India's adoption industry faces reforms as selling of kidnapped babies remains a thriving business
At a now-shuttered adoption agency on the fringes of India's capital, kidnapped toddlers and newborns were being sold for about US$8,000 (S$10,800) each, no questions asked.
After coughing up cash, prospective parents would inspect the bewildered children at the "Fastrack International" agency and take them home the same day, according to police who raided the premises last month.
"If you wanted a child, one would appear on your lap," joint commissioner of New Delhi police Dependra Pathak said after the successful sting.
A ledger seized during the raid detailed how 23 children had been sold in just a few months and another 76 transactions were being negotiated, some of them involving babies kidnapped from hospitals in other states with the help of doctors and nurses.
Illegal adoption is a thriving business in India, where more than 100,000 children are reported missing every year, 15 every hour, according to government figures. Activists insist the figures are much higher, reported AFP.
Although many are given up by desperately poor parents in the hope of giving them a better life, others are snatched from hospitals, railway stations and big cities, and channelled to couples.
Experts say prospective parents are turning to the black market because of long delays, overcautious officials and complex rules of legally adopting in a country known for its frustrating levels of red tape.
"Why would you wait two years for a baby when you can just pay someone to get you one straight away?" said Ms Lorraine Campos, assistant director of Palna, one of Delhi's oldest adoption agencies and orphanages.
"Criminals have realised there is money to be made by playing with people's emotions. And there's a nexus involving officials."
Ms Campos has noticed a drop in recent years in the number of abandoned babies being brought to Palna, a non-profit agency caring for some 70 children and registered with the government. She fears some are being handed to criminals instead.
Thousands of children are thought orphaned and abandoned in India, although there are no official figures.
But only 4,000 were legally adopted in the year to March, according to government data, down from 6,000 in 2012.
Ms Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, plans to overhaul the "complicated" system to boost those numbers, saying parents waiting years for children is "shameful".
She is working to simplify the application process, including through a national online tracking system, and a campaign to encourage more parents to use it.
"Adopting them (children) legally is such a nuisance. So if we make it easier then people won't go around pinching babies," she said.
All agencies will be required to register with a central authority and children under their care placed on a national database.
"For every one registered adoption agency, there are 10 which are not registered. We have no idea what they do," Ms Gandhi said.
This article was first published on July 7, 2015.
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