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Human Rights Commission calls for urgent reform

Human Rights Commission calls for urgent reform of New Zealand adoption laws

The Human Rights Commission has welcomed a landmark decision from the Human Rights Review Tribunal declaring provisions of the Adoption Act 1955 and Adult Adoption Information Act 1985 inconsistent with the right to be free from discrimination under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

“The Adoption Act is more than 60 years old and no longer reflects New Zealand’s values and practices, urgent law reform is needed,” said Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford.

“We urge Government to make the necessary legislative changes to remove the discriminatory provisions of these laws to ensure that our adoption legislation reflects societal norms and expectations: reform is long overdue.”

In its decision the Human Rights Review Tribunal held that the following provisions 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.

Unless appealed the declaration of inconsistency must be brought to the attention of Parliament by the Minister of Justice along with an explanation of the Government’s response to the declaration. It does not, however, affect the validity, application or enforcement of the current legal provisions.

The case against the Attorney General was commenced by Adoption Action, an incorporated society with the objective of proposing and promoting changes to adoption law, polices and practice to enhance the rights of children affected by adoption, eliminate discriminatory provisions of current laws and introduce new laws that reflect current societal attitudes and values and accord with national and international human rights standards. The Human Rights Commission participated in the proceedings as an intervener. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner also filed written submissions.


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