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

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

March 9, 2016

New Zealand's 61-year-old adoption laws are discriminatory and outdated, according to a new ruling by the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

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.

The Human Rights Commission has welcomed this landmark decision from the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

“The Adoption Act is over 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.”  

The 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 if 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, policies 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.

Read our Submissions

The Human Rights Commission participated in the proceedings as an intervener. You can read our submissions here

Learn more

In 2011, the Commission prepared a short paper endorsing marriage equality and a non-discriminatory approach to adoption. Read it here

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We welcome the ruling that New Zealand's 61-year-old adoption laws are discriminatory and outdated.“We urge Government...

Posted by New Zealand Human Rights Commission on Tuesday, 8 March 2016

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