A tussle in Andhra Pradesh
In Andhra Pradesh, the first State to ban voluntary agencies from placing children in adoption, the government is under tremendous pressure to reverse the situation.
A protester belonging to the Progressive Organisation for Women grappling with women police personnel outside the DGP's office in Hyderabad on April 26. The protesters were demanding the arrest of Anita Sen, wife of DGP Swaranjit Sen, in a child adoption case and the removal of the DGP.
FOR almost four years now Andhra Pradesh has barred voluntary agencies from placing children in adoption. It is also the only State to have prohibited - under the Andhra Pradesh Orphanages and other Charitable Homes (Supervision and control) Rules 2001, of April 2001 - the relinquishing of a child "for reasons of poverty, number of children and unwanted girl child" by its biological parents.
The Women Development and Child Welfare (WD&CW) Department has taken over the adoption process. It has placed 410 babies (this figure includes the abandoned ones and also those taken over from the closed institutions) with Indian parents between 2001 and 2004. By contrast, during the previous four years, 1998 to 2001, voluntary agencies had managed to place only 200 babies in in-country adoption. However, according to activists, the placement was done in great haste just to showcase the government's "success."
While social activists concerned with trafficking in young children are for continuation of the present system, the placement agencies are moving heaven and earth to have the situation reversed. And if a note dated July 12, 2004 by Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekar Reddy's Principal Secretary to the Commissioner, WD&CW Department, is any indication, the agencies could be back in business. The note was in response to representations made by the Sisters of St Theresa's Tender Loving Care Home (TLCH) to Dr. Reddy on their difficulties (since their licence to place children in adoption was not renewed). It directs the Commissioner WD&CW to take a number of steps, including reconsidering and granting recognition to TLCH; recommending the extension of TLCH's Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) licence (for inter-country adoption); and declaring TLCH a fit institution under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000.
Another letter, from the Chief Minister's office, after a representation from TLCH requesting that the ban on biological parents relinquishing their children "be lifted," directs the Commissioner WD&CW to examine the matter and have it "put up to the Chief Minister for orders." Agencies read this as a "positive step" and had even hoped for a revival of their placement activities by Christmas 2004. To the relief of social activists, this has not happened.
According to Sister Theresa Maria, coordinator of the TLCH, the ban on relinquishment has not served its purpose, and, on the contrary, has resulted in an increase in the number of children being "abandoned and thrown in dustbins and on roads." But according to the WD&CW Department, between April 2001 and the middle of December 2004, the number of abandoned children was comparatively low.
The ban on agencies was a fallout of the 2001 scandal when the lid was blown off a racket in the procurement of babies, mostly female and belonging to vulnerable communities like the impoverished Lambadas, and their lucrative `sale' (for $15,000-50,000) to foreign parents. The Andhra Pradesh police slapped charges, ranging from cheating to trafficking in children, on officials of several adoption agencies. Most of the accused are currently out on bail, and attending court. The shenanigans of 2001 amply proved, as did similar scams in 1996 and 1999-2000, just how easy it was for agencies to circumvent and infringe the laws governing inter-country adoption (ICA).
In many instances rejection letters bore dates later than those on which the placement agency had applied to the VCA for ICA clearance. Many are undated, many more unsigned. In a number of cases the letters are not described as rejection letters but as "minutes with adoptive parents." Calling them minutes of the interaction made it easier to obtain the signatures of unsuspecting Indian parents. Many parents who had adopted via the agencies said they had been asked to sign sheaves of blank paper.
According to one of the First Information Reports (FIRs), agencies were using relinquishment as a means to purchase babies, for sums as low as a few hundred rupees. Police investigation also revealed that thumbprints of relinquishing parents and witnesses were forged. In other cases the village had no persons as were mentioned in the relinquishing deeds. Many deeds had no addresses. Some agencies even mentioned fictitious villages.
According to the charge-sheet filed by the police in Crime Number 13/2001 of CID Police Station in Hyderabad, the John Abraham Memorial Bethany Home (JAMBH) in Tandur (around 100 km from Hyderabad) had listed a number of villages such as Polampalli, Malepalli, Modampalli, Sahdnagar, Shahpurwadi and Sadiagutta (all in Ranga Reddy district) as the home villages of the biological parents. Revenue officials found that some of these villages did not even exist.
A former worker with a leading agency told this correspondent that she and other workers were so fed up affixing their fingerprints to forged documents that they even resorted to putting their "toe impressions." All that was required on the deed was an impression. In many cases, the witnesses were not, as required by CARA guidelines, from the village/community of the relinquishing parents but were employees of the agency. Curiously even literate relinquishing parents (going by what was stated in the relinquishing deed) were asked not to sign but to affix their thumb impressions. In an effort to expedite the adoption process, dead babies were shown as alive in the master register, and whenever a baby of similar age was found it took the place of the dead baby. Activists also cite the case of a baby whose mother died in 1996. The relinquishment deed actually showed her relinquishing the baby in 1998; and more interestingly, a notary attested the deed.
Activists also allege that the relinquishing parents were not told of their right to reclaim their child within 60 days after which the relinquishment deed would become irrevocable and the agency could place the child in adoption either in India or outside. A letter dated May 31, 2002, from Shalini Misra then Director, WD&CW, to the Secretary of CARA on violations of CARA guidelines and the Supreme Court judgement (on adoptions) in 47 ICAs placed by TLCH, cites some of the methods devised by agencies to circumvent the rule book. "In 19 cases the addresses of the biological parents could not be traced. The agency failed to furnish the correct addresses of not only the biological parents but witnesses also. A large number of witnesses signing the relinquishment documents were found to be employees of the home."
The letter goes on to state: "On examination of relinquishment deed of N, a child born on 12-6-2000, it is found that the baby was relinquished on 14-6-2000 on the stamp paper, but the stamp paper has been purchased on 28-6-2000. How the relinquishment deed was signed on 14-6-2000 when the stamp paper was purchased on 28-6-2000 is a mystery. Similarly, in the case of Baby H, whereas the relinquishment deed is dated 11-6-2000, but the stamp paper was purchased on 28-6-2000." The Director also accused the agency of submitting rejection letters from Indian parents after VCA clearance was sought, filing unsigned and undated rejection letters and fabricating deeds; and in a number of cases, requesting VCA clearance without waiting for the mandatory period to pursue Indian adoption.
Shalini Misra's letter also states that TLCH in many cases maintained two different sets of medical examination reports. To facilitate VCA clearance and the NOC from CARA (for ICA) the child was shown as unhealthy. However, the same baby was shown as healthy when the records were produced in the family court. The letter also alleges that TLCH fabricated medical reports to circumvent CARA guidelines.
TLCH denies these accusations. Theresa Maria's response: "Out of the 600 adoptions that I have done, three-fourths have been in-country. And we follow all the procedures including post placement."
Agencies also struck deals among themselves. According to the police charge-sheet No. 364/2001 of the Kukatpally police station in Rangareddy district, former Minister Roda Mistry's Indian Council for Social Welfare (ICSW), as a recognised placement agency, was authorised to maintain children before they were given in ICA, process adoption papers, obtain visas, and hand over the child to foster parents. Mistry had entered into an `agreement' to do all this with Anita Sen, president of another agency, Precious Moments (PM), which did not have the requisite CARA permission. A scrutiny of PM's account books indicates that it incurred an expenditure of Rs.26,320 (as on 31-3-1998) and Rs.1,84,155 (as on 31-3-1999) towards payment to the American Consulate to obtain visas, etc. PM's books also shows expenses on American Immigration and Naturalisation services, with Anita Sen or her kith and kin making trips to the United States escorting children to their new homes.
Anita Sen, who is the wife of the present Andhra Pradesh Director-General of Police Swaranjit Sen, according to the charge-sheet, was in correspondence with Cross Roads Adoption Services, Minnesota (United States), through whom PM sent children in ICA, and received money towards maintenance of children, escort charges, etc. And "as PM was not a recognised placement agency and had not been allotted an ICRA number, Sen utilised the services of Tabernacle School of Evangelism" to access the money. The charge-sheet states that from 1997 to April 2001 Anita Sen received Rs.42,54,228 from Cross Roads.
Children rescued from the John Abraham Memorial Bethany Home at Tandur near Hyderabad in April 2001. These children were tonsured to ensure identification at the state-run home for children in Hyderabad.
The 2001 scam also resulted in a plethora of court cases filed by the Andhra Pradesh government, the agencies and three activists, Paruchuri Jamuna, Isidore Phillip and Bhangya Bhukya. The High Court of Andhra Pradesh after hearing the case for almost a year - the delay being caused by TLCH going in appeal to the Supreme Court on an interim judgment that directed the government to show children in TLCH's care to Indian adopters - gave its judgment on May 2, 2003.
Expressing concern at the goings on in the field of adoption and the large-scale violations in procedures, the High Court directed, among other things, that: the processing of adoptions should only be done by CARA and the VCA; placement agencies should not have any role except informing the authorities about the child coming to their care; the scrutinising committee in its present form should be abolished; CARA should appoint legally trained persons who would scrutinise documents; a thorough record for the reasons why and how many Indian parents rejected a child should be maintained; a separate file with all relevant details for each child available for adoption should be preserved; the details of each child should be placed on the web; and the VCA and CARA should maintain lists of adoptive parents, which should be constantly updated. Crucially, the court upheld the family court's denial of guardianship to foreign adopters, which TLCH was seeking.
The court's far-reaching directions, which were upheld twice by the Supreme Court, have not been followed by CARA, which was listed as a party in the legal proceedings. Nor has the agency gone in appeal.
Data from papers submitted to the courts and to various other agencies on ICA established a central and damning reality. Instead of selecting the best parents for the children, the agencies made the requirements of the parents the overriding concern.
Since the 2001 scam, the sale of babies in Andhra Pradesh has certainly been substantially contained. The adoption process has become a shade more transparent.
However, in a recent development, the naming of Shalini Misra as an accused in an FIR, has sparked off a controversy in the State. The FIR, dated March 24, 2005, was issued by the Toopran police station in Andhra Pradesh's Medak district alleging atrocities under the SC/ ST Atrocities Prevention Act. The opposition and non-governmental organisations have accused the Medak police of foisting a case against Misra because she had initiated action against PM, which was run by Anita Sen.
Anita Sen's agency was one of the adoption agencies that allegedly flouted the Supreme Court's guidelines on adoption and got into trouble with the authorities during the State's crackdown in 2000. A case was booked against Anita Sen in April 2001 and, according to informed sources, the file is pending before the police. The question that the Opposition parties such as the Telugu Desam Party, which has demanded Swaranjit Sen's removal, is asking is whether the DGP will take action against his wife.
The FIR, which contains Misra's name in two places, was issued after a tribal person Laxman Naik of Venke tanda of Gottemukkala village, alleged in a complaint to the police that he was beaten up in the Sivampet police station in the presence of Misra and that she had ordered the beating.
The Opposition and NGOs, while questioning the coincidence of a case being booked against Misra a day after Anita Sen moved a local court seeking her discharge from the trial of child adoption cases, have asked the government to withdraw the case. Sources close to Shalini Misra told Frontline that if she wanted her name to be cleared, the options before her were to wait for the government to close the case or to go to court. According to informed sources, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy has said that the complaint against Shalini Misra should be withdrawn.