Plan to update Vanuatu’s adoption laws

The Vanuatu Government plans to introduce a new adoption law to control the formal adoption of children.

The Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Community Services, Dorosthy Kenneth Watson, says a new bill will be tabled in Parliament that will replace adoption law, adopted by the former Condominium Government, which is still in use.

She says adoption has been around for a long time in Vanuatu but there needs to be better legal framework and procedures around the formal aspects of the process.

The bill will not affect informal adoptions but will only regulate formal adoptions where adoption orders are decided by a court.

“The bill gives power to the Director General [of the Ministry of Justice and Community Services] and the Minister of Justice to make policies and develop the process and procedures for any man or woman who wants to adopt a child,” Mrs Watson said.

Mrs Watson says Vanuatu has been using an adoption law developed “too long ago”, in 1958, in the United Kingdom.

She says Vanuatu can also make use of an existing French law that covers adoption.

She says after 40 years of Vanuatu’s Independence, there is a need to put in place an adoption law suited to the current needs of Vanuatu.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, Jean Pierre Tom, says adoption bills have been tabled in the parliament previously.

He says any new adoption law must address the welfare of children with an eye on the child’s whole life, and that adoptive parents must have long-term plans for a child.

Mr Tom says a principal that has been agreed to earlier on adoption law, is that a child born in Vanuatu must be regarded as belonging to Vanuatu.

He says Malvatumauri Council has raised concerns with the Ministry of Justice that any adoption bill brought to Parliament must consider the importance of custom law.

A Member of Parliament for Tanna, Andrew Napuat, says the adoption bill should delayed and “not put to Parliament until more discussions are held with the chiefs and the people”.

MP Napuat warns adoption processes today can be as challenging as language, land and citizenship issues.

He says issues such as adoption can cause “disputes in the future” which is why “discussions [on the issue] must be undertaken on every island”.

He says issues such as citizenship programs have the potential to affect Vanuatu’s language and land boundaries.

The Director General says the new bill aims to ensure an adopted child’s custom and culture is of paramount concern.

She says the ministry has had discussions with the Malvatumauri Council on the bill.

She says it is not yet clear whether the bill will be tabled by the Ministry of Justice and Community Services in the current parliamentary session.

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