Children who lost their parents to the pandemic might be falling prey to illegal adoptions, and possibly trafficking, as an India Today investigation found several unscrupulous elements offering Covid orphans for sale.
According to a Lancet study, around 1.16 lakh children in India may have lost a parent to the disease from March 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021. The breakdown showed an estimated 25,500 children losing their mothers, some 90,751 their fathers, and 12 both parents to Covid-19.
An assessment by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) suggests around 3,620 children lost both their parents, some 26,176 lost one of them and 274 children have been abandoned in the country since the pandemic struck.
Following tips that illegal adoptions might be taking place to exploit the vulnerabilities, India Today’s special investigation team found several people linked to shady organizations trading Covid orphans.
Circumventing Adoption Laws
On the face of it, Asrar Amin ran an NGO in Kashmir called Global Welfare Charitable Trust, which claims to be working for children and family welfare.
But when India Today’s SIT reporters probed him at a hotel in Delhi, he offered Covid orphans under his care for Rs 75,000 a child.
“We have so many orphans with us. But if one wants a Covid orphan, there’s no problem,” he said.
“Kashmiri children are really beautiful, Mashallah!”
Amin demanded Rs 1.50 lakh for a pair of Covid orphans.
“So two children can be adopted for Rs 1.50 lakh, right?” asked the reporter.
“Yes. I am not taking this money for myself. It’s for my trust,” the NGO head replied.
Child adoption in India is tightly guarded, with set criteria for adoptive parents.
As a result, only 3,000 to 5,000 children are officially adopted every year on average, government data shows.
In the US, the child adoption number goes up to 1.35 lakh annually.
But people like Amin, India Today’s probe found, are willing to offer Covid orphans without paperwork.
“You must be adopting a child for some reason. There’s no need for paperwork in that situation. But if you still insist, you can do it,” he said.
“But what if there’s a problem tomorrow?” the reporter asked.
“That’s my headache. I’ll handle. I’ll say you never met me. I don’t know you,” Amin replied.
Mannan Ansari, who manages a placement agency in Delhi’s Taimoor Nagar, admitted being a baby broker as he placed Covid orphans up for illegal adoption.
“Is there a child up for adoption, a child who lost parents to Covid?” the undercover reporter asked Ansari.
“I will help you,” he answered.
As the conversation progressed, Ansari let his hair down. He not only advised illegal adoption but also offered an infant whose father died from Covid.
“Just a couple of days ago a woman from Sarita Vihar thought about it,” Ansari said, adding she wanted to give her child for adoption.
“They were asking for Rs five lakh. It was a six-month-old child,” he continued.
“Fatherless?” the reporter inquired.
“Yes, fatherless. No need for any paperwork. Just do some minor formality so that they don’t demand the child back. Just do a mutual agreement for that.”
Lifting Newborns From Hospitals?
The SIT probed further and found another NGO operator from Pampore in Kashmir offering newborn Covid orphans, some even lifted from hospitals, for adoption.
Aijaz Ahmad Dar of the Noble Foundation nonprofit told India Today’s investigative reporters in New Delhi that he would involve hospital doctors in stealing the orphaned newborns.
“Suppose there’s a newborn. We’ll get that baby lifted right away,” he said.
“Like a Covid orphan, a newborn whose mother died from Covid in the hospital?” the reporter investigated.
“That’s what I am saying. We’ll take some gynecologists, some MD (qualified doctors), whom I know, in confidence. We’ll ask them how much money they would want if there’s a death,” Dar said. “We’ll talk to them to give us an orphan who has lost his/her mother. We’ll tell them not to send the baby to an orphanage but give it to us. We’ll update. God willing, we’ll have a child whose parent died from Covid.”
He demanded Rs 10 lakh for such a child.
“How many orphans are you in contact within general?” asked the reporter.