Last week, even as the Bhattacharya kids were headed home and a happy ending in the Norwegian custody row, the controversial case of Mehrunissa Kasim (called Nisha ) and her six 'adopted’ children erupted in Chennai .
Nisha, a lawyer by profession, apparently could not produce the necessary documents on all the six children to members of the state Children’s Welfare Committee (CWC) . Like their Norwegian counterparts, the CWC - which enjoys have magisterial powers - removed the children from the home and the 'mother’.
(Two of them have since been returned to her guardianship as their papers were found to be in order).
CWC officials say the other four have been placed in private homes. No documents exist for the other four, so the question of how Nisha came across the children in the first place has risen.
Officials say that two days ago Nisha produced a couple of 'birth certificates'. Routinely, these carry the name and address of the birth mother. These are in the process of being scrutinised and verified by the CWC’s probationary officers, who will call on the address given and verify if the child was indeed given up voluntarily.
Is the curious case of Nisha and her ‘adopted’ brood that outnumbers Brangelina’s the proverbial tip of the ice berg?
Nisha is a single mother and has a biological son of her own.
In these inflationary times, when prices soar like a MS Dhoni helicopter shot, how can a single income , single parent support such a large family, and support them well?
Are we seeing a form of racket that flourishes in plain sight in individual homes, and below the radar of the Children Welfare Committee ? (CWC) . Officials say that such rackets go on all the, but were thought to flourish more in Tirunelveli and other districts.
“People group half a dozen kids in a home, then upload their photographs as abandoned children on brilliantly designed websites and solicit funds from abroad. They often get funds three times the worth of raising a child , but not all these children’ s home register with the Social Welfare Department” says Andal Damodharan of CWC.
"As per Juvenile Justice Act, registration is a must for such institutions to receive funds, and the Social Welfare Department is empowered to inspect such registered homes,” she adds.
According to her the department has ramped up inspections state wide, and the Nisha case could well be a fall out of such an exercise. For the record, Nisha has not disclosed any Trust, under whose umbrella she could be raising the children.
Is the adoption process very complicated? Under the Juvenile Justice Act, there are clear norms, including transparent paper work on biological antecedents, for adopting a child, and if the rules are not adhered to, the adopted child would be the ultimate loser in the long run, say experts.
When individuals adopt children, the law is very clear. There should be a relinquisition letter from the biological mother.
“Nisha’s case is sad from the point of view of the children, but there is a structure in place,” points out lawyer Geeta Ramaseshan. “The checks and balances are there to ensure no one misuses the Juvenile Justice Act,” she adds. Ramaseshan also points out that often, parents are unaware that while Hindu religious laws allow adoption, and allow inheritance rights, there is no such provision in Islamic and Christian religious laws. They would be only granted ‘guardianship’.
Everyone agrees that adoption is the best social scheme, and point to Tamil Nadu’s now-on-now-off ‘cradle baby’ scheme as a winner all the way. It was launched in 1992 by J Jayalalithaa during her tenure as chief minister after reports emerged of thousands of newborn girls being fed a fatal dose of cactus sap by their mothers in the districts of Salem, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri.
Under the scheme, cradles were left in strategic locations - spots where mothers could abandoned their newborns.
Naturally, the scheme has tended to trend whenever Jayalalithaa is occupying the chief minister’s chair. And has been a life saver of close to four thousand babies.
Like Vimala Jayalakshmi, one of the 14 females adopted in 1992-93 by the SOS village in Thambaram. A diploma holder in music, Vimala is now learning ‘nattuvangam’ from renowned Bharatanatyam exponent, Gopika Varma. "All 14 girls, who have been adopted and raised by mothers are doing well,” says Nambi Varatharajan, the director at SOS Thambaram.
Tamil Nadu’s male-female sex ratio, which was 942 in 2001, is now at 946 females for every 1000 males, according to the 2011 census. The figures have improved in Salem and Dharmapuri as well, with the latter posting a healthy 911 female ratio in 2011, from the 826 of 2001.
However, female infanticide continues to flourish despite the awareness on the cradle baby scheme. Insiders say parents are coming up with fresh methods to dispose of their unwanted child, and recall a recent instance when a father was arrested, after his baby was found dead. He had wrapped the child in a soaking wet gunny bag and leaving it in a corner , had gone to the movies with his wife. On their return, they claimed the baby was ‘found dead’.
Why is female infanticide still happening? Insiders say that at the ground level, the morale is low. Anganvadi teachers are given the responsibility of nurturing a cradle baby, make trips to pediatric wards and escort the baby to social welfare department officials, who will allot the child to NGOs or adoption centres. Anganwadi workers are not compensated adequately for such work, and soon turn a blind eye to infanticide.
Experts say that for Tamil Nadu to emerge as a completely baby friendly state, more funds should be pumped into the scheme. After all, the hand that rocks the cradle is the mother figure.
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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist