In a pluralistic country like India, where elected representatives have been either unable or unwilling to amend archaic laws, situations have often arisen when the law treats different sections of citizens differently. In that sense, the fact that the Centre has taken a decisive step to update and simplify the adoption procedures must be applauded. In a bid to put adoptive parents of all faiths on the same platform, amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJ) have now been notified and guidelines framed. One of the most important amendments to the Act made clear that adoption under this legislation would allow an adopted child to become the “legitimate child of his adoptive parents, with the rights, privileges and responsibilities attached to the relationship”. This is a significant move considering till now, adoption by non-Hindus has been guided by the Guardian and Wards Act (Gawa), 1890, which gives them the status of ‘guardians’, a relationship that becomes void when the child entered adulthood. Conversely, it doesn’t give the ‘ward’ legal rights due to a biological child.
The fact that the JJ Act was the basis, in October this year, for a Delhi district judge to grant a Muslim couple the rights of adoptive parents is further cause for celebration. It is no secret that efforts over the years to bring adoption by all communities under a unified law have been scuttled because of objections by some Muslim leaders, who’ve shown themselves more interested in protecting their turf. The latter have claimed that such a law would interfere with the community’s personal laws, and Islam, in any case, doesn’t recognise adoption.
The ‘secular’ JJ Act could be seen as the first step towards bringing all adoptions under the ambit of one law. This must be done at the earliest. The present multiplicity of laws Gawa, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, JJ Act creates hurdles, since there is no harmony among many of their provisions. While the amended JJ Act is ‘modern’ in its concept, allowing single parents to adopt and adoption of two children of the same sex, doing away with the other legislations would end such archaic rules. And, most important, a unified adoption law can send out the signal that our country is serious about caring for, and protecting the rights of, all its children.