Human Rights Tribunal calls for change to outdated adoption laws
New Zealand's 61-year-old adoption laws are discriminatory and outdated, according to a new ruling.
A Human Rights Review Tribunal decision, which comes after two years of legal battles, has found the Adoption Act 1955 and the Adult Adoption Information Act 1985 contradicts the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act by discriminating against people based on sex, age, marital status and disability.
The current law stops civil union partners or same-sex de facto couples from adopting. It also places restrictions on single men trying to adopt a female child and stops anyone under the age of 25 from adopting.
Adoption Action, an adoption law reform lobby group, says the landmark ruling is a step towards changing New Zealand's "archaic" adoption legislation.
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Adoption Action committee member and retired lawyer Robert Ludbrook said the group was delighted with the decision, which would hopefully translate into a law change, giving de facto and same sex couples the same rights as married couples.
"The 1955 Act comes from a different era and the law is full of inconsistencies, uncertainties and discriminatory provisions...
"It is embarrassing to New Zealand to have such archaic legislation in such an important area and to have a Human Rights Tribunal so poorly funded that it takes more than two years to make a decision on important Human Rights issues."
Ludbrook said in the past the Family Court had referred to the adoption legislation as "outdated", "anachronistic" and "based on white Anglo-Saxon values which prevailed in 1955".
The next step was for the Minister of Justice to bring the declaration on inconsistencies to the attention of Parliament, which has the power to then change the law.
However, this process could be stalled or halted by an appeal.
The Human Rights Commission said a law change in this area was long-overdue.
Chief human rights commissioner David Rutherford said the commission urged Government to make the necessary legislative changes to remove the discriminatory parts of the law so the adoption legislation reflected societal norms and expectations.
"The Adoption Act is more than 60 years old and no longer reflects New Zealand's values and practices, urgent law reform is needed," Rutherford said.
The case against the Attorney General was first brought by Adoption Action in 2011.
The hearing ran from December 2013 to January 2014.
In its decision the Human Rights Review Tribunal found seven provisions in New Zealand's adoption legislation were inconsistent with the Bill of Rights:
- The requirement for sole male applicants to prove "special circumstances" before being permitted to adopt a female child (when there was no such requirement for a single female to prove "special circumstances").
- The ability for the Court to dispense with the consent of birth fathers in some circumstances before a child was adopted (but not birth mothers).
- The inability of civil union partners or same-sex de-facto couples to adopt.
- The absence of a requirement for unmarried opposite-sex or same sex-partners of a sole applicant for an adoption order to give consent (even when the couple is living together at the time of the application).
- The ability to dispense with consent of a disabled parent or guardian before his or her child is adopted.
- The prohibition on persons under the age of 25 adopting a child.
- In relation to the Adult Adoption Information Act –the prohibition on a person under the age of 20 obtaining a copy of his or her original birth certificate.