Lawmakers in the Cayman Islands are in the process of making major changes to the Adoption of Children Law.
Minister of Community Affairs, Gender and Housing Mike Adam said the amendments to the law include time lines that would help speed the adoption process in Cayman, while at the same time bringing it in line with United Kingdom and international standards.
As of August this year, there were 62 cases before the Adoption Board. Four children had been adopted during the first eight months of this year, including two Jamaican children, one Nicaraguan child and one Caymanian child.
One case before the Adoption Board as of August had been pending since 2001, another since 2004, two since 2006, five since 2007, seven since 2008, six since 2009 and 14 and 17, respectively, since 2010 and 2011.
The case that had been outstanding since 2001 was that of Zachery Wright, whose adoption finally went through last month. The Caymanian Compass in July highlighted 15-year-old Zachery’s more than a decade-long effort to complete his adoption.
Mr. Adam has said in the past that, even in best case scenarios, adoption cases typically take two years to complete. However, as the statistics show, several cases have taken considerably longer than that.
“[The Adoption of Children Bill 2012] will streamline and improve the adoption process,” said Mr. Adam, admitting that some elements of the existing process need “urgent attention”.
“The primary aim of the Adoption of Children Bill 2012 is to ensure that the Cayman Islands have a comparable framework that modernises the provision of domestic and inter-country adoptions,” Mr. Adam said.
He added: “It brings it into line with aspects of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Kingdom’s Children’s Act. It also brings the law in line with the [Hague] Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.” Existing adoption legislation in Cayman does not specifically address the adoption of children from overseas, although in practice, the Department of Children and Family Services is involved in the process. The proposed amendments include provisions regarding adopting from overseas.
“Such adoptions will not be recognised unless they are granted with the prior approval of the [Adoption] Board and upon completion of a satisfactory home study by a social worker,” according to the memorandum of objects and reasons accompanying the proposed revisions.
Mr. Adam said overseas adoptions “present a challenge”. “Getting the necessary documentation and the various back and forth between two jurisdictions sometimes takes quite a bit of work,” he said.
Under the proposed legislation, adoptions are limited to prospective parents who are older than 25 but younger than 65, although the Adoption Board has discretion to make an adoption order for an applicant older than 65.
The amendments also outline that a single male applicant cannot adopt a female child or a single female applicant cannot adopt a male child under the proposed amendments.
The amended law stipulates that a homosexual person cannot adopt a child of the same sex, unless the Grand Court is satisfied there are “special circumstances which justify making such an order”.
The law also specifically prohibits adoptions by paedophiles, unless granted by the Grand Court.
Mr. Adam said these clauses involving single people, homosexuals and paedophiles were included in the bill because the existing law does not spell out those restrictions.
The Adoption of Children Bill 2012 has also been drawn up to be in line with the recently passed Children’s Law in Cayman, Mr. Adam said.
Other changes within the law include provisions that will take into account the views of the child, if he or she is old enough for this to apply, with regard the adoption. A potential adoptive parent of a child 7 years or older can assign another person authorised by regulations to meet the child privately and make a report indicating that the child has been consulted on the nature of the adoption, understands what adoption means and has any views on the proposed adoption and on any proposed change to the child’s name.
Under the existing law, a married couple applying to adopt a child should have been married and living together for at least three years immediately preceding the application. But the revised legislation allows for a couple who have been living together for more than two years and gotten married during that period to adopt.
The law is also amended to require that the child be in the care of the prospective adopter for six months prior to the adoption order being made – in the current law, it is three months.
Another clause within the bill allows for greater flexibility for adoptions, in that a biological parent of the child and a step-parent can adopt without having to live with the child for six months or living together as a couple for two years.
The amended law also gives more powers to the Grand Court to make interim orders for adoptions and to dispense with consent to certain cases where, for example, the spouses have separated.
The bill contains a revised definition of “child”, which, in accordance with the new Children’s Law, changes the definition from a person under 16 to a person under 18.
The revised legislation, in line with the Bill of Rights, also sets out a definition of marriage that is not in the existing law, stating that it is a marriage between a man and a woman, and for this purpose a person’s gender is that established at birth”.
Fines for offences under the proposed amended law have increased substantially. For example, the penalty for organising an illegal adoption has increased from a $400 fine and six months’ imprisonment to a $30,000 fine and imprisonment for one year, or both.
The membership of the Adoption Board would increase from five to seven members, with the quorum rising from three to five. The appointment period for board members is increasing from two years to three years.
The revised law also stipulates that the chairman of the Adoption Board shall be an attorney with at least three years’ post qualification experience and that members who are absent from three consecutive meetings can be replaced by another person appointed by Cabinet.
The minister added that he hoped the bill could go before the Legislative Assembly in January when the House is expected to resume.