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'Kids up for adoption need psychiatric screening'


Mayura Janwalkar

Mumbai: Having lost their parents, Mita and her younger sister found hope in the form of a new home -- and family -- in the United States. The girls, who were living at a shelter for destitute children in Mumbai, flew out to be with their adoptive parents, Jane and Peter Harper, on April 12, 2006.

But Mita, 14, had hardly settled into her new life when she developed psychiatric problems. She was placed with another family but her condition didn't improve.

Wide Horizons for Children (WHC), the adoption agency that had placed Mita with the Harpers, flew her back in September 2008 after getting permission from the Indian government's Central Adoption Resources Agency.

She has since been under treatment even as the Indian Council for Social Welfare (ICSW) is pursuing her matter in the Bombay high court, seeking medical costs from the Harpers and the WHC.

To prevent children from going through Mita's ordeal, the high court said that psychiatric screening should be a must for kids prior to their adoption by couples abroad. "Many children who are placed in guardianship of parents abroad have had a disturbed childhood. Unless adequate psychiatric evaluation is carried out prior to placement of a child in guardianship and even thereafter, the child may develop serious behavioural problems," justice DY Chandrachud said in his order last month.

The court has appointed additional solicitor-general DJ Khambatta amicus curie (friend of the court) to assist in framing guidelines for psychiatric screening of children.The court has also sought help from Asha Bajpai, professor at the Centre of Socio-legal Studies and Human Rights, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

"Certain systemic directions would have to be issued by the court to ensure the welfare of such children and for laying down appropriate modalities for psychiatric evaluation before a child is placed in guardianship or foster care abroad," justice Chandrachud said.

Assistant government pleader Shubha Dandekar said that some draft guidelines have been suggested by the state government and other parties involved, but nothing has been finalised yet.

In Mita's case, ICSW wanted the Harpers and the WHC to deposit Rs25 lakh with the court - the money will be spent on the girl's treatment till she recovers and is rehabilitated.

The WHC, however, informed the court that being a non-profit organisation it could not pay the amount. It, however, deposited $13,800, or roughly Rs6.5 lakh, with the ICSW's family service centre in Mumbai for Mita's medical expenses.

After her repatriation, Mita was placed at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, from where she was shifted to Asha Kiran, an institution in Bangalore that deals with the rehabilitation of children with special needs.

The WHC had agreed to bear Mita's expenses until she is adopted by another family, or till she turned 18. The court was, however, told that given the serious psychiatric problems Mita has, it may not be possible to place her in another family through adoption.

The court will hear the matter next week.

(Some names have been changed to protect identities)
2009 Oct 10