Katihar abandoned baby case: Why adoption law matters?

Imkong Walling Dimapur | May 29 The case of a newborn from Kohima found at a railway station in Bihar may sound like an isolated incident. But is it? This case, according to rights activists, has revealed a glaring gap in public knowledge about adoption norms and child rights despite the existence of established law.   “Procedural adoption is important because it protects the interest (or rights) of the child,” asserted Bazo Kire, who highlighted the dangers of adoption without legal sanction.   A child rights activist and member of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Kohima, Kire said that whatever the intention, the people involved not only flouted the law but also endangered the security and future of the child.   Maintaining that children adopted through informal routes become vulnerable as they grow up, she said that there have been instances in the state when adopted children get disowned by their adoptive parents or family when they go astray or come in conflict with the law.   “Disowning them through newspaper declarations not only worsens the situation but is also an injustice to the child.”   According to Kire, such cases surface because no laid down procedure was followed that would have otherwise lawfully protected the interest of the child.   Inheritance is another aspect where children adopted without documentary warrant would have no say. Citing death of the adoptive parents as a hypothetical scenario, she posed, “What if the biological relations of the deceased adoptive parents lay claim or contest the adopted child’s claim to the adoptive parents’ possessions?”   The instant case, notwithstanding the child’s non-Naga lineage, should serve as an eye opener to Nagas, she asserted.   The local customs and traditions may hold sway in such cases, if the child happened to be Naga by birth. However, she said the complexities involved points to a need to have a dedicated state-centric law governing adoption in Nagaland.   Existing statutes and customary practices While the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 and the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 exist; the former covers adoption among Hindus and the latter only deals with ‘guardianship’ leaving the rest without a clear-cut adoption law.   The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 in concept filled the gap introducing a secular touch to the process of adoption and which has come to be generally applied all over India irrespective of religion or race.   The JJ Act mandates the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), Ministry of Women and Child Development as the national regulatory body for adoptions (in-country and inter-country).   At the state level is the State Adoption Resource Agency (SARA).   Nagaland’s SARA Programme Manager, Renchumi Imti said that the Adoption Regulations, 2017 framed by the CARA have prescribed procedures, including adoption by relatives.   She maintained that, as per the law, adoption of children ought to be done only through recognised or Specialised Adoption Agencies (SAA).   In Nagaland, there are five such SAAs - Kohima Orphanage (Kohima), Wondang-ki (Dimapur), John 3:16 (Mon), Mother’s Hope (Dimapur) and Radiant Educational Society (Kohima).   Stating that the very intention of the JJ Act and its provisions for adoption is to protect the interest of the child, she said that any adoption has to be cleared by the CWC (of a district).   Informal adoptions or bypassing the law either knowingly or unknowingly are punishable with imprisonment upto three years or fine of Rs.1 lakh or with both.   Written law is clear, yet, as pointed out by Bazo Kire, Parliamentary enactments often come into conflict with the varied Naga traditions, which are protected by Article 371A.   Echoing Kire’s contention, K. Ela, Director of Prodigals’ Home held that informal adoption violates the rights of the child. This issue in particular, she said, demands serious introspection by Nagas as the legal as well as social implications for the adopted child and the adoptive parents cannot be ruled out. “Not accepted by the community, no legal rights” are the risks involved, she said, while it would place the aggrieved parties in a “neither here nor there situation.”   Chairperson of the CWC, Kohima, Khriehuzo Lohe reiterated the need for a codified adoption law for Nagaland to avoid any perceived conflict. Lohe said that such a law should consider the prevailing customary practices of the respective tribes.   State Adoption rules awaits govt approval Meanwhile, a move in that direction has been made, only that, it requires approval of the Nagaland state government. The JJ Act provides for the states to formulate adoption rules in conjunction with the prevailing local traditional practices.   “We have framed the adoption rules (for Nagaland) as provided in the Act and submitted to the state Cabinet,” disclosed a child rights lawyer. Submitted in 2017, the lawyer said that the rules were drafted keeping in mind the existing socio-cultural practices of the state. The government though has yet to respond or approve it.   This is the conclusion of a two part series.