Adoption as Secondary to Childbirth: India’s Maternity Benefit Act

The joyous moments of childhood often include parents cheering on their children on their simplest yet the most beautiful achievements. Sadly, not all children are able to share ‘firsts’ or experience the thrill of their gleaming parents on their achievements. These children who are left abandoned or have lost their parents often feel a disconnect with the world, the feeling of not belonging. According to a recent report of National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR), at least 10094 children were orphaned during the pandemic. Adoption, thus, presents an opportunity for these children to live a happy and secure life. 

Framework of Maternity law in India

In India, firstly, there is no scope of paternal or paternity leave and the leave is limited to the extent of mothers. The Indian legislation is drafted in such a way that it is believed only women have the sole duty of nurturing and taking care of their child. Thus, fathers are kept out of the purview of the legislation of granting paternity benefits. On the other hand, it is often seen that employers refuse maternity leave for adoptive mothers because the law does not mandate it. Adoptive mothers are treated to be a class apart from biological mothers and provide an absolute legislative cover to the latter and an exceptional layer to the former.

Under the current Maternity Benefit Act (1961), according to Section 5(4), a woman is allowed a maternity leave of 12 weeks only if the adopted child is below 3 months of age. If a woman adopts a child who is more than 3 months of age, she is not considered for maternity leave at all. On the other hand, biological mothers are allowed a maternity leave of 26 weeks. The most unsettling aspect is the age limit of the adopted child that is set in the Act. 

After the 2017 amendment, The Maternity Benefits Act has considered adoptive mothers to be deserving of a maternity leave, but the amendment doesn’t solve the cause. Not only is it treating adoptive mothers unequally, but is also snatching away a secured life of the adopted child. Firstly, the age limit of 3 months of the adopted child is keeping adoptive mothers outside the purview of the Act because the adoption process itself is very time-consuming. Secondly, it is disincentivizing adoption of children who are not a newborn baby. Thirdly, it is remiss to think that only children in the 0-3 months of age require continuous care and support. 

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