The adoption process is distinct. Frame leave policies accordingly
Karnataka recently notified an order, allowing mothers who have adopted a child to take 180 days of maternity leave, while granting 15 days of paternity leave for fathers. However, the leave is only applicable while adopting children below one year of age. Earlier, the Centre, too, pushed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which provided for maternity leave of 12 weeks to mothers adopting a child below three months of age.
The sporadic, isolated and ill-advised legislations around adoption confirm once again that our lawmakers neither understand adoption nor the needs of families in adoption. Here is why.
Adoptions in India are governed by two laws — the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA), and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 (JJ Act). As per the JJ Act, no child can be given for adoption for two months after being placed in an institution as this period is provided under the law to search for the family of the child; add to this, the referral cycle, foster care formalities and the time to get an adoption order from the court. So even if a newborn child were admitted into a child care institution, it is virtually impossible for any parent to avail of adoption leave for a child below three months of age and very few parents would meet the criterion even for a one-year-old child. Several parents who adopt under HAMA do so to escape scrutiny and regulations. When they don’t even report adoptions at their workplace, how can they avail such benefits?
Further, it is fundamentally erroneous to tag the leave to the age of the child being adopted. An older child will need more bonding effort and time. Incidentally, 90% of children legally available for adoption in Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) pool are above two years of age and such provisions virtually turn a blind eye to their needs in adoption.
Juxtaposing adoption leave with maternity itself is an aberration. Adoption and maternity are entirely different life events.
Most births today take place in a hospital and each stage is closely monitored. A father’s involvement is limited to providing emotional care, over and above the plethora of resources available for supporting pregnancy and childbirth. Many of these resources are easily available such as doctors, books and guidance from experienced family members.
In contrast, the adoption journey starts for a majority of parents at the end of a journey marked with failed pregnancies, miscarriages or painful IVF cycles. The first time when an aspiring parent needs time off in adoption is when deciding to adopt. Once registered for adoption, parents need to visit the adoption agency a couple of times between receiving the referral of a child and the final court order. This period is often filled with nervousness, anxiety and even heartbreak if the process fails. They are not parenting at this time. Hence, it is unfair to expect them to take a casual leave or earned leave to attend to adoption matters. It is also not a usual court hearing either. A biological parent does not plead their case before they can take home their babies from hospital. They do not travel along with their infant child across cities, to make it happen. Parents need guidance. A part of adoption leave is required at this stage.
Then, parents need time to bond with the child. However, the entire leave may not be required at the time of adoption. Most families have reported extremely challenging times when adopted children are in their teens. Adopted children need help with their cognitive skills, root search, resolving their identities. All this is over and above the usual adolescence challenges. Parents need time with their children and counsellors to empower them at this stage.
Doling out two weeks of paternity leave in adoption is cruel. Fathers not only birth the child in their heart, like mothers, but also need to hold the front within their family. Several fathers quietly resent or face their own parents and relatives while engaging them in their decision to adopt. It is not easy. It is not supported. It is not expected.
Compared to pregnancy, curating resources in adoption is hard. It takes time and effort to locate adoption counsellors, books, legal aide and seek assistance if the process goes wary. Fathers share equal responsibility, and sometimes more, in gathering paperwork, internet search, adoption counselling, court proceedings and bonding with the child. If at all there is an argument that calls for a standalone adoption leave for any parent, it is this. Father need it as much as mothers.
Adoption leave is therefore not maternity leave that is required to be extended to adoption. Instead, it is a leave required by any parent, single or married, male or female, adopting a child of any age, to (in many cases) resolve the trauma of infertility, understand adoption, seek counselling, follow safe legal process, bond with the child, engage the family members to ensure that none of the family members falls through the cracks.
Let’s stop patronising adoption leave. Rather, let us be gracious in offering an adoption leave of around a minimum six months of leave credit, irrespective of the age of the child, to be availed whenever the parent needs to attend to the beautiful experience called adoption.
Avinash Kumar is a parent in adoption, former CARA Steering Committee member, founder of Families of Joy Foundation
Payal S Kapoor is a parent in adoption, associate professor, FORE School of Management, New Delhi
The views expressed are personal
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