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The recent Maternity Benefits Bill discriminates against adoptive mothers, completely disregarding the ground realities of any adoption procedure and requirements.
The Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill that was recently passed increased maternity leave to 26 weeks. This is definitely a step in the right direction on a broad level. However, there are many fallacies in it as far as practicability goes, and it fails to impress on a closer examination on several levels.
First, the father is completely shut out of the picture. Recent statements by Maneka Gandhi have even denigrated a father’s role, saying that it would be a vacation for them! I don’t know many households where people have the chance to chill out with an infant in the house! There are sayings to the effect that having a baby in the house makes work for as many people, however many there are!
The unkindest cut of all is the approach that the Bill takes towards adoptive families. An argument has to be made that all mothers need to be kept equal. An adoptive mother is given 12 weeks of maternity leave from the date a child is placed in her arms. What are the issues with this? Where does one start?!
In adoption circles, a lot of time is put into justifying why adoption is the ‘same but different’. While a lot of adoption is parenting, the same as all parenting, regardless of how a child joins a family, a equal amount IS different since the path the child has taken is different.
Our children have lived through more trauma before they join us at month 3 or 5 or 7 or year 1 or 2 or 3! They have had to deal with factors beyond their control like maternal malnutrition, the abrupt separation of a biological bond, ambivalent care in institutions at best and abuse at the worst. What’s more, given the lack of adequate adoptive parent preparation (we mostly jumped in with great needs, good intentions and no tools/knowledge), our children end up educating their parents of their needs!
Our society still looks at adoption as charity done on the child. This child is expected to be grateful for a better standard/quality of living than we assume they might have had. In the meantime, this bewildered and traumatized child has to make sense of many changes, many hands, long delays before being placed in their forever families, paperwork and confusion.
The ‘same’ parts of parenting require the same amount of time spent by the parent with this child and the ‘different’ parts require way more time spent with the child. Adoptive parents have unique challenges. Often, adoptive parents are alone in their parenting, having to actively engage extended families that tend to stay a bit aloof for various reasons. Some people carry prejudices on the child’s origin/religion/caste. For others, even acceptance of the adoption wholeheartedly means they need an exact time/date of birth to formulate a horoscope!
While acceptance to adoption is much more these days and many adoptive parents actively involve their parents from the beginning, adoption as a life choice continues to need awareness building along the way. Why does this child just not settle in? Why can’t we change his/her schedule to ours as we please? Why is trust hard for the child? Why are you so particular about language – she is not your ‘own’ child, no? Why should we tell the child about his/her adoption? Many such questions arise for families to either educate, address or ignore, depending on whom it comes from! What does a child below 1 year know, after all?
Research, as early as the 1970s, has found that children who were adopted deal with certain core difficulties related to grief, loss, trust, guilt, etc. Attachment, as a field of study, has brought up many ways to understand the impact of a disrupted attachment cycle and have taught us how to start building this attachment and healing in our children.
This is a process that takes years. 12 weeks is hardly enough! For purposes of practicality, maybe the least that the Bill could do would be to give adoptive families the same time as other families?
If a woman has 2 or more children, she is to receive only 12 weeks of maternity leave. I might be wrong but the more number of children, the more the complexity of parenting, surely? Not only does the new arrival need attention, the existing children’s physical, emotional, psychological and social needs need to be met. Why have kids if you can’t manage all this, you ask? I don’t know, maybe people are nuts…but many adoptive families go for child no. 3 through adoption after biological children!
I understand that population growth needs to be controlled and Indian governments can not incentivize more than 2 children. However, adoptive parents take over the government’s responsibility when they legally take over the parenting role. Families are way better spaces for children than government institutions, something that is clearly spelled out in laws such as the Juvenile Justice Act (Section 39 (1)) as a solution for children in need of care and protection. Could these parents please be assisted with the same maternity leave as other citizens of India?
By focusing on breastfeeding and only the biological act of becoming a mother, the recent Maternity Benefits Bill negates many parenting realities.
There is no doubt that a woman who has borne a child, carried him/her in their body for 9 months needs adequate time to recuperate. From that angle, 26 weeks is a fantastic change. Does this mean though that a woman who did not physically carry a baby is a lesser mother? How do we account for the fact that biological mothers have had 9 months to connect to, nourish and attach to this child while an adoptive mother, flying blind in many areas, has less time to do as much or more?
Adoptive families come in many shapes and sizes. You have families who have a few biological children already; others choose adoption after their jousts with infertility. Some are single fathers (who are completely out of luck with this Bill) and single mothers. You even have adoptive families that adopted first and then found that infertility was a thing of the past – some adoptive mothers become biological mothers with their second or third children, their first child(ren) were adopted.
Every child in India is entitled to be treated equally under law. In reality, we know this is different – adopted children are surely being discriminated against, aren’t they? This defenceless child needs to adapt to yet another incomplete attachment as his/her mother returns to work?
The reality in many families today is that two incomes are needed. Many mothers, however their children reach them, might like to take a year or two off and may not have the luxury of doing so, given their financial constraints. Women support their parents these days. For many, many factors (including really enjoying their professional life), working after children is the norm these days for many mothers. Does this have to mean that the child’s rights to care aren’t adequately addressed? Why does a mother with two children only get 12 weeks for her third child?
In addressing adoption as a whole, we will also need to include the biological mother. Does the fact that she chose not to parent for many complex reasons mean that she should not get some time to recuperate? Placing a child in adoption attracts a lot of stigma, like raising a child outside wedlock does! Birth mothers have spoken out about their emotional state and the effort it takes to reconcile themselves to their circumstances and the tough decision to place their child in adoption. It is much more than just a physical act, isn’t it, with a huge emotional component involved? The Bill completely excludes birth and surrogate mothers, who are also Indian citizens.
The Surrogacy Bill currently being debated effectively bans commercial surrogacy. It mandates in-family surrogacy as the only kind of surrogacy in India. What then about this surrogate mother? She’s done everything according to the book, hasn’t she? Opened her heart to her relative in need and carried her/their child? This is adoption too – why would she not be entitled to maternity leave herself when a ‘commissioning’ mother who receives the child gets the reduced 12 week leave?
This much written and we haven’t even come to a crucial bit of information. An adoptive mother gets to take 12 weeks of leave ONLY if the child she adopts is under 3 months of age. In order for birth parent rights to be permanently terminated, the law gives them 2 months’ time. A child is only considered legally available for adoption after a load of paperwork and red tape is completed. All this red tape starts on Day 61 of the child’s life.
It is a safe assumption that all hoops will not cleared in 29 days. Currently, it takes an average of 2 – 4 months for procedures to be completed, assuming they go with no hitches/bandhs/bottlenecks. A 3-month old infant being adopted is almost an impossibility in a legal adoption these days. Just this provision means that ALL adoptive mothers are ineligible for maternity leave.
Adopting an older child is kind of like catching a running train, if you want an inadequate analogy. An older child comes with more layers to unravel, more trauma in some cases, memory of the birth family. Some children have been lost in melas, have been taken away from their families due to severe circumstances. Surely, mothering a child with more needs requires some time, even more time? Under the current provisions of the Maternity Benefits Bill, if a child comes home of Day 92 of his/her life, their mothers are out of luck on time off work, and cannot avail of any maternity benefits!
I could go on and on but will end with some statistics put out by the Central Adoption Resource Agency. In the past few years, on an average, around 3,500 children have been placed in adoption inside India. Limiting this tiny speck of the workforce in the time taken off isn’t going to save any one tons of money!
Adoptive parents are not doing charity. They want to parent, children need a family, the stars and paperwork align and a family is born/added on to. They need support much like another family does. Could we please look at parental leave to bring in both parents and stop treating men like they are visitors and babysitters in the commitment they jointly undertook?
Could we also accept, even if we always don’t understand, that every family is differently composed – would we think of saying that a family with a first born girl will require a different amount of leave than one with a second born girl? The current Maternity Benefits Bill discriminating against adoptive mothers is just as counter-intuitive.
Image source: shutterstock
Sangitha Krishnamurthi is a special educator, blogger and mother of three. Her interests include living
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