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India – New adoption guidelines are being slyly used to beat the legacy of Mother Teresa

Be fair To The Sisters
This narrative has developed in a strange way . New guidelines for adoption have been issued by the ministry of women and child development. But suddenly , thanks primarily to some insensitive and thoughtless comments at a press conference in Delhi, the issue has become one of an attack on the Missionaries of Charity (MoC).Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi has accused MoC, an order founded by Mother Teresa, of sending children abroad or to Christian homes ­ without offering any proof.

As a resident of Kolkata, home of MoC, and as an individual who has been fortunate to have known Mother Teresa and seen her work and that of her Sisters at close quarters, i am left aghast.

A group of selfless workers, whose mission extends to 139 countries, is being mocked and insulted. The laws relating to adoption are being misrepresented. And are we just supposed to watch?
Adoption has formed a tiny part of the work of MoC, which has hitherto run 19 orphanages and adoption centres in the country . Its efforts are devoted to caring for the infirm and the dispossessed, whether ageing people, unwed mothers or abandoned children. To give such human beings dignity has been MoC’s ethos.

The abandoned and the poor Mother Teresa brought to her centres, sometimes tending for them personally and always free of charge, belonged to a variety of communities. There was no question of prioritising Christians.

The idea of abandoned children being adopted by childless couples to complete a family appealed to Mother Teresa. As such adoption became part of MoC’s mandate.

Numbers involved are tiny . There are 20 million destitute children in India, but in 2014-15 just over 4,000 got adopted ­ 3,988 within India and 372 by parents abroad. According to the Central Adoption Resource Authority of the women and child development ministry , only 0.04% of abandoned children in India are adopted through officially recognised agencies.

While facilitating adoption, Mother Teresa formulated her unwritten guidelines, followed by MoC even after her passing. For instance, children were only adopted by couples comprising a husband and a wife. The combined age of the couple could not be more than 100 years.Once the couple established their credentials, they were given a child for adoption.If they rejected the child, that was it.Engagement with MoC was over.

No choice was offered to the prospective parents ­ they couldn’t choose gender or physical features. Mother Teresa was clear that she was helping nurture a family , not marketing a commodity . When a child enters a mother’s womb, there is no room for the parents to choose his or her sex or physical attributes. Mother felt the same needed to be done for adoption. In recent weeks, MoC has begun to voluntarily shut down its adoption centres and unilaterally applied to the government for de-recognition. It has done so of its free will because, as it has said in a release, “complying with all the provisions“ of the Guidelines Governing Adoption of Children, 2015, issued by the ministry , “would have been difficult for us“.

The sequence is important, because in the past week the ministry has publicly rebuked MoC and threatened its adoption centres with derecognition.This is petty grandstanding, as MoC has already decided to opt out of adoption facilitation and has conveyed this to the government.

Why has MoC found it “difficult“ to comply with the new guidelines, which update the guidelines of 2011? Government sources are giving the impression of “modern“ and “secular“ guidelines being rejected by “bigots“ at MoC. The sly message is MoC does not want to give children to non-Christians, or to single parents ­ and the guidelines are progressive in this nature.

The facts are otherwise. I personally know dozens of families, mostly Hindu, who have been blessed with a child from MoC. The vast majority of MoC adoptions have been to Hindu parents, but that is beside the point.

Actually , the new guidelines are largely aimed at increasing efficiency ­ allowing for a consolidated national waiting list of eligible parents and available children; putting up forms online; having forms available in local languages rather than just English.

But apart from that changes are cosmetic. Those who claim single parents are being allowed to adopt only now are wrong. This has been happening for some years. The movie star Sushmita Sen is a well-known single parent.

On its part, MoC is not against the right of single people to adopt, but argues the needs of married and childless couples need to be met first, and gives preference to them. This is its belief and is a valid position in a society marked by unity in diversity .

Also untenable for MoC is the provision in the new guidelines that allows prospective parents to choose from up to six children. In the case of NRIs, OCIs and foreigner adoptive parents, there is a choice from up to two children. MoC finds this rule abhorrent and, as a conscientious objector, has simply walked away . That is all there is to the story.

So why are some people using it as a stick to beat the legacy of Mother Teresa?

The writer is Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party Leader (Rajya Sabha)

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