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Centre's adoption regulations to legally define step-parents as parents

In what will serve as a succour to step-parents looking to adopt the children of their spouses, the Centre’s adoption regulations will now legally define step-parents as parents. The move, apart from lending legal definition to the relationship between step-parents and children of their spouses, will also make the children legible heirs in matters of inheritance of property. It will also pave way for birth certificates to carry the name of a child’s step-parent.

The guidelines, The Adoption Regulations, 2017, will be notified in a day or two, and will be applicable from January 16 onward. This is the first time that the provision has been made available to step-parents in India; the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act 2015, too, does not have any such provision.

Deepak Kumar, CEO at the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), said that the move will iron out a “crucial legislative gap”.

Currently, parents are defined in two terms, either as biological parents or as adoptive parents, leaving out the partners or spouses of either of a child’s biological parents. This meant that either the step-parent or the child did not have any legal duty or responsibility.

“There is a need the expansion in the concept of family in India and the definitions of family and kin within the field of child protection. As India shifts from joint families to nuclear families, and rural to urban setups, a lack of expanded legislation can leave children more vulnerable,” said Ian Anand Forber Pratt, National Program Director at the Delhi-based Centre of Excellence in Alternative Care of Children.

The regulations are a statute, implementing the provisions of the JJ Act. Whereas the 2015 adoption guidelines did not have any legal powers, the 2017 regulations are an execution of the act. The regulations were sent to the law ministry in September last year, after which it was sent back with some observations. A second draft was cleared in November, after which it was cleared by the Official Languages Section in early December.

Apart from that, the regulations also lay down procedural guidelines for the adoption by relatives as mandated by the JJ Act. As per the act, a relative is defined as a paternal or maternal uncle, aunt, or grandparents. The adoption guidelines for relatives have not been specified till now, and following the regulations, relatives will be able to apply for adoptions online on CARA’s website.

The regulations will also lay down stipulated timelines for agencies and stakeholders to clear the adoption procedure, and related matters such as application of birth certificates, passports, petitions etc.