The much talked about maternity bill is a significant measure for mothers and a step forward in the right direction. I am heartened to see the inclusion of adoptive and commissioning mothers in the Bill, a section of mothers who were not in covered in the 1961 Act that the Bill aims to substitute.
However, it seems like adoptive mothers were incorporated in the Bill without adequate insight into the unique requirements that set them apart from biological mothers. The parental rights for adoptive mothers, commissioning mothers (surrogacy) and single men has been given the short shrift compared to biological mothers. Single men adopting have been completely excluded in the bill, so why include them in the category of those who can adopt as per this logic?
The earlier bill which provided 12 weeks of maternity leave to biological mothers has now been increased to 26 weeks. The Bill introduces maternity leave up to 12 weeks for a woman who adopts a child below the age of three months, from the time the child is handed over to the parent.
Here’s why this is both impractical and inadequate.
To begin with, children are rarely adopted under 3 months as the rigorous adoption procedures under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 make it difficult to adopt a child below three months. The child can be considered available for adoption only after the requisite reports have been filed by the Child Welfare Committee, and this includes a legally mandated waiting period of two months from the time of surrender, giving time for biological parents to reverse their decision in case of surrender or to trace the parents in the case of abandoned children. Add in the time taken for the other formalities, and the three- month period is exhausted even before the child is up for adoption.
Next, it is humanly impossible to squeeze the emotional and physical needs in such a short time. All parents need time to bond with their child and the child needs time to bond with them. This is especially important for adoptive parents.
Research has shown that babies start to bond with the mother while in the womb, as they become attuned to her voice. Biological mothers too start to bond with their baby during pregnancy. Adoptive parents and their children have not had this nine month period to bond. Moreover, adopted children have often been looked after by multiple caregivers, making it more difficult for them to bond with a new set of parents. Extra time is needed between the adoptive parents and adoptive child to ensure a secure bond is built.
Gaps in development milestones and nutritional benchmarks are usually more prevalent among adopted children and bridging these gaps in 12 weeks is improbable, especially in the case of older and special needs children. The impact on the birth mother during the gestational and after delivery varies as most of them come from economically disadvantaged circumstances. Understanding the extent and magnitude of these problems especially within the golden 1000 days of child includes from the date of conception till the child attains 2 years of age is very important.
Gaining acceptance from and bonding with the immediate social environment is also an aspect that may take a while in the Indian context.
It brings us to the main point on the law and policy makers who seem to be operating at an immeasurable distance from the ground reality of adoptive parents. One needs to bring in all stakeholders involved in adoption, who can sensitize policy makers to the needs of adoptive parents and children so that a truly parent- and child-centered law can be formulated. This can be made more robust with comprehensive data on adoption within India, something that is sorely lacking today.
Motherhood, irrespective whether one opts for adoption, surrogacy or a biological route deserves to be looked as one whole and the unifying goal being the nurturing of a child; the focus being the child, irrespective how families are formed.
- To do this, the Bill needs to be more inclusive and cognizant of the needs of non-biological parents. The period of leave should be, at the minimum, equal for all parents.
- The Bill should become a Parental Bill, rather than a Maternity Bill to include single men who adopt within its ambit.
- And most importantly, the benefits must be made available to adoptive parents irrespective of the age of the child at adoption.
In conclusion, the number of legal adoptions in India is a shockingly low, with 3011 in-country and 666 inter-country (2015-2016) refer this link , and without laws and systems that make it easier on adoptive families, more children will slip through the cracks. Giving adoptive parents (not only mothers) the support and respect they require will go a long way in getting more families together in the future, and it has to start with the law and policy makers at the top.