Adoption in India is administered by the personal laws of different religions and the adoption is legally recognized under the Hindu Law. Other religions like Christians, Muslims, Jews, Parsi etc does not lawfully recognize adoption but they acquires guardianship of the child in accord with the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890. The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act is a Central Legislation enacted in 1956 as a branch of Hindu Code Bills. The fundamental purpose of the Act was to grant legal recognition for adoption by a Hindu and to impose obligations upon the person who adopts a child to give maintenance to the members of the family.
The Act states that the custom, usage or any other law that prevailed before the instigation of the Act shall cease to function with regard to the provisions of the present Act. Any law that contravenes the provisions of the Act shall be void and shall not apply to Hindus to the extent of the contravention. A Hindu shall take a child in adoption only in harmony with the provisions of the Act and any adoption performed otherwise shall not have legal force. The Hindu who takes a child in adoption shall have the capacity and right to adopt and the person who gives a child in adoption shall also possess the capacity as specified in the Act.
The Act does not recognize adoption by a Hindu male or female if such person is unsound mind or a minor. A Hindu Male shall adopt a child only with the permission of his wife except where the wife has relinquished the world, she is of unsound mind or she has converted to other religion. The Act does not allow a married Hindu female to take in adoption, but if the marriage is dissolved, her husband has relinquished the world, the husband is of unsound mind or converted to another religion, she can adopt a son or daughter.
The father, mother or the guardian shall have the right to give a child in adoption and no one else. If the father is alive, only he can give his child in adoption but with the permission of the mother. Where the father is departed or relinquished the world or he is of unsound mind or has converted to another religion, the mother shall give the child in adoption. If the father and mother of the child are not alive or where the parentage is unknown, the guardian shall give the child in adoption upon satisfying conditions stated by the Court.
The Act further specifies that only an unmarried Hindu shall be taken in adoption except where the custom or usage permits the contrary. He should not be adopted by any other person and has completed the age of fifteen years. The Act also stipulates certain conditions for adopting a child separately for Hindu male and female. The same child shall not be adopted by more than one person at a time. The persons adopting a child shall have all the rights as a parent and the child will be legally separated from the bonds of his or her family. But he shall have the right to acquire the property vested in him from the family and he is not released from his obligations in the property. Nothing in the Act prevents the adoptive parents from disposing his property where there is no contract in this regard. The adoption performed legally cannot be terminated either by the parents or by the child.
The Act in Chapter III provides for the maintenance to the wife and other members of the family. The husband is made obligatory under the Act to maintain his wife during her lifetime, but where the wife has converted to another religion she is not entitled to maintenance. Where the husband is dead and the woman is incapable of maintaining herself, she shall be maintained by her father-in-law. The legislation creates a key provision that the Hindu male shall have the obligation to maintain his children and his aged parents until his death. The legal heirs of the deceased Hindu male shall have the responsibility to look after and maintain his dependents in proportion to the property so inherited. The Act confers power on the Court to decide the quantum of maintenance according to its discretion.
The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 has been amended by The Personal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2010 which included a provision granting right to a married woman to take a child in adoption. Moreover, the parents of the child shall have identical rights for giving their child in adoption, but only with permission of the other. Therefore, the Act recognized the rights of woman equal to that of men and made it a comprehensive legislation.