The Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), the federal body in India that oversees adoption, released new guidelines this week that could substantially improve the process for children in need. Unfortunately, anyone familiar with India's exhaustive bureaucracy is bound to be cynical regarding this ambitious plan.
Here are some of the major changes to the program:
All applications for international adoption, whether from "foreigners" or Indians living abroad, will now be routed through CARA in New Delhi.
This seems designed to put an end to foreign adoption agencies developing direct working relationships with specific orphanages, and to ensure that domestic placements take priority. This change also prevents non-resident Indian couples from applying directly to the orphanage of their choice. All prospective parents may request a child from a particular region or express interest in a particular orphanage, but no guarantees. CARA specifically mentions that Indian couples aren't may not be matched with a child of their same linguistic or ethnic background; they must be willing to accept a child from any region in India.
Once CARA gives preliminary approval to a family, it will route the family's application to a licensed orphanage.
Greater emphasis on placing children with Indian families
Past regulations required that 50 percent of children be placed with Indian families. Now CARA says:
Preference shall be given for placing a child in in-country adoption and the ratio of in-country adoption to inter-country adoption shall be 80:20 of total adoptions
processed annually...excluding special needs children.
New local committees will scrutinize documents of parents and children, with second and final CARA clearance required before case goes to court
The old committee structure for scrutinizing documents has been thrown out and new committees will take their place. All the committee roles and acronyms get confusing, but here's the bottom line: following scrutiny at the local level, every case will go back to CARA for a final seal of approval and No-Objection Certificate (NOC) before the orphanage can file a case case in the local court. This means that every case arrives in court bearing the unequivocal approval of the federal government.
Greater emphasis on resolving cases quickly
CARA's new rules say "adoption of children shall be guided by set procedures and in a time bound manner;" this is listed as a fundamental principle of the process AND the new rules encourage the courts to finalize adoptions in one hearing! Frankly, this one made my mouth drop open in shock. Here's the wording:
a. In accordance with the directions of the Honourable Supreme Court of India in L.K.Pandey vs. Union of India (WP No 1171 of 1982), the competent courts are to dispose off the case within a maximum period of two months from the date of filing.
b. As each case for inter-country adoption is required to be processed by Child Welfare Committee and State Government through the [Adoption Recommendation Committee of the State Governement] and CARA, the competent court may, to the extent possible, dispose of the case in the first hearing itself in the best interest of the child.
India has always required adoption cases to be processed within two months, but this rule has NEVER been followed. Our first, contested Indian adoption was tied up in the courts for MORE THAN TWO YEARS; our second, successful adoption from India took TEN MONTHS to ajudicate.
The Indian courts have always treated guardianship and adoption cases as adversarial procedures involving testimony from witnesses, cross examinations, multiple affadavits, extensive review of documents etc. This demand for in-depth testimony, the propensity for lawyers, judges and witnesses to fail to appear on any given day and extensive court holidays forcing postponements, made case resolution within two months impossible.
With this new approach, CARA is effectively telling the courts that they should trust the seal of the federal government and sign off. Completing adoption cases in one hearing is going to demand a major paradigm shift among all the stakeholders. Talk about your audacity of hope!
I was originally driven to start this blog by the trauma of our first, failed adoption from India, which was highjacked by local activists in the name of "human rights" or nationalistic ideology, depending on your point of view. I've never really told that story here; it's proved too complicated and painful. Let me say this, though: in CARA's new reforms I see a response to the Hyderabad adoption crisis that I experienced, even if that response comes nearly ten years after the fact. Had these rules been in place back then, I might have been able to bring my first Indian daughter home, and much suffering endured by other families and kids would've been avoided. I pray that these new rules will serve destitute children and prospective parents well in the future.