Extensive changes to adoption law to ensure adopted child gets a good home

The couple are among the few who adopt children placed under the state's care. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT

SINGAPORE - Couples planning to adopt a child can expect extensive changes to adoption laws and practices here, as a new adoption Bill seeks to assess every prospective parent's suitability to adopt, define suitability criteria more explicitly, and deter unethical practices among for-profit adoption agents.

On Monday (April 4), Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli tabled the Bill in Parliament, seeking to repeal the Adoption of Children Act 1939 and re-enact a new Adoption of Children Act 2022.

The last substantial amendment to the current Act was in 1985.

The proposed Act has three main aims - finding a good home for every child identified for adoption, breaking cycles of abuse and neglect, and deterring undesirable behaviour in the adoption sector.

To find a good home for every child, all prospective parents must go through comprehensive and in-depth checks, called Adoption Suitability Assessment, to assess their suitability and readiness to adopt before they are allowed to do so.

Currently, only those adopting a foreign child who is not related to them or a child under the State’s Care have to go through such checks. Besides foreign children, local children are also placed for adoption.

The Bill also proposes to prioritise Singaporeans and permanent residents when it comes to adoption, as only a small number of children are placed for adoption.

A Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) press release said: "This will better ensure that Singapore does not become an adoption hub of convenience."

There is an average of 400 adoptions each year, with only about 20 foreigners adopting a year.

Those convicted of serious crimes, including sexual, violence and drug-related offences, will not be allowed to adopt, unless the courts determines there are exceptional circumstances to permit the adoption.

Currently, prospective adoptive parents must attend a compulsory pre-adoption briefing, where they learn more about the adoption process and related issues, before they can apply to adopt.

The new Bill wants prospective parents to attend a disclosure briefing as well, which will help them through the issues around telling a child the truth about his or her birth.

However, adoptive parents are not mandated by law to tell their child he or she is adopted.

The court can also order the child, the adoptive parents and even the birth parents to attend counselling, mediation or other relevant programmes if it feels this will be beneficial for them.

The proposed law will also define the meaning of "suitability to adopt", said the MSF in its media briefing materials.

Authorised adoption agencies, the Guardian-in-Adoption, who ensures the adopted child's best interests, and the court must consider factors such as the public policy against the formation of same-sex families and the policy against planned and deliberate single parenthood through surrogacy or assisted reproduction technology.

In 2019, then Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee told Parliament that the MSF was reviewing adoption laws, following a landmark case involving a gay father adopting his biological child who was conceived through a surrogate mother in the United States.

Mr Lee stressed that the Government does not support the formation of families by gay parents. Surrogacy is also banned in Singapore.

The second goal aims to break cycles of abuse and neglect.

Children may be placed in the care of foster parents or in a children's home for many years, as their birth parents are unfit or unwilling to look after them despite being given support from professionals and the community.

The Bill makes clearer the proposed thresholds and circumstances, and specifies more grounds when the court may dispense with the need for the birth parents' consent to adoption if a family wants to adopt the child.

This will include cases where the birth parents have intentionally caused "grievous hurt" to the child or have failed to provide suitable care over a prolonged period, said the MSF.

The Bill also make undesirable behaviours that compromise a child's welfare an offence, such as advertising the child for adoption or providing false or misleading information during the adoption process.

The offences will have extra-territorial effect, meaning that if the offence was committed by a person outside Singapore, he or she may be dealt with as if the offence was committed here.

The Bill aims to encourage transparency in the sector by proposing adoption-related payments that are permitted and requiring all adoption agencies to publish information on their fees.

The proposed changes, which expands 12 sections in the current Act to 75, take into account feedback from adopted children, adoptive parents, social service agencies and the public.

A public consultation on the Bill was held last year.

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