(The case discussed below is real but the child’s name has been changed for privacy.)
Shailaja was 6 months old when she was found abandoned and brought into an adoption agency. The wheels of the child protection system moved a little, and a newspaper notification and police inquiry was done for her to check if any biological family member wanted to claim her. No one claimed her.
Then Shailaja was forgotten. India’s laws mandate that she should have been declared legally free for adoption. Except that no one moved her process forward. And no one checked that her process did not move forward. In the complex web of government officials and departments, she was everyone’s and no one’s responsibility.
For the next 10 years, Shailaja continued to live at the adoption agency (which is a child shelter with an adoption license). Her right to adoption was denied. Her right to a permanent family was destroyed. Then WAIC’s team picked up, analyzed, and highlighted Shailaja’s case, and at 10 years of age, she finally became legally adoptable.
As we hope Shailaja gets a safe loving permanent adoptive family soon, we are also angry. We are angry that she could have been adopted as a baby, but had to wait 10 years because there is no auditing and accountability built into India’s child protection system. There is no one to speak for these children and they can’t speak for themselves.
As an adult citizen, you and I can advocate for ourselves and our children when our rights are not met. But a 6-month old abandoned child can’t check if she has been made legally adoptable. A 3-year old orphaned child can’t file an RTI to check why they are stuck in a shelter.
India needs to build an independent auditing system in parallel to its child protection system, otherwise children like Shailaja will continue to slip through the cracks. The auditing system needs to be a check and voice for the rights of abandoned, orphaned, and surrendered children in India, so they can reach their permanent adoptive families.