Foreign prospective adoptive parents in limbo as COVID-19 lockdown puts adoption process on hold

Prospective adoptive parents from Malta and Italy talk to Gaon Connection about being stuck in a limbo as COVID-19 restrictions in India leave them in an unenviable position.

Prerna Shah
| Updated: July 4th, 2020

Photo: Svetlana and Kenneth

When prospective adoptive parents, known in the adoption parlance as PAPs, start their adoption journey, they know that it involves a lot of paperwork and requires a lot of patience. The process is all the more exhausting when it is international or inter-country adoption.

What happens when after successfully going through each stage of the adoption process – from registering with the agency, filing the requisite paperwork, overcoming bureaucratic hurdles, completing home study reports, being placed in the queue to finally be matched with a child, a process that can often take more than two years – the prospective adoptive parents are suddenly stopped in their tracks?

From being just days away to bringing their child home to suddenly in limbo. The wait can be torturous.

As is with Angie and Kevin Farrugia, residents of Malta, who are anxiously keeping tabs on every bit of news coming in from India, especially those pertaining to international travel, that is, the resumption of commercial international flights. As per the latest news, the Indian government has extended the ban on international flights till July 31.

Kevin with Anamika. The 4-year-old, and her parents, are waiting for Sathvika.

The Farrugias are parents to four-year-old Anamika, who they adopted from India. Now, they are awaiting two-year-old Sathvika. “Two years ago, we started our adoption process and in March this year, we applied for our visas to bring Sathivka home. As luck would have it, the lockdown was imposed soon after and our visas couldn’t come through,” Angie told Gaon Connection.

Angie with Anamika

“We have written to our Prime Minister in Malta and to the Central Adoption Resource Agency in India, appeared on television, spoke to news reporters. All of this in an attempt to find a solution to the impasse. We are willing to serve the quarantine period in India if need be – anything really, to bring our daughter home,” she added.

Central Adoption Resource Agency, commonly known as CARA, is a statutory body of Union Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India. It functions as the nodal body for the adoption of Indian children and is mandated to monitor and regulate in-country and inter-country adoptions.

“International adoption is hard, tedious, and messy, though worth it. Parents fall in love with a child they have never met, in a country that many of them have never been to. They have to wait for a very long time to hold that child in their arms,” Julia Chandrasekaran, who is an adoptive parent and runs an international support group for those adopting from India, told Gaon Connection. She also runs an international charity that works all over India to help children and families in shelters and orphanages.

“So, when there are delays in the final adoption procedure, for whatever reason, there is a fear of the unknown and a physical ache to be with that child and make her/him safe,” she added.

Like Angie and Kevin Farrugia, Svetlana Camilleri and her husband Kenneth, both from Malta, are also desperate to bring their adoptive daughter home. “Our daughter shouldn’t be in an orphanage a day longer. She needs to be with us. I am willing to do anything it takes to bring her home,” Svetlana pleaded to Gaon Connection.

Svetlana and Kenneth

The couple is staying in touch with their two-year-old daughter in India via WhatsApp video calls. The wait is getting agonising for them, and the fact that the daily count of COVID-19 cases is increasing in India is not helping.

In Tuscany, Italy, Illaria Belliti is in limbo, too. “Everything is ready — the documents, passports, paperwork. We were supposed to pick our daughter from Mumbai and the lockdown came into effect. And to this day, we are waiting,” she said. “There should be some way out for parents like us. A special visa, an exemption so that we can travel to India and be with our children and bring them home, to their families,” she added.

Belliti, who matched with her daughter in July 2019, is also disheartened by the fact that the orphanage in Mumbai, where her daughter lives, has not been consistent with sending Belliti updates about her daughter. “We received four photographs and two bad quality videos from the orphanage after seven months of lack of any information. We don’t know for certain if the orphanage has shown our daughter our photographs or if there has been any kind of preparation in terms of her impending move to a new country,” she lamented. “All of this is very distressing for us, and I imagine that it is distressing for the child as well,” Belliti added.

Meanwhile, Angie Farrugia is finding it hard to answer Anamika’s endless questions about her sibling. “Anamika asks us daily when her sister will come home. I have heard this question a million times now and I don’t know what to tell her,” she said. The family is in touch with Sathvika via video calls.

The families had hoped the Vande Bharat Mission would help them unite with their adoptive children. “Initially, I thought we would get permission to board a flight on the Vande Bharat Mission to bring our daughter home. But we seem to have fallen through the cracks,” said Angie. “Our daughters are nearly Maltese citizens but since they have not yet acquired the Maltese citizenship, they cannot be repatriated back to Malta. Since we do not own Indian passports, we are not eligible to get a seat on the planes under Vande Bharat Mission either,” she said.

“India is my second home and I understand and appreciate the government’s position. But children belong in families and the longer a child languishes in an institution, the longer it takes for them to heal and many of these children have medical needs that need to be attended to once home,” said Chandrasekaran. “This is an unusual situation and calls for a new solution to get them home as soon as possible,” she hoped.

According to Smriti Gupta, an adoptive mom and an adoption advocate, “The purpose of Vande Bharat Mission originally was to bring Indians back to India, but it is also being used by Indians to go back to families in other countries.” Since two-way travel is there, perhaps prospective adoptive parents, who have been matched with a child, can be given preference on these flights, she added.

Families like Farrugias and Camilleri, and many like them, are hoping the Indian government comes up with a solution – one that would enable them to be with their adoptive children, and fly them to their new homes. Gaon Connection emailed CARA regarding its perspective on whether a solution can be worked out for those prospective adoptive parents who are in the final stages of their inter-country adoption process and are held back because of the COVID-19 related ban on international flights to and from India. As and when we receive a reply, the story will be updated.

Prerna Shah has worked as a journalist, content and communications professional and she blogs here.