SINGAPORE: A Bill which will overhaul legislation on the adoption of children was introduced by Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli in Parliament on Monday (Apr 4).
The Adoption of Children Act 1939 was last amended in 1985, more than 30 years ago. The new Bill seeks to repeal that Act and re-enact a new Adoption of Children Act 2022, and expands 12 sections in the current Act to 75.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said that the changes are proposed with the child’s welfare as the “primary guiding principle”.
The aim is to find a good home for every child identified for adoption, break cycles of abuse and neglect, and deter “undesirable behaviour” in the adoption sector, the ministry said in a press release.
One major change is that all prospective adopters will now have to attend two briefings and undergo an assessment to prepare them before the adoption. Currently, only applicants adopting a foreign child unrelated to them, or a child in state care must undergo a pre-adoption assessment.
The briefings, to be conducted by MSF-authorised adoption agencies, will familiarise prospective adopters with the adoption process and how to parent an adopted child. A “disclosure briefing” will highlight to applicants how to disclose a child’s adoptive status to him or her, and how they can support the children after that.
The Bill proposes for the assessment – called the Adoption Suitability Assessment (ASA) – to be a pre-requisite for all adoption applications. Those seeking to adopt a related child, such as a stepchild, may qualify for a simpler ASA, said MSF.
If the Bill is passed, the court will also be able to order the child, prospective adopters and relevant people, such as the birth parents, to attend counselling or mediation during the adoption proceedings, or even after the adoption order has been made, said MSF.
Applicants must also be living in Singapore for at least a year before they apply for an ASA, to ensure that the family and support systems are stable before they seek to adopt.
PRIORITY FOR CITIZENS, PRS
Another amendment is to prioritise Singapore citizens and permanent residents for adoptions in Singapore, in view of the small number of children who are identified for adoption.
“This will better ensure that Singapore does not become an adoption hub of convenience,” said MSF.
But the ministry said this is preventative, as the number of foreigners adopting here are small at about 20 a year, out of the roughly 400 adoptions annually.
The Bill will also add restrictions so that people who were convicted of serious charges such as sexual, violence and drug-related offences will not be eligible to adopt.
This is unless the court finds that there are exceptional circumstances – for example, if the offence was committed more than 10 years ago and the potential adoptive parent has reformed.
To provide more guidance to applicants on suitability criteria for adoptions, MSF also intends to define the meaning of “suitable to adopt” in the Bill.
In addition to legislation, the adoption agencies and the court will also have to consider “any factor consistent with case law concerning adoption”. For example, relevant public policies, such as those against the formation of same-sex family units and against planned and deliberate single parenthood through the use of assisted reproduction technology, or surrogacy.
A number of amendments in the Bill provides for children who have been placed in foster care or a children’s home for many years, as their birth parents continue to be unfit or unwilling to care for them.
MSF said that stakeholders consulted agreed that adoption would be in these children’s interest. However, couples who wish to adopt them may face challenges in doing so if the birth parents do not give their consent.
To facilitate the adoption of these children, the Bill makes clearer the proposed thresholds and circumstances, and specifies more grounds under which adoption may go ahead without the birth parents’ consent.
“This will include cases where the birth parents intentionally caused grievous hurt to the child or have failed to provide suitable care for the child over a prolonged period, causing the child to be in need of care and protection,” said MSF.
In addition, the Bill seeks to introduce offences to protect the welfare of the children and “ensure the integrity of adoption processes and practices in Singapore”.
The Bill will criminalise “undesirable behaviour” such as advertising children for adoption, inducing the birth parent’s consent for the child’s adoption through fraudulent means, and providing false or misleading information during the adoption process.
The Bill also sets guidelines for permissible adoption-related payments, and the requirement for all adoption agencies to publish information on their fees.
“If passed by Parliament, the re-enacted Adoption of Children Act will better ensure that children identified for adoption are placed and raised in loving, safe and stable families, and strengthen safeguards in the adoption sector,” MSF said.