Adopting to times

The  adoption by parliament of a bill to amend the adoption laws in the country is a welcome step that addresses a social need and removes a major problem of gender disparity. The number of adoptions has been increasing in the country but laws governing them have not kept pace with changing social practices and attitudes. The gender bias in adoption laws has been a major constraint and has given rise to a number of legal disputes. The Lok Sabha has unanimously passed amendments to both the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890 and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956 and they have given women a role independent of men in guardianship and adoption of children. The first law is applicable to Christians and Muslims and the second to Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. Both the laws were biased against women.

The 1890 law made only the father the natural guardian of a child, when a couple adopted child. This created problems if the adopting couple separated or the father died. Separated women also found it difficult to adopt children under both the existing laws. After the amendments mothers can also be appointed guardians of minors and married women have the same rights as those enjoyed by married men in adopting a child or putting up a child for adoption. The legislation had been passed earlier by the Rajya Sabha and the laws, given assent to by the president, can now be said to be gender neutral. The amendments are a result of persistent demands from different groups, especially those representing women. A parliamentary standing committee had made a strong recommendation in support of the changes.

The attitude to adoption has been changing because of  greater awareness. There are more number of children available for adoption with increasing activities of social organisations working in the area. The growing trend of divorces and separation of couples has also encouraged adoptions. But  the discrimination against women was a major problem. Women can perhaps be better adoptive parents and guardians than men. They are also becoming financially more independent so that they can discharge their responsibilities as parents without help. Therefore granting them equal rights was long overdue. Many adoption rules and procedures also need streamlining and simplification. This should also receive the attention of parliament.

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