An increase in baby trafficking in India is reducing the number of children available for adoption and fueling the lucrative trade as more couples wait to adopt, government officials said on Wednesday.
Government figures show currently 1,700 children are available for adoption in India, the world's second most populous country with 1.25 billion people, while some 12,400 families want to adopt. About 3,010 babies were adopted in 2015/16.
Government officials overseeing adoptions said an increasingly long wait to adopt was closely linked to a rise in human trafficking in the country, with two baby selling rackets busted in India over the past two months.
"There are more such rackets [of baby trafficking]," said Deepak Kumar, chief of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), India's main body to monitor and regulate adoptions.
"In India, we expect the pool of children available for adoption should outnumber the number of waitlisted parents, but there are touts and in some cases even agencies that sell children to childless couples."
Under Indian laws children who have been surrendered by their birth parents or brought in by the police are declared legally free for adoption after various legal processes are completed.
This includes giving birth parents up to 60 days to reconsider their decision.
To ensure transparency, the adoption process in India went online last year with waitlisted families and the children available for adoption featured on a website.
But Kumar said traffickers often tried to get hold of these babies before the parents — often unwed mothers — made it to the government department to surrender the child.
Last week, police in Mumbai arrested a gang that was convincing single mothers — who can face social stigma or ostracization in India — to part with their babies then selling them to childless couples in various states across the country.
In West Bengal, police found babies were being stolen from women who delivered at clinics, with medial staff telling them their child was stillborn. Some were even given the bodies of stillborn babies preserved by the clinics to dupe them.
Officials said monitoring the waiting list for adoptions was one way to try to identify and track down the traffickers but they were aware that "bypass mechanisms" were taking root.
One adoption agency owner, who did not wish to be identified, said he often received calls from waitlisted families saying they had been offered a child from an unwed mother at a price and wonder if they should go ahead.
Two agencies in the western state of Maharashtra were recently shut down for selling babies for amounts ranging between 200,000 and 600,000 rupees ($3,000-$9,000), Kumar said.
Adoption experts suggested that problem areas of the country should be identified.
"It would help check the malaise if low adoption figures in certain states of India are analyzed," said Sunil Arora, president of the Federation of Adoptive Agencies.