Is it time to expand maternity leave for adoption of children across age groups?


Natasha Sikdar*, an assistant professor at a Kolkata-based engineering college adopted a six-month-old girl child in 2020. She presumed that she would be entitled to maternity leave by her institute but was denied one citing the law.

“Since I had some reproductive issues and had reached the age of 36 years, I decided to go for adoption. The adoption process itself took more than a year and I really needed time off to spend with the baby. But my workplace refused leave since it is legally not mandatory,” she added.

The Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act states that 26 weeks of paid maternity leave will be available to all working women for pregnancy and child-birth.

However, when it comes to adoption the law states provides only 12 weeks of maternity leave from the time the child is handed over to them. This too is applicable only if the child is below the age of three months. Women adopting children above three months are not legally entitled to any leave.

Internationally, the leave laws are similar for adoption and maternity. For instance, the US allows for upto 12 weeks leave for maternity and adoption at companies with 50 or more employees. This is available for men and women.

In India, the absence of proper leaves for adoption of children above a certain age is a cause of concern. Organisations do not permit such adoption leaves, justifying their actions by saying that there is no legal provision for it.

Human resource heads, especially at mid-size and small companies, told Moneycontrol that it isn’t feasible to offer long adoption paid leaves.

“Paid maternity leave of 26 weeks for upto two pregnancies for women employees is itself a costly proposition. If you add adoption leaves to it, this wouldn’t be sustainable,” said the head of human resources at a Mumbai-based insurance broking firm.

He added that this would in fact be counter-productive and could lead to companies consciously avoiding the recruitment of female staff of a certain age group.

For women, not having access to leaves post adoption can often be a nightmare.

Sanchita Mukherjee*, who is a senior investment professional at a Mumbai-based bank told Moneycontrol that when she adopted a 4-year-old boy in 2019, he took a lot of time to adjust to the surroundings.

“He had separation anxiety and would react aggressively whenever I stepped out to go to the office. It was very difficult for me and I needed atleast two to three months to be with him and care for him. That itself was denied to me citing law,” said Mukherjee.

She finally decided to take a sabbatical in 2019 and now offers investment consulting services as a freelance professional.

Psychologists state that especially in cases of adoption, it is critical that the parents spend time with the child on a full-time basis atleast for the initial  few months.

Trisha Kamath, who is a Delhi-based child psychologist told Moneycontrol that adopted children who are left in the care of creches or nannies in the initial one to six months of adoption could see issues related to anxiety or attention issues.

“When you bring a child home, it is a new environment for him/her. They would look upto the parents for complete attention and care in the first few months so it is also crucial that the partners are able to give the child the time,” she added.

But in the absence of defined leave in the law, corporates use this as a loophole to deny these facilities.

Danica Lobo*, a 30-year-old advertising professional in Mumbai had to switch three jobs in a two-year period in search of an organisation that would be accommodative towards an adoption.

“I would have to run around for documents, attend court hearings and meet multiple stakeholders for the initial adoption process in 2016. I finally adopted a one-year-old girl in 2018 but wasn’t even granted a week’s leave by my company. I quit that job and then quickly switched two companies in the hope of a ‘flexible leave policy’. But I was denied even two days of work-from-home a month post adoption citing work pressure,” he added.

For Lobo, Mukherjee, Sikdar and many other women who adopt a child after a lengthy legal process in India, the basic requirement is atleast a three-month leave that they can use to spend with the child.

When a 26 weeks leave facility is available for child-birth, why not start off with atleast 12 weeks of adoption leave irrespective of the age of the child?

*Names changed to protect identity