The persistence of Anupama S Chandran, a young mother who was separated from her newborn for over a year, has finally won the day. The child has returned to his biological mother but the mystery surrounding his adoption still remains unsolved. For Anupama's story to have a happy ending, those who had blatantly violated adoption rules should be brought to book.
The ugly stains of the wilful violations are all over those who had committed them, vivid and clear. Yet, mocking both justice and common sense, the government has said that the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and the Kerala State Council for Child Welfare (KSCCW) had done nothing improper.
Non-existent electronic cradle
First, it was said the child was "abandoned" in the 'Ammathottil', the electronic cradle of KSCCW where a child could be placed anonymously. P S Jayachandran, the grandfather of the child and Anupama's father and also a local CPM heavyweight, told the media that he had placed the child in the cradle, rang the bell and from a distance had seen the staff of the KSCCW taking away the child.
It later came to light that on the day the child was said to be placed in the 'Ammathottil' (October 23, 2020), the cradle was not functioning. Jayachandran quickly revised his version and said he had directly handed over the child to the authorities.
Imaginary Malala Yusuf
Then, playing out yet another farce, the child was taken to the Women and Child Hospital at Thycaud, near the KSCCW, and its gender was recorded as 'girl' and was even named Malala Yusuf. When this gender mix up was revealed, it was promptly corrected. Heightening the suspicion that the wrong gender was no accident, the name of the father was also entered wrongly.
The grandfather still maintains he has no idea who messed up the gender of the child.
Veena George's confusion
Kerala's Women and Child Welfare Minister Veena George said in the Assembly that neither the CWC or KSCCW had violated rules. Either she was misled or she wilfully lied.
George, for instance, said that the advertisement about the 'abandoned' child was placed in newspapers as mandated by the Adoption regulations, 2017. The newspaper ads are placed to alert the biological parents, to make sure that the child was not illegally separated from them. "No one had inquired about the child in 30 days," she said.
First of all, the newspaper advertisement, like the hospital records earlier, had described the gender of the child as girl. A mistake made twice smacks of conspiracy. Of greater significance is the fact that Anupama and her partner Ajith, contrary to what the minister had said, had indeed gone to the council searching for their child within 30 days of the publication of the ad.
Then, she was shown a boy and DNA tests were done. It did not match. One thing, therefore, was clear. The council was aware that Anupama was looking for her child in 2020 itself.
It was in April 2021 that Anupama filed a complaint with the police accusing her parents of taking her child away from her. The child was declared 'legally free for adoption' long after that, four months later in August. In short, the child was placed for adoption when it was already evident that the biological mother was frantically searching for her child.
"The fundamental thrust of the Adoption Regulations is that a child should be given for adoption only if all options to keep the child with the biological parents are exhausted," said J Sandhya, a human rights lawyer with long experience in child-related cases.
If a child is "abandoned", as the government claims Anupama's child was, there are a couple of measures the government agencies have to take before declaring it 'legally free for adoption'.
The Women and Child Welfare minister said everything was done. Placing details of the child, including its photograph, in prominent dailies is one. This was done but in a misleading way as the 'abandoned' child was described as a girl. Another stipulation in the adoption regulations is that the police should be given the details of the child and asked to trace the biological parents. In this case, the local police was informed of the 'abandoned' child. Tracing the parents should not have been trouble as Anupama herself had gone to the police asking for her missing child long before adoption procedures began. Still, the police and the adoption agencies behaved as if the mother did not exist.
So, it is only in a devious sense that the minister can claim that the government agencies had done their job.
Violating the spirit of adoption
But there is no way the government can ever claim to have upheld the spirit of the Adoption Regulations, 2017. The essence of the regulations is to go the extra mile in search of the biological parent and persuade them to keep the child. But the state government authorities, though they had the mother who was desperate to get her child back right before their eyes, hastily arranged for the child to be placed in adoption.
Here is what the regulations say: "Efforts shall be made by the Specialised Adoption Agency (the KSCCW in this case) or the Child Welfare Committee for exploring the possibility of parents retaining the child, which shall include counselling or linking them to the counselling centre set up at the authority or State Adoption Resource Agency, encouraging them to retain the child." In Anupama's case, the opposite was done.
Saving the grandfather
There is also a reason why the government claims that the child was "abandoned" and not "surrendered". If the government had said the child was "surrendered", the grandfather, who went on to publicly state that he had given up his daughter's child, would have been in deep trouble.
A child can be surrendered only by the biological parent. If any one else, like the grandfather, does it without the presence of the biological mother, he could be imprisoned for up to three years under Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.