Supreme Court directs states and union territories to improve infrastructural defaults in state adoption agencies

The Bench noted that there is a huge mismatch between parents who wish to adopt and children available for adoption

On 20 November 2023, a bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud with Justices J.B. Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra heard petitions requesting directions to improve and expedite adoption processes under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 and the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) Guidelines of 2022 for adoption of children belonging to the Orphaned, Abandoned, or Surrendered (OAS) category. 

Counsels and parties including Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhatti, Senior Advocate Rohan Shah, and Dr. Piyush Saxena (petitioner in person) provided statistics and suggestions on adoption under CARA and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA). The Bench described these statistics as a “stark tale in itself.” 

Parents have to wait for 3-4 years before adopting a child

According to the Child Adoption Resource Information And Guidance System (CARINGS), a portal developed by CARA and the National Informatics Centre, there are 33,967 Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPs). On the other hand, there are only 2,118 children “legally free for adoption” in the OAS category. According to CARA, the mismatch between the PAPs and children has led to a delay of three to four years for parents who wish to adopt a “healthy and young child.”  

Chapter two of the Regulation of 2022 deals with the procedure of adoption, which includes the involvement of State Adoption Regulation Authorities (SARA), Specialised Adoption Agencies (SAAs), and District Child Protection Units (DCPUs). The regulation has set specific timelines for all authorities and agencies for processing cases related to children for adoption. Unfortunately, due to the mismatch, there is a prolonged delay in the process despite the timelines. Additionally, it was highlighted that out of the 760 districts in the country, 370 districts do not have SAAs. 

Parties also pointed out that there is a lack of reliable data providing adoption figures under the HAMA. Advocate Tara Narula, appearing for the Families of Joy Foundation, pointed out that there were over 13,000 stamp papers sold for adoption deeds under the HAMA. Bhatti doubted the accuracy of these numbers. 

Supreme Court: Expedite process of identification of OAS category children

During the course of the hearing, the parties requested the Court to make directions in five distinct areas related to the identification of children in the OAS category, infrastructural improvement at the state level, and the need for reliable data on under the HAMA.  

The Supreme Court directed that the identification of OAS category children should be carried out on a bi-monthly basis by the social justice department of every state and union territory. The first set of this identification exercise will take place on 7 December 2023. Additionally, the nodal department of each state and union territory shall compile and share this data with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the director of CARA by 31 January 2024. 

The Bench then directed all states and union territories to set up SAAs within every district by 31 January 2023 to expedite the procedure for adoption. 

Lastly, the Court directed states and union territories to submit data pertaining to HAMA to CARA by 31 January 2024. This data was further directed to be made available to the Supreme Court by 10 February 2024. 

CJI Chandrachud observed that these directions would “facilitate the identification of children who are presiding in child care institutions.”

The next hearing is expected to be scheduled in the first week of February 2024.