This pandemic shows why we desperately need abandoned kids to get out of shelters and into new families

On 26th January 2020, before most of us had heard of coronavirus, Where Are India’s Children completed and released our report on how positive outcomes can be achieved for abandoned children in India’s shelters with the use of innovative technology. We especially focused on how abandoned children at shelters/orphanages are being denied their right to family and not being entered in our country’s legal adoption pool. The report and underlying study highlighted how technology can be a game-changer in this space. As we got ready to pitch our solution to government bodies and technology partners, the epidemic struck. After a few weeks, India went into lockdown.

Instead of pitching our solution, we were now dealing with an entirely different issue. Child shelters and adoption agencies were asking us whether we could help them with desperately needed food and medical supplies. Thanks to the support of some government officials who could vet the shelters and agencies for us, we launched an emergency fundraising drive, helping 39 child shelters and adoption agencies raise the much needed lockdown funds. Every time we added a child shelter to the fundraising drive, we asked them: “Do you look at each child’s case critically and enter eligible children in the legal adoption pool?” Every time, we got the same answer, “No,” followed by the same reasons we heard during the interviews we conducted with shelters for our study. The irony was not lost on us. These children were being denied their chance to reach a new family, yet at the same time, shelters needed funds to raise these children because the children had no families.

Can you try and guess how many children are available for legal adoption across our entire country? A few lakh? Surely given the size of India, with millions of orphaned/abandoned children, and lakhs of children in child shelters, the number of children in the legal adoption pool must at least be in high thousands? But that’s not the case. The number of children in the legal adoption pool pan-India stands at merely 2000.

Contrast this with more than 29,000 parents waiting to adopt a child. Most of these parents want young children with normal health. But there are also many parents willing to adopt children with special needs, older children, and sibling groups. So why are we letting our country’s children languish in shelters, when many of them can be adopted into a new loving family?

The Women and Child Development Ministry’s report shows that 50,000 children from child shelters across India could be eligible to enter the legal adoption pool. A Mumbai based NGO’s white paper pegged the percentage of children in India’s child shelters, who should be evaluated to enter the legal adoption pool, at 22%. But these children do not reach the legal adoption pool due to the lack of motivated, transparent, technology-aided implementation of processes on the ground.

Whether a child should be evaluated to enter the legal adoption pool is left to the discretion of the child shelters, but such institutions often lack training or awareness about adoption, and therefore do not trigger the adoption process for the child. Additionally, lack of automated tracking and reporting on children who could be eligible to enter the legal adoption pool, means there is no escalation or follow-up.

We cannot continue to fail our country’s abandoned and orphaned children. When a legal adoption process exists, when enough people want to adopt, it is unconscionable that we let abandoned children continue to exist in shelters. Our organisation’s ambition is to tackle this by helping the local authorities to get more visibility over abandoned children in their jurisdiction. We believe the most efficient way to do this is through a centralised technology system which would, among other things, uniquely identify every child and auto-flag children for adoption eligibility review. With this sort of information, the authorities can see the bigger picture and determine real-time if there are eligible children in child shelters who would benefit from adoption.

If this pandemic teaches us one thing, let it be that we don’t want to be a country that leaves abandoned children begging for handouts. Let’s give these children a chance to be with their new families, and be fiercely protected and loved.