Yes, We Adopted More Girls Than Boys – But What About the Missing?

“…She has become the centre of our small and confined world; she is our bundle of joy at present and a big hope for the future. Now that she has become part of our lives and is 14 months old and we have named her as KUHU, only regret we have is - why we were not able to decide for adoption a bit earlier?...”

“…I brought my little daughter home when she was 2.5 years old and now she is 8. Ever since she came to my life, my journey has been more worthy than ever….”

“…Baby looked at my wife with a deep sharp look without much blinking. She kept on looking. Tears of joy filled our eyes….”

“…Like all parents, I also have questions about what kind of a person my daughter will grow up to be. Her personality is very different from mine, and we already have our share of skirmishes but that just makes the relationship seem even more natural….”

All of the parent reviews posted on the ‘Success Stories’ page of Central Adoption Resource Authority’s (CARA) website are written by couples/single women who adopted girl children. That also seems in line with the findings of CARA’s own survey; data released by India’s nodal authority on adoption revealed that more girls were adopted than boys this year.

Incidentally, this is also the highest number of adoptions registered in the country since 2015.

There’s also data to show that of the total number of 4,027 adoptions, the majority were adopted within the country (3,347) while 653 went to parent/s outside India.

CARA’s data reveals that more girls were adopted than boys this year. Image used for representational purpose.

Also Read: Eating After Boys, Poorer Education: Girls are Disadvantaged Early

First, the Good News

So, in a utopian world, that should mean more people wanting to adopt girl children over boys, right? In fact, this isn’t even a new 2019 trend – a reply to an RTI filed by the news agency PTI last year revealed heartening stats: Nearly 60 per cent of children adopted in the last six years were girls across states in India. The state that led the pack was Maharashtra, closely followed by Karnataka.

In fact, this followed trends from the year before (2016-2017), when once again, Maharashtra and Karnataka recorded the highest numbers of girl adoptions, followed by West Bengal.

In an interview to PTI at the time, CARA CEO Deepak Kumar stated that, “This reflects that things are changing now. Moreover, people feel that it is easier to manage a girl child than a boy, and that’s another big plus point for the girl child to be considered for adoption”.

“One reason might be cultural acceptance. You no longer feel like you need a son to carry on the vansha – or perhaps, you already have a son. Another reason could definitely be greater gender sensitisation since information is being disseminated on ground against female foeticide and sex determination tests. However, yet another possible reason could be that more girls are being adopted because there are no girls available due to said tests.”

The Abandoned Girls

However, the heartening girl adoption statistic also throws up an obvious question – are more girls being abandoned and sent to adoption centres, thus leading to the surge in adoption numbers?

These facts were provided by an SOS Children’s Villages report. In the same year, UNICEF reported that India was home to a total of 26.9 million abandoned and orphaned children.

The situation only went downhill from there. In 2017, a Childline India Foundation (CIF) study – supported by the Ministry of Women and Child Development – found that of the 26.9 million abandoned and orphaned kids, only 4,70,000 children were in some kind of institutional care. How many of these kids actually make it to families through institutionalised adoption then, since CARA figures show that there have been a total of 4,027 adoptions?

Also, it’s possible the 26.9 million itself is an under-reported number.

How many abandoned kids actually make it to families through institutionalised adoption?

The Missing Girls

Here’s another number to ruminate upon: in 2015, a hard-hitting, data-driven interactive published by Tania Boa, Gerhard Bliedung and Benjamin Wiederkehr – called ‘Unwanted’ – found that 6,29,000 girls are missing in India every year.

The interactive claimed – “Every 50 seconds, a parent in India kills their daughter.”

The researchers credited their computation and final numbers to ‘Trends in Selective abortion of girls in India’ (a study conducted by the Centre for Global Health Research) and the 2001 and 2011 census.

Also Read: How to Kill a Girl Child and (Almost) Get Away With It

Which brings us to the question of…

...The Girls Killed at Birth

An IndiaSpend report published in May 2018 found that “fewer girls are being born in north and west India, and fewer girls are being born in richer states that poorer states”. According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) 2013-2015 – the latest available data – Haryana has the worst sex ratio with 831 girls per 1,000 boys – but other states with low sex ratio are Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, among others.

Yet, interestingly, Maharashtra has the highest number of girl adoptions from the state. The latest available data for the state – from 2017-2018 – shows that, of a total of 642 adoptions in the state, 353 were girls (reported by PTI).

Why the disparity between its sex ratio and adopted girl children?

The question is: are more girls being abandoned and sent to adoption centres, thus leading to the surge in adoption numbers?

Not Enough Children in Adoption Centres

A report in LiveMint found – “As of May 2017, there were 15,200 prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) while child care institutions (CCIs) have only 1,766 children in their care across the country”.

The very next year – 2018 – a reply to an RTI filed threw up statistics that had only worsened: 1,991 children (that included 1,322 girls) were available for adoption. Yet the number of prospective parents had increased to 20,000.

Clearly, more girls were indeed put up for adoption in the past year. And yet, if the numbers of abandoned and orphaned children are anything to go by, not all kids even find their way to adoption centres. So clearly, there must be hundreds of ‘missing’ children out in the country – and not enough adoption centres to house them.

Also Read: It Starts Early: How a Girl Child is Told to Mind ‘Ghar Ki Izzat’

Inter-Country Adoption Isn’t Always a Boon

2019’s figures revealed by CARA reveal that 653 adoptions out of 4,027 were inter-country – aka 653 children were adopted by prospective parents outside India.

While CARA’s numbers might be officially recorded, above-the-board data (in late 2015, India had changed its adoption rules to allow CARA to monitor all intra- and inter- country adoptions through its online database, thus making the process shorter and more transparent), not all numbers get reported. The numbers don’t account for the many babies trafficked from hospitals and traded on the black market.

In February 2017, 19 people were chargesheeted from West Bengal’s Baduria, North 24 Parganas district in connection with a newborn trafficking case. The racket was allegedly carried out by two private clinics, with the help of an NGO.

Parents were often told they had given birth to stillborns – even as their crying, very-much-alive babies were whisked away.

“West Bengal, with its porous border with Bangladesh and Nepal, records the highest number of women and children trafficked compared to other states across the country. Last year, government data indicate, 19,223 women and children were trafficked, compared with 15,448 in 2015. But the real number is unknown.” – reported News Deeply, investigating the West Bengal baby trafficking racket.

In 2017, Firstpost too profiled various men and women of Indian origin across the world who had been trafficked and were now hunting for their biological parents. It raised pertinent questions about the 2017 West Bengal baby trading racket, the 2011 child trafficking racket in Pune and the 2005 child trafficking racket in Chennai where professional kidnappers lifted children and sold them overseas for thousands of dollars. Significantly, in both the latter cases, adoption agencies were the linchpin of the rackets.

Geeta Menon tells The Quint:

“When trafficking takes place, it is safe to say that it’s largely intra-country. Children are trafficked from India to foreign nations. One reason is the huge amount of money involved; the other, being that other countries may not have the same girl child-boy child prejudice that India has. So, they’re far more open to the idea of adopting girls.”

Thus, while official records report heartening increases in the number of girl children adopted across the country, who’s counting the heads of baby girls and infants who go “missing” in the swathes of baby trading marketeers?

Numbers for inter- and intra- country adoption in the last few years.

A Sliver of Promise

… might come in the form of CARA’s transparency of adoption guidelines.

The system matches prospective parents directly with children who live at registered adoption agencies and orphanages to make the process simpler. Deepak Kumar even claims that parents have been able to exhibit their keenness to adopt a girl because of this system –

Kumar, in the PTI interview, claimed: “It is not that availability of the girl child is higher but that parents are opting more for a girl child. We give them three choices - one can either opt for a girl or a boy or can give no preference...The percentage of those opting specifically for girls to boys would be 55:45”.

Perhaps that choice, marked in ink, by a prospective parent on an adoption paper, is a promise of hope.

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