New Delhi: Siblings abandoned by their family will be separated from each other at the time of adoption if they are above five years old and agree to it, Union minister Maneka Gandhi said on Tuesday.
Until now, the country's adoption agency Child Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) would place siblings with the same family except in rare cases. But this will now be "changed", the women and child development minister said.
While children above five years will have to give their consent, CARA will assess the best interest in consultation with other stakeholders like the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in case of younger children, a ministry official explained.
According to the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, which governs adoption, all efforts have to be made to keep siblings placed in institutional or non-institutional care together, unless it is in their best interest not to be kept together.
Ms Gandhi said she was prompted to take the call after an aggrieved prospective parent approached her.
"Three days ago we received a complaint from a woman who was told that she can't have a child because it was a sibling.
Now we have changed that to say that if it is a child above five years, then we will do what the child wants. If that child wants to be adopted and has no problem being separated, the prospective parent can adopt the child," Gandhi told reporters at an event.
Responding to a question on whether it was right to expect a young child to make a decision to separate from his/ her siblings, the minister said, "You tell me what can I do?
Should I leave the siblings in the orphanage, should I just separate them at my will? The child will probably know, and we have had cases where children at the age of five have simply refused (to be separated), in which case we give them counselling.
"If they don't want to go, they don't want to go. And, if they are happy to go, then we are happy to see them separate."
The ministry official said the child's consent or willingness will not be the sole criteria and will be accompanied by an assessment carried out with the CWC and the adoption agency concerned.
The official also clarified that siblings will not be split as a norm but on a case-by-case basis.
"This won't be done as a thumb rule. They will be in our database as siblings. Yes, in case we find that they are not being adopted and the children want to go, then we will allow that. The prime driving factor will always be the best interest of the child."
The source explained that in many cases parents were not keen to adopt older siblings from the same group and wanted to taken home only the younger ones.
Similarly, there are instances of parents wanting to adopt only the healthy child in cases where there is a sibling with special needs.
There are nearly 83 sets of siblings, accounting for 176 children, in CARA's adoption pool.