Sisters, You’ve Got It All Wrong About Adoption

A statue of Mother Teresa, who founded Missionaries of Charity

A statue of Mother Teresa, who founded Missionaries of Charity, Kolkata. (Photo by Dennis Jarvis)

An open letter to the Kolkata-based Missionaries of Charity who have just shut down their adoption services

Dear Sisters,

Even as my regard for your organisation (the Missionaries of Charity or MC), its untiring work and service stays intact, I am a tad disappointed today. It is in response to the announcement that you will henceforth stop your child adoption services. And the reason for stopping is that you do not want to change your stance on letting single persons adopt children.

You contend that the government’s adoption guideline that single individuals (unmarried, separated or divorced) be allowed to adopt children goes against the Missionaries of Charity’s belief that only married couples may adopt. In fact, you have rejected single applicants who approached you for adoption as single parenting hurts your “conscience”.

You have also clarified the crux of your objection: the sexuality of singles. You fear that single prospective parents could be queer and therefore, by your (homophobic) logic, immoral. The divorced are out of line for the MC too because, like the singles, they fail at conjugality which defines the pinnacle of a “good family” in your rule book.

Since the Church’s firm stance on sexuality is well-known and so is its incompatibility with the so-called secular view on the subject, I cannot convince you to become a queer supporter. However, since many of you at MC are single women yourselves, I urge you to consider the ‘rights’ of single women. As a researcher of unconventional motherhood and mothering and a friend to many single adoptive mothers (again, straight and not), I simply wish to share experiences and raise questions based on my observations and learning.

A right for everyone

For starters, I must say that to become a parent – biological or adoptive – is a right that belongs to everyone: men, women, trans individuals or anyone on the continuum of gender and sexual identities. It cannot be a privilege limited only for those who are straight or pretend to be so! Don’t you think that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is prejudice? Is this permissible in religion?

On the other hand, by arguing that parenting by singles could be faulty, are you assuming that biological parents, because of their ability to procreate, are adept at parenting? Surely, the fact of birth is natural, while parenting is not: it is an acquired, learnt skill. If only it was possible to certify who could parent and those found unfit be dismissed from the experience! On a serious note, should parenting skills not outshadow most other criteria for selection of adoptive parents?

Two, as you know already, not all who are single (or seem to be) are queer or gay. It is common to come across people who are single because of a variety of reasons, from choice to compulsion and the cusp in between. Besides alternate sexuality, there are a plethora of reasons: for some it is the need to be independent, for others the lack of desire for a companion or children, financial responsibilities towards family, commitment to work, lack of a suitable match, illness and so on.

So, suspecting a prospective single parent to be gay/lesbian, will it be fair to refuse a child to someone who chose not to marry, for whom marriage is not the centrepiece of her/his life? Or to a divorced woman whose marriage to an alcoholic (or workaholic) could not take off? Will you punish a single man whose “best by” marriageable age passed because he was the sole earning member of the family? Is it appropriate to deny a child to a single woman who could not get married because she was too dark and had no takers in the marriage market?

Sisters, by rejecting the singles, do you not create/perpetuate the stigma of singledom, of divorce, of the abnormal ‘other’? Is stigma not sinful?

Singles not always unhappy

Three, single does not mean always mean lonely and/or unhappy. During my research, I found that most single adoptive mothers – straight and queer – were embedded in active and supportive social networks of friends and family. I came across a “family” of two mothers (childhood friends) who are raising an adopted girl together. Both these women desperately wanted to marry but could not because of family circumstances. This novel family has brought joy and love (and a spectrum of parenting anxieties and sleepless nights) to not just the adopted girl and her two mothers but also their respective families. How is this immoral?

Four, since marriage is your cornerstone for a ‘good’ family, what about unhappy, oppressive or violent marriages that can scar the child for life? Unrest in marriages is easily hidden, covered up by couples and families who are all eager to distract themselves by bringing in a child. The high divorce rates followed by messy custody battles are neither rarities nor moral utopias. And how is the investigation by a social worker to reveal if the couple or a spouse is bi-sexual? Just as single individuals camouflage their queerness and manage to adopt, so can married folks. And camouflage they should, if they need to, for it is their “conscience” that matters, not who they make love to.

Sisters, I also came across a growing tribe of “childfree” couples, largely city-based highly-educated professionals who are choosing to not have children at all­—neither from the womb, nor the ‘heart’ (adoptive children are often told they came from their mother’s heart). They claimed greater fulfillment in choices other than parenting. They are thoughtful and sensitive, not immoral! My point: this binary between straight and married as moral and homosexual and/or single as wayward is too simplistic and naïve.

Despite some winds of change, singles stick out as outliers. Single women can especially cause anxiety for they break the links between marriage and motherhood, and biology and belonging in a society that approves only of the assembly-line uniformity of heterosexuality and marriage.

Sisters, I hope you agree that adoption has the potential to re-imagine love, kinship and family-making. When it can help us transcend narrow constructs, why abort its beauty?

Amrita Nandy is a researcher whose doctoral thesis explores notions of kinship, ‘choice’ and agency among voluntary non-mothers and a range of atypical mothers


  • Vandana Am

    With due respect to your research, I would just like to state that just as an individual has all rights to express his/her opinion, Missionaries of Charity too, as an individual entity, as a whole organization, has a right to express it’s opinion. Why isn’t it justified. We are parents to a child adopted from the same MC and I totally agree with their stand. When the Government says there are 9000 parents waiting to adopt but, only 800 children waiting for families. Why shouldn’t they go in for a bigger treat? Like, being members of families where they can have both a mother and a father! The joys would be doubled.
    I don’t understand why this is being made an issue. Just to make it a contested one and express yourselves doesn’t seen worthwhile.

  • poppy poppy

    missionaries of charity is a christian organisation which is run by the rules of the bible , according to christian faith marriage is between one man and one woman and a family must have father ( male) and mother (female ) if amrita nandy wants single gay transsexual transvestites to adopt children, she should start a secular liberal atheistic organisation and cater to the needs of LGBT community instead of forcing her world view philosophy on a christian organisation, thank you

  • Vandana Am

    U have rightly mentioned “there are secular folks and organisations many of us turn to.”… Then, why don’t ppl go to these other organizations? Why MC is being forced to change it’s way of working? Instead of appreciating the good job being started and continued in a much better way by them…the government is rather forcing them to follow it’s so called secular agenda. Why don’t they show the secularism in other important affairs!!!

    • Amrita

      Hi Vandana. Yes, people have no choice but to go to other organisations, so that’s not the point of debate. The issue is the implications of MoC’s closed door: on the children that they had beautifully cared for all these years, the perpetuation of stigma and discrimination against all sorts of single people, what does does to our collective values, what that speaks about who we are (tolerant, inclusive or not). If you read the news reports, you will notice that they are not being forced. They cannot be. It’s their decision.

      • Vandana Am

        Hi Amrita! In the same news, it was also mentioned that they are ever ready to take care of the unwed mothers and look after the children. But, they won’t be getting into the adoption service again. they never closed doors.

        “it said it would continue to care for abandoned children who aren’t chosen for adoption.”

        “Missionaries of Charity has decided to discontinue adoption of children at its centers after the government has announced its new guidelines. But the organization will continue to nurture and provide shelters to the destitute and orphan children,” Sunita Kumar, the group’s spokeswoman, said on Monday.”
        (These lines have been taken from India Today)

        However, the Government says it would transfer all the children to homes which follow the secular agenda. I don’t know how many of us have been to MC. But, lemme tell you, their love and care for the children is beyond comparison. I was awestruck. The kind of job they do is commendable. It’s just hassle-free unlike other agencies. They would have taken such strong decision only after a lot of thinking.

  • NC

    Thank you for writing this. In a perverse way, I am glad that MC took this stand–this forces the issue out, and publications such as yours are talking about it. Because much as we’d like to believe all is hunky-dory, it isn’t. From bewilderment to derision, there is a range of experiences potential single adoptive parents go through. Being brought up in a convent school and with Mother Teresa such a huge inspiration, MC would have been my first choice. But people had warned me long ago about their viewpoint, so I went with another agency. Of course, they have a right to their view, but I really wonder if Mother Teresa were alive, would she agree with it? Wasn’t she a single parent to thousands?

    • Amrita

      Hi NC. Thank you. My guess is that the wonderful and respectable Mother too would have agreed with it. She was a Catholic at heart. All her work was driven by Catholicism’s religious fervour.


    Orthodox views
    should not ideally come in the way of charity but it appears that Missionaries
    of Charities cannot change their thinking. We often notice how the Hindu fundamentalists
    try to find something valuable in past rituals and practices when actually there
    is a need for review. Similarly, we often blame followers of Islam for sticking
    to the old which is no longer relevant. But apparently, other religions too
    have similar inflexibility and they would not change their approach to problems
    of the current generation. In the instant case adoption is a modern day need of
    many single parents and that as to be recognised by all of us.

    • Amrita

      Hi Narendra. Agree with you. Religious thought, like all other actually, is a product of their times hence can be dated. Yet, knowing the values of the Mother, I would not like to put a religious spin to this debate which some people have tried. We cannot change MoC’s viewpoint but merely flag the issue they seem blind to.