Legal experts back Teresa nuns

Kolkata (Matters India): Several legal experts in India say the government cannot force the Missionaries of Charity to continue adoption work.

The Catholic religious congregation, founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata, found recent government regulations on adoption centers against its policies and asked for de-recognition of its 13 adoption center.

The nuns’ decision was criticized by federal Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi. “I suspect that the (Missionaries of Charity) is taking the plea to send out abandoned children abroad or to Christian homes,” the minister told The Times of India.

The minister also said the adoption guidelines clearly stated that a single parent can adopt a child.

Lawyers, however, pointed out that Gandhi had no right to force the Catholic congregation to continue adoptions.

“The minister cannot compel a voluntary organization to continue its work even if the minister may feel that such discontinuance is a way to avoid compliance of guidelines,” asserted Senior solicitor from Mumbai Chandu Mehta.

Family law lawyers Mridula Kadam and Mrinalini Deshmukh too said they did not agree with the minister.

“While national guidelines are important to bring in ease and transparency in the adoption process, yet it isn’t for a minister to force any voluntary organization to continue its work,” Kadam said.

Deshmukh found fault with the minister making allegations of religious bias against the Missionaries of Charity without any facts or data to back her claim.

Not all lawyers agreed with the nuns’ stand. Neela Gokhale says the nuns should follow Indian laws since they are in the field of adoption work in the country. The missionaries’ stand of opting out was “incorrect,” she added.

Although the Missionaries of Charity has not specified its opposition to the single-parent rule, a press release issued by the congregation on October 10 linked the decision to the new adoption guidelines, under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 which came into effect from August 2015.

The new rules require registration of every prospective parent online. The Central Adoption Resource Authority (Cara) then assigns them a registered adoption agency when their turn comes.

This means that the issue of “religion” will now come to the fore, said Bharati Dasgupta of Catalysts for Social Action which works toward rehabilitation of abandoned, destitute children in Maharashtra. “Even earlier guidelines permitted adoption by single parents, but some agencies were perhaps not following that norm. Now that there is no escape route–due to centralized database of registration by adoptive parents–the MoC may have decided to opt out.”

But having said that, Dasgupta added that it was the nuns’ choice and no one could compel them to continue working as an adoption agency. “An agency cannot give precedence to religion over national laws or guidelines. But every agency needs to apply for renewal of its license regularly and the government authority can extend it or cancel it; similarly, the agency can choose to seek renewal or not.”

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