Call to provide equal rights to Adoptive Mothers under India’s Maternity Benefits

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Dear Ministry of Women and Child Development, Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), and Ministry of Labour and Employment:

A lot of work has been done in recent years to improve the adoption process in India. I have personally experienced the pros of some of the new processes and guidelines during the recent adoption of my second daughter. Given the positive developments, I was very surprised and disheartened to see that adoption was not given equal rights under the recently passed Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017. Under this act, adoptive mothers only get maternity leave if the adopted child is below 3 months of age. Moreover, adoptive mothers only get 12 weeks of maternity leave instead of 26 weeks granted to biological mothers.

The unequal status of adoption under India’s Maternity Benefits might stem from a lack of understanding about adoption itself, therefore I would like to share a few reasons why maternity benefits need to be equal for adoptive mothers.

(1) Adopted child of any age needs extensive care, effort, and time to adjust post-adoption. The older the child, the more time is needed for adjustment and bonding

An adopted child has experienced a difficult life prior to being adopted, devoid of personalized care and attention that young children need to feel secure and thrive. Many might remember the trauma of being abandoned. Coming home to their adoptive families is when the children can finally heal and start bonding with their parents. Both my daughters, adopted when they were 8-months old and 3-1/2 years old respectively, took a few months to get over their initial anxiety and start growing into happy, active, confident girls. Different children would need different amount of time depending on their history and personality, but what's consistent is that every adoptive family needs extensive bonding time when the child comes home. Which is why it's important to provide maternity leave irrespective of the adopted child's age.

(2) Only providing maternity leave for adopted children under 3 months old disincentivizes adoption of any child who is not a newborn baby

I believe CARA’s goal is to find a permanent home for each child who is legally available for adoption, which means people should be encouraged to adopt children of all ages and not just newborns. Looking at the availability of children across various age groups and states on the Carings website and the corresponding queue of prospective adoptive parents, it is clear that the youngest age group (0-2 years) is the highest in demand. This needs to change. Our mindsets need to change so we adopt and provide a family for children of all ages. But when India’s maternity benefits do not include adoption of a child above 3 months, it sends a signal that only parents who adopt newborns deserve support from the government. This is detrimental to changing people’s perceptions about adopting older children.

(3) CARA and the current maternity benefits in India are in conflict with each other

CARA’s home study requirement and evaluation of prospective parents emphasizes that adoptive parents should plan to take out time from work and other commitments to bond with the adopted child. Prospective parents are required to mention in writing how they will create time to take care of the adopted child, and this is shared with both the home study social worker and the orphanage officials. CARA understands the need for this time, but the Indian maternity benefits currently do not provide it to all adoptive parents.

(4) Adoptive mothers are left on their own to negotiate with their employers for any type of leave, and single parents would be worse hit

Without the support of the India’s Maternity Benefit Act, any leave for working adoptive mothers is left to the employer’s discretion. Very few employers use this opportunity to support the adoptive mothers. Instead, they cite the lack of adoption support in the Maternity Benefits Act to not provide adoption leave. Adoptive mothers have to negotiate unpaid leave and risk their jobs to take off time from work when their child comes home. Single parents are in most precarious position because they are the sole providers of the family and need to take on a higher job risk if the government does not mandate maternity leave for all adoptions. Recently, CARA has decided to give preference to single women over the age of 40 among the potential adoptive parents. This decision further underlines the need for covering all adoptive mothers in India’s maternity benefits.

(5) Unequal maternity benefits reinforces the misperception that adoption is secondary to childbirth

Last but not the least, unequal maternity benefits for adoption reinforce the societal bias and misinformation about adoption. Most people who haven’t adopted do not understand the mental and physical support that adopted children and adoptive parents need in the initial months. The Indian government’s maternity benefits must show that government does understand and treats adoption at par with childbirth, which would further help to raise the profile of adoption in our country.

I urge CARA and Ministry of Women and Child Development to continue advocating for the maternity rights of adoptive mothers, and Ministry of Labour and Development to amend the current Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act to include adoption fully in the maternity benefits.

I request the readers of this petition to please show your support by signing this petition, so that adoption can achieve parity in India’s maternity benefits.

Thank you,

Smriti Gupta