Million dollar babies
Promoting domestic adoption is one of the best ways to stop the orphan trade
In 2007, inter-country adoption dominated the headlines of national dailies basically covering its inherent malpractices such as corruption, illegal procurement of babies, trading for large sums of money, bypassing regulations, misinforming parents and so forth.
Consequently, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) decided to put the country's adoption procedures on hold until effective laws could be formulated and enacted. In May 2008, without adequate consultation with relevant organizations, new conditions and procedures on inter-country adoption were drafted superseding the terms and conditions introduced in 2000. The major changes observed are:
- Centralization of procedures at the ministry level.
- A complete listing of foreign organizations that deal with inter-country adoption in Nepal.
- Creation of an investigation/recommendation and supervision board and family selection boards.
This is indeed exciting news. However, these changes have provoked a number of practical questions, as enforcement and implementation of regulations and policies have always been jeopardized in Nepal. Will these conditions and procedures really ensure the protection of children's interests? Can the involvement of the MoWCSW and formation of adoption committees control the prevailing malpractices? Is it possible to stop illegal trading of orphan children? Nepal has not yet been a signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Inter-country Adoption.
These changes have strongly drawn the attention of the government, the media, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), NGOs, orphanages and children's rights activists while domestic adoption issues have been overlooked. The terms and conditions for prospective domestic adopting parents remain unchanged. There is evidence suggesting that prospective adopting parents had to pay huge amounts for the babies of their choice and that this involved a lot of bargaining between parents and orphanages.
According to officials at Bal Mandir, the state run orphanage, foreigners adopt about 40-50 children while Nepali parents take home only 10-12 children annually. A report jointly launched by Terre des Hommes Foundation (TDH) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in September 2008 clearly shows that though most of the orphanages claimed they preferred domestic adoption, only 34 children were domestically adopted, whereas 833 were sent for inter-country adoption ever since the inception of the studied child centres.
Claire Goodwin, a foreign volunteer who works at a number of orphanages in Kathmandu, surprisingly said that a majority of the children residing in these homes had parents. Even more startling was the fact that a majority of these children were relatives of the people running the orphanages, as if these were boarding homes for those children rather than orphanages.
A more alarming revelation was published in Kantipur on Feb. 3 under the title “Sold children from orphanages”. The news reported that a foreigner in the guise of a foreign agent attended one of the orphanage's events in Balkot, Bhaktapur to observe and understand the situation. He was told that the orphan children could be made available for adoption by foreigners if they were ready to pay the amount demanded by the directors of the orphanage. A few directors at the meeting even taught him how to evade legal prosecution and furnish fake papers.
Likewise, there are also orphanages that have been opened to promote Christianity and are illicitly engaged in inter-country adoption. When they were asked if children were available for domestic adoption, they said their organization's constitution did not support domestic adoption. Isn't that bizarre? Orphanages being operated by Nepali people in Nepal are not allowing Nepali parents to adopt Nepali children. In this kind of situation, domestic adoption issues will remain unattended without direct government intervention. Thus, direct intervention of the government in including domestic adoption in the accreditation criteria under the terms and conditions of the 2008 inter-country adoption terms is required. Likewise, the government should also revise its policy of registering domestic adoption cases at the Land Revenue Office and ask all the orphanages to be registered under the relevant ministry, i.e., the MoWCSW.
There are many other issues to be taken care of such as engaging the media to promote domestic adoption, creating alliances, setting minimum standards of residential care, drafting and implementing proper monitoring and evaluation procedures for the centres, stringent regulations for the establishment of new centres including revision of the constitution of old centres and so on.
This is how the state can ensure that inter-country and domestic adoption malpractices are controlled, while the relevant governmental, non-governmental, international non-governmental organizations, human rights activists and prospective adopting parents should place domestic adoption as a priority agenda to curb rampant children's rights violations.
Hats off to Durga Baral of Syangja district who has recently broken the social stigma by adopting a newborn baby abandoned in a jungle in Kuvinde Bhanjyang of Syangja. Such acts of giving opportunities and warmth to helpless orphans should be followed particularly by those Kathmanduites who are showing a growing interest in test tube babies these days. This could be one of the strongest ways to stop trading in our innocent little ones.
(The author is a freelancer.)