NEW DELHI —Thirty orphanages run by the group founded by Mother Teresa have decided to shutter their adoption services in India rather than comply with a new government system that makes it easier for single and divorced people to adopt children.
“We have already shut our adoption services, because we believe our children may not receive real love,” said Sister Amala at Nirmala Shishu Bhawan, a New Delhi orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity. “We do not wish to give children to single parents or divorced people. It is not a religious rule but a human rule. Children need both parents, male and female. That is only natural, isn’t it?”
In recent months, the government has overhauled India’s complex adoption bureaucracy to reduce the long, frustrating waiting period faced by prospective parents and boost the country’s woefully low adoption rates.
Estimates of the number of orphans in India vary from 16 million to 30 million, a figure cited by several nongovernmental organizations, but only about 2,500 orphans were adopted last year, down from 5,700 four years ago, according to the Women and Child Development Ministry.
Under the earlier system, orphanages around the country were allowed to handpick parents and match them with children. But that process, officials say, operated with scant oversight and was plagued by corruption, trafficking, delays, favoritism and prejudice.
Since August, the government has required orphanages to submit records of children to a central authority that maintains a database. Prospective parents are now asked to register with the authority, whose automated system will match them with children.
That means children from any orphanage can potentially be matched with single parents anywhere in the country, something that the nuns of Mother Teresa’s order frown upon.
At a meeting in New Delhi this past week, Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, said the Missionaries of Charity had refused to register children in their care with the central authority.
“They have cited ideological issues with our adoption guidelines, related to giving a child up for adoption to single, unwed mothers,” Gandhi said at the event. “They do not want to come under a uniform secular agenda.”
Gandhi said the government will try to persuade the religious order to work with the new system because it has “valuable, good people” and experience in adoption.
The order, however, said it will give up its license. In New Delhi, it has transferred six unadopted children to Holy Cross Social Services, a Catholic organization.
“We want to bring everybody under a uniform, secular Web site. We do not want different groups to run their own parallel systems anymore,” an official in the Women and Child Development Ministry said.
The vacuum left by the order is being filled by other agencies.
“We are seeing a sudden rise in children coming to our adoption home. It could be because the Missionaries of Charity is not accepting any more,” said Lorraine Campos, assistant director of Palna, one of the oldest adoption homes in the capital. “We do not have a problem with single parents or divorced people. We have to accept that society is changing. We have to be flexible, too. But we carefully study the kind of job pressures of the applicant, and we also ensure that they have a family support system that can step in to give care to the child.”
The Indian system does not, however, allow adoption by gay prospective parents. “We have not progressed to that extent yet,” Campos said.
Adoption agencies say the new system has cut the waiting period from several months to a few weeks.