x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Adoptive parents in the UAE can lose out on benefits

Adoptive families find it difficult to get benefits in the UAE.

ABU DHABI // Many parents who adopt a child from abroad return to the UAE to find they are not entitled to workplace benefits.

Adoption is a legal grey area, so some employers are reluctant to provide health insurance or school fees for the children.

Employers also cite an Abu Dhabi government human resources policy that extends benefits to biological children only.

"I cannot understand why adopted children are not treated the same as biological children," said Gerlinde Krupp, a Dubai resident from Germany who adopted two children from Ethiopia.

Ms Krupp is self-employed so she did not face the problem, but she knows parents who have.

"Obviously the parents want to have children and can't get them for some reason," she said. "I think they should be treated equally in all sorts of aspects: maternity leave, insurance, visas."

The difference in treatment may be due to a principle of Sharia. Islam forbids western-style adoption, although fostering an abandoned child is considered highly pious.

An Emirati mother who took in an abandoned baby four years ago said she had no problem getting benefits from her workplace, Dubai Civil Defence.

"I just gave them the passport and one letter from me telling them this is my daughter but not biological," said Amal Shehab, who was matched with her child through Sharjah Social Services.

But Emiratis cannot foster a child from abroad.

"I asked many times from Syria, from any country," Ms Shehab said. "They said no."

Expatriates cannot foster children from the UAE. Instead, many adopt legally from other countries.

"There are no agencies or kinds of official channels," said a British Abu Dhabi resident who adopted two children from Ethiopia. "It really depends on which country you decided to adopt from and which country you're from."

Once parents adopt, they face a mix of policies from employers.

The Abu Dhabi department of civil service extends benefits only to employees' biological children, said Osama Al Masry, a civil service adviser. The department's regulations apply to all Abu Dhabi government agencies.

Some semi-government companies follow the same policy. Etisalat does not offer benefits to adopted children, a spokeswoman said.

But National Bank of Abu Dhabi said it would treat the issue case by case.

"We do not have any specific policies for adopted children," said Ruwaida Shahbal, head of employee relations and policies at the bank.

"However, if we are faced with a situation by an employee who has legally adopted children, then we will approve the same benefits."

The Emirates Foundation, an independent organisation set up by the Abu Dhabi Government, also provides equal benefits for adopted children, said Mohanna Al Muhairi, its chief operations officer.

Employment law in the Dubai International Financial Centre, which is a free zone, also acknowledges adoption.

Women who adopt a child younger than three months old are eligible for the same maternity leave as women who give birth.

The British adoptive mother said her employer gave her no maternity leave. She took unpaid leave and was laid off when she returned to work.

But her husband, who works for a semi-government company, was able to get full benefits for their children.

"We're very lucky," she said. "We get all the benefits that any other kid would, which is really nice, especially with two."

Ms Krupp said she thought it was unfair to place a financial burden on employees who adopted.

"If I were to have biological children they would pay it anyway," she said.

"And there are all sorts of different reasons why you adopt. Some people cannot get children.

"So why should they be in a worse situation?"

vnereim@thenational.ae