAIC team

Dear Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji,
As our country celebrates Children’s Day today, we are reminded that if we wish to create a progressive and developed nation, we must begin with our children. Today is also the right occasion to ask whether we are doing enough for millions of abandoned and orphaned children in India. 

There are 25 to 30 million abandoned and orphaned children in our country. Despite presence of district-level Child Welfare Committees and District Child Protection Units, there is no published data about where the children are or what’s happening to them. Barely 0.25 to 0.5 million children reach shelters, many of which have been called out for child abuse. The standard of care at the shelters is appalling. Instances of 3 year olds in shelters not being able to talk are common because no one speaks to them. Most common form of ‘disciplining’ is locking them up in bathrooms and calling them names. Muzaffarpur and Deoria show us that instead of providing protection, these shelters have become a ground for preying on children by perverted and powerful people.

ISSUE 1: No reliable mechanism exists for accounting abandoned and orphaned children in our country. Only about 1.5% out of estimated 30 million abandoned and orphaned children even make it to shelters (officially called Child Care Institutions — CCIs). Unregistered and illegal child shelters continue to thrive, endangering children. Barely 2000 children are in the adoption stream.

PROPOSED SOLUTIONS:
- Build the list of every single child in every shelter (officially called Child Care Institutions — CCIs) across every state and union territory. Give them Aadhar cards.
- State governments must monthly publish the number of children who are abandoned and orphaned, the number of children in CCIs, dates of checks on CCIs, and the number of children in the adoption pool.
- Shut down unregistered CCIs.
- Link every registered CCI to a specialised adoption agency within three months.
- Build out a functional and accountable process for periodically reviewing every child in CCIs for adoption eligibility.

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