Last week three Nepali boys aged 8, 9 and 10 were removed from juvenile 'homes' in Kolkata by a rescue team from the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation (EBMF), working in close cooperation with the Nepalese Consulate. The two oldest boys had been detained there for four years, and the youngest, Suraj, for three years.
Suraj's face still bears the scars of a vicious attack by a mentally disturbed juvenile who was also held at the centre. All three boys had originally run away from abusive step-parents. They found their way onto the streets of India and, through the police, into the juvenile detention centres.
The boys' release coincided with calls from organisations such as UNICEF and Terre des Hommes to suspend, once again, inter-country adoptions from Nepal. The organisations accuse the government of failing to meet commitments to bring the adoption process in line with the Hague Convention it ratified in 2009, and disregarding the child protection that should be central to adoption procedures. Terre des Hommes claims 62 per cent of children in 'orphanages' actually have both parents and many could be with their families.
However, orphans (genuine or otherwise) are not the whole story; government criteria include step-children as candidates for inter-country adoption. This recognises that it is common in Nepal for step-children like Suraj to be unwanted within new marital relationships.
It would be bad enough if such children were unwanted and treated as de facto slaves, like Cinderella. EBMF has found children sometimes run away from abuse to live on the streets and have been sold by step-parents to be trafficked into Indian circuses.
Arguably these children could have been cared for under family support, kinship or domestic adoption arrangements. EBMF tried the first of these to reintegrate refuge children with families, but found that material support could not buy the love of step-parents, and the children returned to the refuge. Since relatives are often directly involved in trafficking children, kinship arrangements are a very high risk option.
Domestic options, including adoption, should take precedence over inter-country adoption in line with the Hague Convention's 'Subsidiarity Principle'. But it is worth keeping in mind that Nepal has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 144, compared to such adoption destinations as the USA (HDI 13), Spain (HDI 15) and Italy (HDI 18). Suspending inter-country adoption means denying a child the prospects that droves of their fellow-Nepalis are leaving Nepal to access.
The nightmare scenario now is that the call for a blanket suspension of inter-country adoption may be heeded, and followed by another prolonged period of indecision. But reforms could be introduced very easily. The ridiculously high financial return to the government, agencies and orphanages from inter-country adoption should be reduced. Doubtful cases should be investigated thoroughly. But clear cut cases such as those of unwanted step-children should be fast-tracked for inter-country adoption before a worse fate befalls them.
Every day a child spends in a grim orphanage is a developmental disaster. Nepal's Cinderella Children should be protected by preserving what I believe to be the preferred alternative to inadequate domestic alternatives, the oblivion of India or the abyss of the domestic sex trade.
The author is the Country Director of Esther Benjamins Trust - Nepal, and the father of two adopted Nepali children. This article represents his personal views. www.ebtrust.org.uk
Looking for a home - FROM ISSUE #490 (19 FEB 2010 - 25 FEB 2010)