Can an adopted child be 'returned?' Here's what rules say

5 February 2024

Two cases of couples from Uttar Pradesh and Kerala wanting to return their adopted children have hit the headlines recently. Let’s look at the rules, what the courts said and why experts say ‘returned children’ are seemingly becoming a bigger problem

Two unusual cases have hit the headlines recently.

The first saw a couple from Uttar Pradesh seeking to return an adopted child.

The adoptive parents approached the Mumbai High Court in December saying they have not bonded with the child and complaining of the child’s ‘bad behaviour.’

The second witnessed a couple from Kerala in November also seeking to return a girl they had adopted in 2018 after their son passed away in a car accident.


But can parents ‘return’ an adopted child? What do the rules say? And what verdict did the courts render?

Let’s take a closer look:

A brief look at adoption

Adoption is a process through which adopted child becomes the lawful child of the adoptive parents, as per the Department of Women & Child Development and Social Welfare website.

In essence, the parents gain over the child all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that would be otherwise attached to their biological child

Only those children who have been designated Legally Free for Adoption by the Child Welfare Committee can be adopted.

Single men cannot adopt.

However, a number of others can do so including

  • Childless Couple
  • Single woman parent
  • A widow/divorcee.
  • Couple who have children.

Prospective adoptive parents should be

  • Physically, mentally and emotionally stable.
  • Financially capable and highly motivated to adopt

They should have no life-threatening medical issues.

Process of adopting child

Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAP) must register online for adoption on the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) website:

They must then upload the documents and choose a Specialised Adoption Agency (SAA) – a Child Care Institution recognised by the Government near their home.

After a social worker determines that the PAP are suitable, they can then choose a child to adopt from the portal.


The PAP can list three states in order of preference and can adopt children from any state/UT barring Jammu and Kashmir.

After that, the PAP can go to the agency and pre-adoption foster care can begin.

The SAA then files a petition for final adoption within seven days of the PAP accepting the child in pre-adoption foster care.

However, if a PAP wants to return a child for any reason, they can do so even if the SAA has filed a petition for final adoption.


However, if the final adoption order has been passed, the court must then decide whether or not the child can be returned.

The growing problem of ‘returned children’

Unfortunately, this seems to be a growing problem in India.

As per Drishti IAS website, CARA noted that more than 1,100 adopted children were returned by their parents in the 2014-2019 period.


The Economic Times quoted a CARA official as noting that children mainly over the age of eight were returned.

Most of the children were returned due to ‘adjustment issues,’ the official added.

“At child care institutions, children are groomed in a different way. They have to be prepared and counselled to stay and adjust with families,” the official said.

The newspaper quoted data from an RTI plea as showing that the most children were returned in 2014-2015.

In 2014-2015, 387 of 4,362 adopted children were returned.

In 2015-2016, 236 of 3,677 adopted children were returned.

As per The Print, another RTI response by CARA revealed that 278 of 6,650 children adopted across India between 2017 to 2019 had been returned



While some thought families were returning differently-abled children, the facts didn’t bear it out.


Then CARA’s member secretary and CEO Deepak Kumar told the outlet, “Of the 3,200 children adopted by Indian families in one year, hardly 50 are those with special needs. For inter-country adoptions — 400 of the 700 adopted are specially-abled. It’s the older children who comprise a majority of children returned."



The CARA official said parents too need to be prepared.

“The parents think that as soon as they bring a child they would put him in an age specific class and the child should start putting in effort due to which the child feels he was better off there at the CCI with his or her friends and he expresses a desire to come back to the institution,” the official added added.



Kumar agreed.

“Many Indian parents tried to adopt older children, but they realised that they weren’t prepared and couldn’t adjust with them,” Kumar said.

“A lot of times, institutions don’t prepare the children well either — they aren’t well-groomed or counselled about what it would be like to live with a family,” Kumar said.



Kumar also said sometimes such a return is for the better.



“Whatever the issue, it’s better if the child returns in such a case. It’s better than the child struggling there.” Kumar added.

What did the courts say?

As per The Times of India, the Bombay High Court voided the adoption of a child by the couple from Uttar Pradesh.

“The counsellor found the adoptive parents do not have emotional bondingwith the child, though the boy is fond of the adoptive parents and their 7-year biological daughter who is an elder sibling,’’ Bombay High Court’s Justice Riyaz Chagla noted in the 25 January order.

Justice Chagla said the adoption order “is recalled and adoption… is accordingly annulled”.

He further directed the adoption authority “to re-register the child as ‘free for adoption’ for identifying suitable prospective adoptive parents at the earliest.”

When it comes to the case of the Kerala couple, the Kerala High Court in November appointed an amicus curiae to help it decide on a plea, as per Bar and Bench.

According to New Indian Express, Justice Devan Ramachandran, hearing the case, asked the petitioner: “Where do I send her?”

“She is a woman now. Even kids aged four and five are at risk, how can an 18-year-old live peacefully.”  

The court, perusing the report by the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA), said the child is not against her adopted parents.