No child’s play

Amid reports of abuse of Nepali children by foreigners, the government has cleared ten countries for adopting Nepali children, on the basis of their good records on protecting adopted children’s rights. The countries which have qualified are the US, Italy, Spain, Canada, France, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and Germany. Foreigners often adopt Nepali children through child-placing agencies, and only those that meet the government’s criteria are to be permitted to do the job. This is logical, but application of the rules needs to be strict. Indeed, the adoption processes are elaborate, as they involve investigation, recommendation, supervision, approval and selection through specified committees. The Nepal Children’s Organisation (NCO) comes into the picture for processing foreign adoptions. The children for possible adoption live under direct NCO care, as well as in 37 other domestic child homes.

Fairly strict criteria existed in the past, too; it is another matter that the rules and regulations may have been tightened now, especially following sustained media criticism of the way orphans were entrusted to foreigners, of neglect or abuse of many adopted children. Let alone foreigners, even domestic child welfare or child rights agencies came under public fire, including the NCO itself, for irregularities and irresponsible behaviour. Last May, the government suspended foreign adoption, particularly after controversy erupted over an eight-year-old girl whom some people wanted to put in the care of foreign foster parents, by faking her as an orphan and by claiming that she also wanted to leave the country. Both these claims proved false upon investigation.

According to official records, foreigners have adopted 2,244 Nepali children so far. As regards adoption, children’s rights must be jealously protected. There have been serious lapses or cases of wrongdoing on this front. A recent study on inter-country adoption of Nepali children carried out by UNICEF and Terre des homes (Tdh) found that as many as 96 out of every 100 children adopted from among some 15,000 children sheltering in the children’s homes in Nepal are adopted by foreigners. The study also revealed that about 80 per cent of those children now living in the domestic child shelters could be reunited with their relatives, because they are no orphans in the true sense of the term, but they have been merely separated from their families for other reasons. It is the government’s duty to move to reunite such children with their families. The government needs to take stringent measures to ensure that the rights of the children in domestic child homes, as well as with foreign foster parents, are protected as to their safety, care, and general living conditions. It is no secret that children in most of the domestic child shelters live under unenviable conditions. For the past few years, a lucrative adoption racket has also been flourishing in Nepal. So foreign adoption needs to be regulated even more strictly, as, once the children leave the country, they also generally go outside the government’s jurisdiction. So, further corrective action to ensure the wronged children’s interests becomes particularly difficult.