Earlier this year, bowing to pressure from the US and European governments, the files that were awaiting approval from the government were processed and the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare began work on a new set of terms and conditions for adoption. Last week UNICEF and the Swiss-based child relief agency foundation Terre des Homes (TDH) released a two-year study on inter-country adoption and its influence on child protection in Nepal.
The report, Adopting the Rights of a Child, is deeply critical of Nepal's inter-country adoption policies and says it doesn't always take the best interests of the child into consideration. The report reveals instances of abduction of children and babies put up for adoption without their parents' consent.
The majority of 'orphans' the researchers talked to should not have been in orphanages because their biological parents and relatives were still living. The report says most centres are not up to standard, monitoring of the centres is not properly done and biological parents are not given adequate information about the adoption process. Domestic adoption accounts for only four per cent of adoptions, families are divided and siblings?including twins?are separated to increase the chance of their being matched. No psychosocial support is given to those who have been abandoned.
The government recently finished drafting a new set of conditions and procedures on adoption. Some 37 Nepali institutional homes have been accredited by the ministry and officers are running background checks on more than 70 international adoption agencies which have registered with the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare.
A central commission, under the ministry, has been set up to facilitate the adoption process. Foreign parents wanting to adopt from Nepal must first approach the agencies in their home countries that have been accredited by the government. These in turn will contact the commission, which will match potential parents with children from the approved Nepali homes. Officers at the ministry say that these terms and conditions will make adoption transparent because a central authority, not private homes, will be responsible for the matching process.
Although the new rules are an improvement on the old, it is clear they still don't provide sufficient guarantees to fully uphold the rights of the child. Although international agencies are required to register with the ministry, it is still possible to apply through an embassy for adoption. This is no different from private adoption as prospective parents can easily communicate with the child's home. Unless the supervision board and family selection boards take bold steps, children's homes will continue have a lot of power over the adoption process.
Adoption is about finding a suitable family for a child, not a suitable child for a family. We need a leak-proof Adoption Act because, as we know with everything else in Nepal, just passing a law doesn't change anything. There has to be the rule of law to act as a deterrent. Also, the criteria for adoption are still too elastic. At the moment it seems relative deprivation is enough of an excuse to put a child up for adoption.
The government is nowhere close to drafting an Adoption Act, since the ministry has been too preoccupied with elections and politics. Worldwide, inter-country adoption is rife with corruption and misuse. Without legal reform, malpractice will continue and Nepali children will continue to suffer because the system is unable to protect them.