Upholding the right of an unwed mother to apply for sole guardianship over her minor son without prior consent of the child’s absentee biological father, the Supreme Court on Monday said women are increasingly choosing to raise their children alone, and there was no need to thrust an uncaring father on a child.
The young mother, whom the apex court described as “well-educated, gainfully employed and financially secure,” had refused to divulge the name of the biological father of her child to the courts.
She reasoned that the man, who was married and had a family, never showed any interest in her child, whom she raised on her own. She wanted guardianship rights so that her son would inherit her financial assets.
“In situations where the father has not exhibited any concern for his offspring, giving him legal recognition would be an exercise in futility. In today’s society, where women are increasingly choosing to raise their children alone, we see no purpose in imposing an unwilling and unconcerned father on an otherwise viable family nucleus,” the judgment by a Bench of Justices Vikramjit Sen and A.M. Sapre held.
The judgment, authored by Justice Sen, observed that a man who has chosen to forsake his duties and responsibilities is not a necessary constituent for the well-being of the child.
“Any responsible man would keep track of his offspring and be concerned for the welfare of the child he has brought into the world; this does not appear to be so in the present case,” the apex court held, allowing the mother to apply for guardianship without disclosing the name of the biological father.
The court agreed with the woman, who preferred anonymity and is known only by the acronym ‘ABC’ on court records, that it would be beneficial if the father’s name is not disclosed now. She said the guardianship can be altered if the father raised any objections.
Uniform Civil Code stressed
The Supreme Court directed that unwed mothers can get birth certificates issued for their biological children merely by furnishing an affidavit to this effect. In the present case, the legal battle for the woman, a Christian, started in 2011 when the local Guardian Court rejected her application under the Guardians and Wards Act after she refused to part with the father’s details or name.
Under Section 11 of the Act, a mother applying for sole guardianship needs prior consent of the biological father. Section 19 goes further to say that a mother cannot be the sole guardian if the father is alive and fit.
Her appeal in the Delhi High Court was dismissed for the same reason. In fact, the High Court even reasoned that her status as a single mother could only be determined after hearing from the father too.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the “predominant legal thought across the world and in some statutes in India” is that a mother is best suited to care for her child. The court further made this a strong case for ushering in a Uniform Civil Code. “Christian unwed mothers in India are disadvantaged when compared to their Hindu counterparts, who are the natural guardians of their illegitimate children by virtue of their maternity alone. It would be apposite for us to underscore that our Directive Principles envision the existence of a Uniform Civil Code, but this remains an unaddressed constitutional expectation.”