SC agrees to look at plea for gender- and religion-neutral uniform legislation on adoption, guardianship

New Delhi, January 29

The Supreme Court Friday agreed to examine a sensitive issue raised in a PIL seeking a direction to the Centre to frame the gender- and religion-neutral uniform law on adoption and guardianship for all citizens in the country.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde issued notices to union ministries of home affairs, law and justice and the women and child development on the PIL filed seeking removal of anomalies in the grounds of adoption and guardianship and making them uniform for all.

“Issue notice. Tag with a W.P.©No,” said the bench which also comprised justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian in the proceedings conducted through video conferencing.

The bench was hearing the petition filed by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhayay.

The decision to examine the plea for uniform gender and religion neutral law on adoption and guardianship assume significance in the wake of the fact that the same bench, on December 16, 2020 had decided to examine two other PILs of Updhayay for laying down uniform grounds for divorce and maintenance or alimony respectively.

In one of the PILs, it was urged that the Centre be directed to make “gender and religion neutral” uniform grounds of award of maintenance and alimony for all citizens in matrimonial disputes as per the spirit of Constitution and the international conventions.

The second PIL, which was also taken up on December 16, 2020, had sought “uniform grounds of divorce” for all citizens of the country, keeping with the spirit of the Constitution and international conventions.

Senior advocates Anjana Prakash and Geeta Luthra appeared for the Updhayay on Friday and urged the apex court that the gender and religion neutral uniform law on adoption and guardianship for all citizens was needed.

The plea, filed through lawyer advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey in August last year, has also sought directions to declare that the “discriminatory grounds” of adoption and guardianship are in violation of Articles 14, 15, 21 of the Constitution and to frame “uniform guidelines” for adoption and guardianship for all citizens.

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution talks about all citizens’ equality before the law, Article 15 prohibits discrimination on basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, and Article 21 says no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law, it said.

The PIL contended that the current practice of adoption is blatantly discriminatory as Hindus have a codified law of adoption but Muslims, Christians, and Parsis do not have it.

“Adopted child has the right to inherit property under the Hindu law but not under the Muslim, Christian and Parsi law. Adopted child by the Hindus can become a legal heir whereas adopted child by Christians, Muslim, Parsis cannot,” the plea said.

“Adopted child by Hindus turn equivalent to a biological child of adoptive parents whereas it’s just the opposite in Muslims, Christians and Parsis. Adoptive parents can be the natural guardian of the adopted son and his wife under Hindu Law but not in Muslim, Christian and Parsi Law,” the plea said.

It also sought directions to the Law Commission to prepare a report on ‘Uniform Grounds of Adoption & Guardianship’ within three months, while considering the best practices of laws and international conventions.

The PIL stated that adoption and guardianship is one of the most important and crucial aspects of human life but even after 73 years of independence, India does not have a gender-neutral and religion-neutral law of adoption and guardianship for all citizens.

“Muslims, Christians and Parsis don’t have adoption laws even after 73 year of independence and 71 years of India becoming a democratic republic. Due to lack of a common law for all, Muslims, Christians, Parsis approach the Court under Guardians & Wards Act, 1890,” the plea said.

“Muslims, Christians and Parsis can take a child under the said Act only under foster care. Once a child under foster care becomes major, he can break away all his relations. Moreover, such a child doesn’t have the legal right of inheritance, which creates a lot of hardship and confusion among citizens, which can very easily be solved by having uniform law of adoption and guardianship for all citizens,” the plea said.

The petition said in the case of Shia Muslims, the mother is entitled to the custody of a boy until the age of two years and girl until she attains seven years of age if parents are separated.

“The custody after the prescribed period dwells upon the father and after him to grandfather how high-soever (sic). The rationale given is that after birth, the mother might have custody of the child but the father has the guardianship, entitling him for the right to take any decision for the future of the child,” the petition stated.      

It said the father has the ultimate authority to decide matters regarding the future of the child, be it education or contracting marriage. “That is why mother living far from the residence of the father was one of the grounds for disqualification of the mother for taking custody,” it said.— PTI


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