In a first, step parents can adopt children through the national adoption body and have a “legal relationship” with them as per the new norms.
The latest regulations, which will come into effect from January 16, will also allow relatives to adopt children.
“There is no law in India which defines legal relationship between a step parent and a step child. A step child has no claim to the step parent’s property. Nor is the child legally obliged to look after the step parent in his or her old age.
“There has always been a gap and we are seeking to address that,” said Lt Col Deepak Kumar, CEO of Central Adoption Resource Authority, a central government body which monitors and regulates all adoptions in the country.
Earlier, only an orphan or an abandoned or surrendered child was allowed to be adopted. The government has now expanded the definition of children eligible for adoption to include “a child of a relative and child or children of spouse from earlier marriage, surrendered by the biological parent(s) for adoption.”
However, in case of “step-parent adoption”, the couple including one of the biological parents, will have to register with Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System.
They also need to get consent of the other biological parent for adoption and file an application in a court to obtain an adoption order.
Similarly, for adoption by a relative, prospective parent/s will have to seek consent from biological parents if they are alive otherwise seek permission from a Child Welfare Committee.
The Juvenile Justice Act 2015, from which the regulations are derived, defines the term relative as “a paternal uncle or aunt, or a maternal uncle or aunt, or paternal grandparent or maternal grandparent”.
To make adoption in these two categories simpler, the age criteria for prospective adoptive parents has also been waived off.
Adoptions under Hindu law are governed by the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1965 which has several restrictions.
As per the law, the adoptive family cannot adopt a child of the same gender as their own child/grand-child or great- grandchild. Also, when adopting a child of the opposite sex, the prospective parent must be 21-years older than the child.
Moreover, “the Act does not provide any process of court to sanctify the adoption. But when one wants to take the child abroad, the embassy insists on a court order,” according to family law expert Anil Malhotra.
There is no adoption law for Muslims, Christians and Parsis who need to approach court under the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890, as per which one can take a child only under foster care.
Once the child becomes major, he/she is free to break all connections. Besides, such a child does not have legal right of inheritance.