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Manisha (name changed) is 15 and brighteyed . She might be the regular teenager . The adults in contact with her say she is polite and disciplined and is always ready to help anyone in trouble. But Manisha is not a regular teenager and hers is no ordinary story. She lives in a home run by an NGO in Gurgaon for abandoned or abused children or those with special needs. She is the helpless victim of inter-country adoption gone terribly wrong.
Six years ago, Manisha was adopted by an American family from a centre in Mumbai. But soon enough, they were unwilling to keep her, blaming Manisha's newly apparent hyperactivity, mood disorders and depression. Rejected and abandoned all over again, Manisha was sent across the seas and has been in the children's shelter from early 2010.
Should it be this way? Almost all her young life, Manisha has been a victim of the system — and all its faults. In 2003, she and her sister were found abandoned at Mumbai railway station. Both children were placed with an NGO, the Family Welfare Centre (FWC), by the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). In 2005, the CWC declared that the children could be adopted because no one had come forward to claim them.
Soon enough, an American couple expressed interest in taking both sisters. The FWC, coordinating with an adoption agency in US, completed the formalities. The girls were cleared for adoption in April 2006 by the Central Adoption and Resources Agency (CARA), the nodal body for adoption under the Union ministry of women and child development .
But within months, the American foster parents were complaining that Manisha had behavioural problems and insisting they would keep her young sister, but not her. Manisha's case wound up in the Indian courts. The Bombay High Court, which has been hearing the case, was informed that the link adoption agency (in the US) had placed Manisha with another family, but things didn't work out and she was repatriated to India in June 2008. She was admitted to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, her adoption revoked and her guardian now is Nigama Mascarenhas, director of the FWC. The high court said the American couple who adopted Manisha cannot be absolved of responsibility and they are still liable for financial support for the child's treatment and needs. The court has sought sixmonthly updates on Manisha's progress.
So how has all of this left an innocent child, flown across continents and rejected twice-over - once by her birth parents and then by her adoptive father and mother? Her guardian, Mascarenhas says Manisha seemed to be settling down when she visited the home in December 2010 , she is now trying to find a foothold in life. Staff at the home say the child is endearing and participates in every activity . Apart from attending a special school that is helping overcome her learning disability, she is undergoing therapy with a psychologist and a psychiatrist . Counsellors say Manisha has potential to do well in say, the hospitality sector.
If Manisha is indeed fine, she is one of the luckier ones. There are no statistics of the number of Manishas all over India — abandoned children, who were adopted overseas and then turned out like a troublesome puppy. Significantly, the Bombay High Court has used Manisha's case to ask CARA, India's nodal adoption agency, to plug gaps in the system.
The court asked CARA to create stringent inter-country adoption guidelines, as well as a system that makes foster parents financially liable if they seek to revoke an adoption.
Activists like Anjali Pawar, of the NGO Sakhee, say this is badly needed. Pawar, who works on issues related to inter-country adoption in Maharashtra , says, "The existing norms call for monitoring of children adopted by families abroad for five years after the adoption. But what happens to the child after that, no one knows. The monitoring should go on till the child attains 18 years."
All of this is urgent. The latest data on CARA's website shows that in 2009, 666 Indian children were placed with families abroad. When contacted , a top CARA official said that an expert committee had been constituted to frame stringent guidelines for inter-country adoption. He claimed that the committee's report has been sent to the law ministry, denied there had been delay and insisted the revised guidelines would come into effect soon.
But Bharti Ali of the National Coordination for the Campaign Against Child Trafficking, who has been part of the stakeholders meetings on the drafting process, contradicts the CARA official's claim. She says it's been three months since the stakeholders heard about the status of the guidelines and the draft is anyway "not as tough about protecting the rights of the child if one reads between the lines."
Manisha's case has exposed another grey area. Is India careless about the psychological health of the children it puts up for overseas adoption? The Bombay High Court has expressed concern about information presented to it, which seemed to suggest that many Indian children adopted abroad have a disturbed childhood. But what if everything fails and an adopted child is sent back to its home country from overseas? Ali says it is imperative the Indian government "take responsibility for a child in case of a failed inter-country adoption."
Is anyone listening?