India - Surrogacy, Adoption and Cyber Crime

By Syed Ali Mujtaba, Sept 13, 2008, Newstrack India

The din and clatter of the political news that dominates the Indian newspapers pages, often undermines many fascinating stories. Many of them are social relevant themes and need a great deal of attention as they tell about the real social change taking place in India. 

I have tried to pick up few random themes to project a different face of India. They are about the practice of surrogacy that’s assuming a business like proposition, international adoption racket that’s clandestinely being carried out in India and last but not the least, the cyber crime that’s assuming alarming proposition. All of them give a fascinating account of India, quite contrary to what’s being marketed as; shining India, India on roll and Chuck De India.

Surrogacy

Surrogacy in India is estimated to be a $445 million business with the country becoming a leading service provider in this human issue. This is because of the low cost of treatment and the ready availability of women willing to rent their wombs. In comparison to USA where surrogacy cost is about $70,000, it costs only $12,000 in India.

The issue had shot into limelight when a surrogate mother in Gujarat gave birth to a girl ‘Manji’. The baby's parents, Ikufumi, 45, and his wife Yuki, 41, came to India a year ago and hired the service of a surrogate mother from Anand town in Gujarat. However, before the baby was born the couple separated and then divorced.

Manji's father claimed the custody of the child but Indian laws do not permit this and the issue got entangled in legal battle. The Supreme Court finally granted Manji's custody to her 74-year-old grandmother but this was contested by an NGO named ‘Satya’ claiming that Manji was an abandoned baby. This made the Supreme Court to ask the central government to clarify its stand on issues related to surrogacy, particularly parentage and citizenship.

Even though there is still no clarity on this issue, this case has kicked of a debate in India. The, British and American laws forbid surrogate mothers to charge a childless couple, where as in India there is no such law. It raises the question whether surrogate mothers should be allowed to charge a fee. The opinion seems to be building for having relevant laws in this matter that should not only protect the surrogate mothers, but also check the foreigners who come to India looking for renting wombs. Well when such law may come into existence it’s only a matter of guess.

Adoption

The other interesting story is about adoption racket that was exposed some three years back in Chennai and now again doing rounds as interest peaked in this case when Time magazine published a report that at least 30 children brought to Australia from India were victims of human trafficking.

A CBI investigation in 2005 had found that many of the children adopted by foreign couples from the Tamil Nadu were kidnapped and sold to adoption agencies by gangs anywhere between 500 and 10,000 rupees. One such adoption agency, Malaysian Social Service in Chennai, was believed to have sent 120 children for adoption to affluent childless families’ world over and had received money as donation from them.

When in Queensland, Australia, a couple who had adopted a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl from Chennai in 1998 heard of this racket, it conducted a personal investigation into the background of the children and traced the biological mother of one of them. The couple requested the Queensland government to conduct a thorough probe into this matter and help connect with the biological parents of the children. The Queensland government started communication in this matter and this has made the CBI to send a request to interview the foster parents of the child.

The renewed interest in adoption story has led to many tongues wagging; how these adoption agencies could send children to foreign countries even as government guidelines mandate a preference for in-country adoptions? Why for an ordinary Indian couple adoption is a cumbersome process, where as for foreigners it’s just a price tag? Given the complex human issues in such cases it remains to be seen whether these children could ever be repatriated to India.

Cyber Crime

There is no denying the fact that cyber crime is on rise and India cannot remain immune to this. An interesting story came to light recently in Chennai when a girl lodged a complaint with the cyber crime cell, after she was bombarded with calls on her mobile phone from strangers asking for sexual favours. Apparently, this girl's photograph and phone number was put up on a networking site describing her as service girl.

The cyber crime cell got active and in no time picked up a manager of a private firm who admitted his crime. The victim and offender were onetime friends but had fallen apart. They cyber cell issued a stern warning to such offenders that if they believe t they can remain anonymous in cyberspace, they are wrong, their crime in can easily get detected and they can be caught in no time.

The cyber crime cell said that instances of misuse of photographs of women are on the rise on the Internet and it receives at least two such complaints every month and the Sometimes photographs are morphed and used with obscene content, at times even genuine photographs are used for that. The cyber cell has advised the public, especially girls against sharing of photographs, even among best friends.

All these three tales of India carries a message of its own. While surrogacy is complex human call, it’s a crime to allow it to grow into a business proposition. There is need for clear law on such issues and this practice should be strongly discouraged. Similarly, the issue of adoption has to treated with a great deal of sincerity and the childless Indian couples who wish to go for adoption should be encouraged and there should not be any procedural hindrance for that. However, the foreign couple who come for such purposes should be allowed to proceed in this matter only through proper channels. As far as cyber crime concerned it is something that has come to stay with us. The use of cyberspace is a boon to mankind and its benefits far exceeds to its perils. A great deal of social disciplining and effective surveillance can keep this in check.

Well these tales from India is an effort to construct a better picture of India and a sequel to my earlier write-up ‘Sex,Kidney and More.’ 

http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/16715

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Choosing wisely?

I was caught by the following comment:

The renewed interest in adoption story has led to many tongues wagging; how these adoption agencies could send children to foreign countries even as government guidelines mandate a preference for in-country adoptions? Why for an ordinary Indian couple adoption is a cumbersome process, where as for foreigners it’s just a price tag? Given the complex human issues in such cases it remains to be seen whether these children could ever be repatriated to India.

There are two videos I reviewed at you-tube today, featuring similar concerns and problems in Russia.

The first video features a news-report that discusses the growing concern locals have, urging Russian MPs to make adoption easier.  ["Complex legal procedures currently put off many prospective adopters."] 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrQ23PAj4fQ

The second video features key reasons for Russia doubting the safety American adoptions. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxlbYK59EPc

One has to really wonder why international adoptions are given such "special treatment".  Clearly, there are indeed "locals" wishing a change will be made so fewer children will have to endure what has finally reached the media.  Why in the world are "local interests" not respected?

 

Domestic adoption in China

The same can be said about China. The author of research-china.org, did an investigation into domestic adoptions in that country and wrote the following:

I got the first inkling that things were changing in China’s orphanages when I adopted Meigon in March 2002. As we visited the Guangzhou orphanage and walked the grounds with an officer at the orphanage, I asked her how many domestic adoptions the Guangzhou orphanage does each year. Hedging on the exact number, she replied that there was a three- to four-year waiting list of domestic families seeking to adopt. When I asked her how there could be a waiting list inside China while girls continued to be adopted internationally, she explained that the children adopted internationally had been passed over by domestic families in favor of more “attractive” children.

Experience and research since that time convinces me that the story is a bit more complicated than that. In January 2006, I published the results of my survey of 36 orphanages involved in the international adoption program (See my blog essay, "Domestic Adoption in China"). The results of that survey revealed that most of the orphanages surveyed (85%) claimed to have no healthy baby infants available for domestic adoption, even though adoptions of healthy children were performed for international families.
from: The Hague Agreement and China's International Adoption Program

Here the author gives a couple of reasons for the preference of international adoption over domestic adoption.

But the larger question still remains: Why do the orphanages continue to adopt internationally, while most have a long waiting list of domestic families ready and able to adopt those same children? I believe there are four components to this answer.

There is evidence to suggest that in a few cases children adopted internationally are those that were “passed over” by domestic families seeking to adopt, as the Guangzhou officer suggested. It is a common cultural tendency for Chinese couples to seek out children that will bring honor and respect to their family. Thus, children that display attractive physical features such as large round eyes, double eyelids, and round faces are considered desirable. One orphanage admitted that they had an “ugly” healthy baby girl available for adoption, having been passed over by many prospective families (Guangdong). Another director indicated that he prefers adopting to international families because domestic families pay too much attention to looks, and are thus too picky (Guangdong). Age of the child is also a consideration. Most domestic adoptions involve children less than six months of age. Children found when they are almost a year old or older face fewer prospects of being adopted domestically.

Another barrier to domestic adoption is the health of the child, and the perceived medical expenses that the adoptive family might incur to care for their child. Since most rural (and many urban) families lack health insurance, the potential for expensive medical treatments is a formidable concern for most adopting parents. When given the opportunity to adopt a child with a cleft pallet, for example, most Chinese families would be dissuaded by the expensive medical procedures needed to repair that deformity, and thus pass on adopting that child.

There can be little doubt that financial incentives motivate orphanages to place children for international adoption. I dealt with this particular issue at great length in my blog-article on the finances of baby trafficking. In summary, each internationally adopting family “donates” three thousand U.S. dollars to the orphanage at the time of adoption. In most cases this amount exceeds the donation made by domestic families. I am not asserting that an orphanage director benefits personally from increasing his orphanage’s cash flow by increasing international adoptions. Rather, given the realities of managing an orphanage, any conscientious director would likely do what he or she can to obtain as many financial resources as possible to improve the quality of care in his or her institution. This is especially true over the last few years, which have seen an increase in the percentage of special needs children being found. These children remain longer in the orphanages and require additional resources for medical expenses and care. The international adoption program is thus a price-floor mechanism for the orphanages: Given the demand for healthy infants by foreign families, and the large financial contributions they provide, any remaining children can be adopted to domestic families that also have good financial means. Thus, the revenue to the orphanage is maximized. One director, for example, confessed that although domestic adoption fees had been 6,000 to 8,000 yuan in the past, they had been raised to 15,000 yuan in order to provide additional funding to the special needs children flowing into the orphanage (Liaoning).

Another reason orphanage directors are biased to foreign adoption is the belief that children adopted internationally will have better futures and more opportunities than if they had been adopted domestically. Although it is difficult to say how much this plays into the decision of who is allowed to adopt, it certainly presents an obstacle to domestic adoption.

Lastly, many orphanages have restricted their domestic adoption program to families living in the orphanage’s area. When asked why families from other geographical areas of China are prohibited from adopting from their orphanage, most directors indicate that post-placement reporting is more difficult. Others indicate that given the disparity between supply and demand for healthy baby infants, it is felt that local families should be given first priority.

These factors, taken in aggregate, create significant barriers to families wishing to adopt children inside China. Some of these barriers, such as physical appearance and age of the child, are self-imposed obstacles, and could be overcome if the family would choose to do so. Others, such as the high financial requirements to adopt from most orphanages (ranging anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 yuan) and future medical expenses lie largely outside the prospective adoptive family’s control. Altogether they combine to make it difficult, if not impossible, for most domestic families to find adoptable children. As one director put it, “many families call, but give up when they are told there are no healthy babies” (Henan).

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