A Guide to Parental Rights and Benefits

by | Mar 12, 2024

As you welcome your little one into the world, you might also be wondering about your rights and the support available in South Africa. Fear not; let’s explore your parental rights and benefits. 

Parental Rights: Sharing the Journey

South Africa takes a progressive approach to parental rights, recognising that both moms and dads play crucial roles in a child’s life. An exciting and welcomed court judgment in October 2023 paved the way for equal parental leave, allowing new parents to share four months of leave however they choose. This means that parents can share maternity leave for up to four months. However, if a mother is in a committed relationship, her leave and recovery time are shorter. 

Maternity Leave: A Time for Recovery and Bonding

Maternity leave allows biological mothers to recover from childbirth and bond with their newborns. It’s a crucial period for breastfeeding and establishing a nurturing routine. Mothers are entitled to four months of maternity leave, which can be partially paid through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), depending on their contribution history.

Paternity Leave: Dads Deserve Bonding Time Too!

Thanks to the recent legal changes, fathers (or any non-birthing parent) can now enjoy up to four months of leave alongside the mother. This allows dads to participate actively in childcare and build a strong connection with their baby. Benefits from the UIF are also available under conditions similar to maternity leave. As noted already, this is shared leave alongside the mother, and respective employers will need to be notified in writing and on time.

Adoptive Parents:

  • Equal Rights and Responsibilities: Once an adoption is finalised, adoptive parents have the same legal rights and responsibilities towards the child as biological parents. This includes decisions about their upbringing, education, healthcare, and religious beliefs. The birth parents’ parental rights are terminated upon a successful adoption.
  • Leave for Bonding: South Africa recognises the importance of adoptive parents bonding with their new child. Both adoptive parents are entitled to leave under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act:
    • 10-Week Adoption Leave: One adoptive parent can take ten consecutive weeks of leave to focus on building a strong connection with their adopted child. This allows for a smooth transition and adjustment period.
    • 10 Days Parental Leave: The other adoptive parent gets ten days to participate in the initial bonding period and share childcare responsibilities. You can decide as a couple who takes the longer leave based on your specific needs.

Surrogacy Parental Rights:

  • Commissioning Parents Gain Parental Rights: The commissioning parents, the intended parents who contract with the surrogate, become the child’s legal parents upon birth. This is established through the surrogacy agreement and doesn’t require further adoption.
  • Leave for New Parents: Similar to adoption, commissioning parents can benefit from leave under the Act:
    • 10 Weeks Commissioning Parental Leave: One commissioning parent is entitled to 10 consecutive weeks to bond with their newborn.
    • 10 Days Parental Leave: The other commissioning parent receives ten days to support the family during this special time.

Beyond Leave: Additional Parental Rights

Parental rights extend beyond leave. Both parents have equal rights and responsibilities regarding their child’s upbringing, education, healthcare, and religious beliefs. This includes decision-making power and access to information about your child’s well-being.

  • Communicating openly with your employer about your parental leave plans is essential.
  • The Department of Labour https://www.labour.gov.za/ provides valuable resources and information on parental leave.

Sharing the Journey: Support Systems for New Parents

South Africa offers additional support systems for new parents:

  • Childcare Grants: The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) https://srd.sassa.gov.za/ offers childcare grants to qualifying families to assist with childcare expenses.
  • Family Responsibility Leave: Both parents are entitled to 10 days of unpaid leave in specific situations, such as a child’s illness or the adoption of a child.

This information is a mere starting point. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your employer, relevant government departments, legal advisors or professional organisations for further guidance.