It is no less than a battle won for couples that adopt children. The government of India has decided to extend maternity leave to adoptive mothers, as in case of natural mothers.
According to a circular, the benefit of leave for 135 days will be extended 'to the adoptive mothers with fewer than two surviving children as Child Adoption Leave' The leave may be combined with leave of any other kind. The adoptive mothers may, thus, apply for extra leave for a period up to one year reduced by the age of the adopted child on the date of the legal adoption.
The city-based association of adoptive parents called Atmaja, which had been fighting the case so long and has been named in the circular, is jubilant at the development.
The forum held a meeting recently to make its members aware of the order. 'We had been fighting for this right since 2004, knocking at the doors of the state women's commission or petitioning a then-member of Parliament Neelotpal Basu. It is a great feeling that our efforts have borne fruit,' says Nilanjana Gupta, an adoptive mother and teacher of English at Jadavpur University.
But even the new law needs a few revisions to address the cause in full. The law connects the maximum period of leave that can be coupled with the 135 days with the age of the child during adoption. While in case of a child less than one month old, leave can be extended to one year, the duration gets reduced to a maximum of three months if the child is between nine and 10 months. For children above one year, no extra leave is allowed.
'As it is, people are unwilling to take home older children. If the government gives less leave in their case, this will further discourage their adoption,' Gupta complains. 'Bonding is not automatic. The mother needs to spend more time with an older child,' echoes Kamalika Banerjee, a representative of Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption, who was present at the meet.
Working mothers like Anjana Dewanji of Indian Statistical Institute, who had to take a month's leave in case of each of her two children, hopes that the state government will now follow suit. A state finance department memorandum dated March 1, 2002, requires leave granted to adoptive mother to be 'adjustable against leave due and admissible'. 'This, in effect, does not grant any maternity leave benefit,' argues Subir Mukherjee, one of the executive members of Atmaja.
The prevalent law so long has been the Hindu Adoption Maintenance Act (Hama) which was last revised in 1956. The Juvenile Justice Act of 2002 has addressed many of the problems in Hama but most states do not implement it. Both acts are silent on the question of maternity leave, though.