All you need to know about adoption in India
From preparing paperwork, to equipping yourself and the child emotionally
Dr Mayura Dange moved back to India with her daughter and husband, all set to adopt a baby. The timing meant that there wouldn’t be too big an age gap between her biological daughter and adopted child.
But life threw a curveball at her, with the agency sharing the photo of an older child. “As soon as I looked at that smile, I knew she was my daughter,” says Dange.
Adoption was never going to be a breeze, but there were more hardships than she had accounted for. Hurtful comments like ‘Good, now you will have someone to take care of your daughter and help around the house’ were common. “I even had a guest come running to me saying, “She (adopted child) is sleeping on the bed next to your daughter.”
Another challenge of adopting an older child was that unlike a baby who needs to be fed and have her diapers changed, an eight-year-old child has already developed her independence and sense of personality. “My adopted daughter doesn’t hug that much,” explains Dange. “After some counselling and reading every blog and post about adoption, we concluded that her expression of love differs from our biological daughter, and we’ve accepted it. She need not hug us or vice versa to express love.”
As Dange’s experience shows, the path to adoption is as emotionally challenging as it is rewarding, strewn with arduous paperwork, mentally readying yourself to be a parent, fielding judgement from society, and helping your child adjust to their new environment.
We turned to those who have opened their families to adoptive children, including Ankita Katuri who shared her beautiful story of adopting a baby girl with us, and Bombay High Court advocate Partha Mansukhani, to create a guide that covers the legal and emotional aspects of adoption in India.
All you need to know about adoption in India
What is the process for adoption in India?
Step 1: Prospective adoptive parents need to register online on CARA’s website, and upload their documents onto Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System (CARINGS). The documents required include:
- Current family photograph or photograph of the couple or person adopting a child.
- PAN Card of the prospective adoptive parents.
- Birth certificate or proof of date of birth of the prospective adoptive parents
- Proof of residence – Aadhar card, voter card, passport, current electricity bill or telephone bill.
- Proof of income of last year. This will include salary slip, income certificate issued by the government, and income tax return.
- Certificate from a medical practitioner certifying that the prospective adoptive parents don’t suffer from a chronic, contagious or fatal disease, and are fit to adopt. In case of a married couple, you have to upload the medical certificates of both the applicants and the marriage certificate.
- Divorce decree or declaration from “the competent court or affidavit on oath pertaining to divorce in case of divorce governed by personal law where decree of divorce is not mandatory or death certificate of spouse in case of single prospective adoptive parent (if applicable).”
- Two reference letters from acquaintances or relatives in support of adoption.
- Consent of the older child or children in the adoptive family. This is applicable if the child or children are older than five years.
Step 2: Post registration, a home visit will be conducted by a member of the Specialised Adoption Agencies (SAA), and their evaluation will be uploaded on CARINGS. The report remains valid for three years and confirms the suitability of the parents for adopting a child. This is followed by a waiting period, which varies widely on the availability of a child matching your criteria. The waiting time is usually reduced if you reserve a child from the immediate placement or special needs category.
Step 3: Prospective adoptive parents are sent profiles of legally free children, “based on choice and eligibility.” They have to reserve a child within 48 hours of receiving references.
Step 4: The adoption committee determines whether the adoptive parents and child are a match. This process can take up to 20 days.
Step 5: This step is when prospective parents accept and take the child in for pre-adoptive foster care.
Step 6: Within 10 days of taking the child in for pre-adoptive foster care, the SAA and prospective adoptive parents have to file a petition as co-petitioners to the designated court to finalise the adoption.
Step 7: To finalise the adoption, the court has to dispose the case off within 60 days of filing the petition, this usually happens after the court conducts an in-camera hearing.
Step 8: The application and issuance of the child’s birth certificate has to be carried out within eight working days.
Step 9: SAA’s social worker visit the adoptive family and prepare follow up reports after the adoption order is finalised. These visits are conducted on a six-monthly basis for two years from the date of pre-adoption foster care agreement.
Who is eligible to be adopted?
- An orphan, abandoned or surrendered child, who has been declared legally free for adoption by the Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
- A child of a relative. Here, relative means the child’s paternal uncle or aunt, a maternal uncle or aunt or paternal and maternal grandparents.
- A child or children of one’s spouse from an earlier marriage surrendered by the biological parent or parents for adoption.
What is the eligibility criteria for prospective adoptive parents?
- The prospective adoptive parents should be physically, mentally and emotionally stable, and financially capable, and should not have any life-threatening medical condition.
- In case of a married couple, the consent of both the spouses with respect to the adoption is required.
- A single male prospective adoptive parent cannot adopt a girl child.
- A couple is only eligible to adopt if they have been in a stable marital relationship for two years.
- In case of a couple, the composite age of the prospective adoptive parents shall be counted. The minimum age difference between the child and either of the prospective adoptive parents cannot be less than twenty-five years. However, the age criteria for prospective adoptive parents is not applicable in case of relative adoptions and adoption by a step-parent.
- Couples with three or more children shall not be considered for adoption, except when the children to be adopted are those with special needs or hard to place children, and in case of relative adoption and/or adoption by a step-parent.
Is there a minimum income level that prospective parents need to meet?
The Adoption Regulations of 2017 do not specify minimum income levels in the eligibility criteria for prospective adoptive parents. While conducting the home study, the social worker will assess the capability and motivation of the prospective adoptive family to provide reasonable living standards.
What happens if the parent and child have problems adjusting?
In such situations, the SAA or District Child Protection Unit organise a counselling session for the parents and child. If despite counselling the adjustment issues can’t be settled then, this can lead to disruption or dissolution of adoption. Disruption refers to the child being unmatched before the adoption is completed.
If the legal process is completed, you need to obtain a dissolution from the same court that passed the adoption order.
Does religion play a role in determining eligibility?
As per the guideline for adoption in India, there are no restrictions based on caste or religion when determining eligibility.
Can differently-abled couples adopt a child?
Differently-abled couples are eligible to adopt. The eligibility is based on the nature and extent of disability. While the SAA social worker prepares the home study report, they will also assess whether the prospective adoptive family has adequate support required to parent efficiently.
Do biological parents have legal rights on the adopted child?
Once the adoption order has been granted, the biological parents have no legal ties with the child.
How much money is spent on average during adoption proceedings?
As per the Adoption Regulations of 2017, the SAA charges Rs 6,000 for the home study report, a child care corpus fee of Rs 40,000, and Rs 2,000 for each follow-up visit post adoption. There are four follow-up visits over a period of two years post-adoption.
Is the child allowed to enquire about their roots post adoption?
The adoptive child can seek information about their roots via the SAA or CWC of the district from where the child was adopted.
Is it legal to adopt a child directly from the hospital?
Adoption directly from the hospital is not permitted under law. Doing this may lead to imprisonment and fine specified under Section 80 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015.
Have your emotional survival kit ready to go
Apart from familiarising yourself with the process of adoption in India, you need to equip yourself for the emotional roller coaster.
Prepare just like you would for a biological child. Read parenting books to understand the child’s physical and psychological development. Discuss parenting perspectives with your partner, and talk about how you’d handle disagreements.
“It’s okay to have mixed feelings about the process, but it’s crucial to voice these concerns and sort them out before the child arrives. If not voiced, the pressure of child rearing might turn into resentment,” explains psychologist Prachi Vaish.
If the parents have a biological child, how do they make sure there is no sibling rivalry post adoption?
Involve the biological child, right from the decision-making process. The biological child may feel like the parents want another child because they aren’t enough, in such cases, explain to them how love grows when shared.
Remain clued-in to both the kids’ emotions while you divide your time equally. Never compare the kids.
For Dange, adopting an older child after preparing to adopt an infant posed a challenge. “I assumed I wouldn’t have to take time off work because my adopted daughter was eight, but she needed me probably more than a baby would,” she says.
“You have to be a lot more nurturing and present when adopting an older kid. My biological daughter acted like an older sister because her role was to protect her sister when they would go out to play. They are very close, and that’s because we kept our biological daughter actively involved right from the beginning.”
How do parents deal with the adopted child’s trauma if any?
If you know that the child has endured trauma, consult a child psychologist to understand and prepare.
“Trauma can make a child unpredictable, moody and withdrawn. You’ll have to be very patient. Don’t put added pressure on the child to change. By making them an ally, the bond automatically develops if they feel involved,”
Focus on creating a safe, non-judgmental, and accepting environment for the child. Allow them to emote freely, you can express empathy, and make them feel heard.
Do not use statements like “You’re lucky to be here, so many people have it so much worse”, “You should forget about the pain and be grateful for the new life”, “Forgive those who caused you pain”, “Why is our love not enough?”. These statements are judgmental and invalidate a traumatised child’s emotions and pain.
Reach out to a trauma specialist to make the healing process easier.
How do you tackle the child’s fear of abandonment?
“The fear of abandonment is very deep-seated and can manifest as extremely clingy behaviour or as the child rejecting your affection because they are scared of getting used to it,” explains Vaish.
Acknowledge this, and provide a stable and predictable emotional environment for the child. Even when you’re using disciplinary measures, make sure they are consistent and do not involve the use of shame – “You’re a bad child”, “Look what you’ve done” etc. The child already has a fragile self-image and shaming them only makes it worse.
How do you talk to your child about being adopted?
“The sooner you bring it up, the better,” advises Vaish.
It is not going to be an easy conversation and there is no way to predict how it will be received. But go into it bravely and patiently. Allow the child to process the information. Don’t let your anxiety pressure them into responding a certain way.
If they seem shocked, tell them that you understand it’s a lot to process, and give them as much time as they need to process it. Encourage them to ask you questions and be comfortable saying “I don’t know”.
In case of an older adopted child, how do you introduce them to your culture without forcing them to completely let go of their older habits?
Remember that change and adaptation is never a quick process, and know that giving the child love doesn’t ensure that they will adopt you and your culture like you adopted them.
As was with Dange, something as simple as the kind of food you eat can pose a challenge – “In the beginning, we cooked the food she already liked, but gradually introduced her to other food.”
Changes must be presented to the child as an option and not compulsion. Explain the philosophy, emotion or reason behind what you would like your child to follow and then give them the space to make an informed choice, and respect what they decide.
How do you prepare your family to be receptive to the adopted child?
Adoption in India inevitably means having the family on board. But that might not always be possible, and that’s okay.
“The child should never feel unwelcome, you have to shield them from that,” says Dange.
After deciding to adopt, convey the decision with love, warmth and conviction. Invite questions and answer them as you see fit. If you convey conviction in your decision, others respect it. You might also prepare a few ground rules for when the family poses questions or doubts, and convey those clearly.
Prioritise your child. To avoid tension, agree to disagree with combative relatives – let them know that their approach does not align with yours and that it would be best if both parties kept their opinions to themselves.
What is the best way to form a bond with the adopted child?
“You will have the usual parenting hiccups which will have nothing to do with the fact that the child is adoptive. Don’t be extra wary,” suggests Vaish.
- Get to know the child as they are, not as you expected or wanted them to be. Knowing them well helps form a deeper connection. To do this, ask them lots of questions about what they think, and what they like, and observe how they respond to events and situations.
- Don’t expect gratitude from the child just because you have adopted them. There was a void in both your lives and it was mutually filled. This puts you on equal footing, and makes bonding easier.
- Ask your children what kind of parents they would like you to be, and then balance that out with how you want to approach parenting, and find a middle ground.