Karnataka High Court: Krishna S. Dixit J. disposed off the petition and remarked “there is & shall be no cause of action against the foster parents in civil or criminal law concerning the alleged kidnapping of the child.”
The facts of the case involve rival claims for the custody of a toddler between a genetic mother and a foster mother; this child is christened by the genetic parents as “Master Mohammed Arhaan” and later named by the foster mother as “Adwik”.
Counsel for the foster mother submitted that she having fostered the child all these months abundant with love, affection & care and the genetic mother already has two children whereas the foster mother has none and hence a child well fostered for long cannot be parted away to the genetic mother without causing enormous violence to the foster mother. It was further submitted that in matters of custody, interest of the child is paramount and therefore the claims founded on genealogy has no merit.
Counsel for the genetic mother submitted that between a genetic mother and a foster one, the claim of the latter should be given preference as well as the agony which the genetic parents of the child have undergone since a year or so also highlights the difficulties of a lactating mother from whom the suckling infant is kept away; thus he seeks dismissal of the opposite claim.
International Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989; Article 3 (1) of this Convention provides:
“…in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, court of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration . . .”
Similarly, Article 7(1) of the Convention says:
“The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents”. Article 8 (1) & (2) of the Convention provide for the State Parties to respect the right of child inter alia to preserve its identity, ‘name and family relations as recognized by law’. It also provides that where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of its identity, State Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily its identity.”
Article 8 (1) & (2) of the Convention provide for the State Parties to respect the right of child inter alia to preserve its identity, ‘name and family relations as recognized by law’. It also provides that where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of its identity, State Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily its identity.
Article 25 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides:
“Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance…”
Article 24(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966) recognizes right of the child to the measures of protection as are required by its status as a minor and the correlative duty resting on the shoulders of its family, society and the State. In October 1979 a Joint WHO/UNICEF Meeting on Infant & Young Child Feeding adopted the following statement: “Breastfeeding is an integral part of the reproductive process, the natural and ideal way of feeding the infant and unique biological and emotional basis for child development. … It is therefore a responsibility of society to promote breastfeeding and to protect pregnant and lactating mothers to many influences that would disrupt it”.
Further, Section 3(ix) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 which enacts inter alia the above principle of paramount interest of the child reads as under:
“All decisions regarding the child shall be based on the primary consideration, that they are in the best interest of the child and to help the child to develop full potential.”
Section 2(9) of the said Act defines the term ‘the best interest of the child’ to mean – “…The basis for any decision taken regarding the child, to ensure fulfillment of his basic rights and needs, identity, social well-being and physical, emotional and intellectual development.”
The Court thus observed that breastfeeding needs to be recognized as an inalienable right of lactating mother; similarly, the right of the suckling infant for being breastfed too, has to be assimilated with mother’s right; arguably, it is a case of concurrent rights; this important attribute of motherhood, is protected under the umbrella of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
On an analogy being drawn between Yashoda Maa and Devaki Maa the Court observed that unsubstantiated episodes from some history or mythology do not much guide the decision making process; ordinarily, scriptures cannot be cited as precedents or as instruments having force of law, notwithstanding the light they throw when the path we tread is shrouded in darkness; in matters like this, scriptural texts are not treated as edicts of law, unless they are legislated expressly or by necessary implication or otherwise recognized.
The Court on the argument of the foster mother that she does not have any children whereas the genetic mother has already two at home and therefore, the custody of this child should be allowed to continue with his client remarked that its ludicrous and children are not chattel for being apportioned between their genetic mother and a stranger, on the basis of their numerical abundance; the principle of distributive justice which intends to bridge the gap between “haves and have nots” is not invocable, at least in this case
The Court remarked that having being convinced of the legitimacy and priority of the claim of the foster mother it was held that the foster mother “gracefully delivered the custody of the child to its genetic parents; the genetic mother too, with equal grace, states that the foster mother may see the child whenever her heart so desires; such kind gestures coming from two women hailing from two different religious backgrounds, are marked by their rarity, nowadays; thus, this legal battle for the custody of the pretty child is drawn to a close with a happy note, once for all.”[Husna Bano v. State of Karnataka, WP No. 16729 of 2021, decided on 24-09-2021]
Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.
For petitioner: Mr. Sirajuddin Ahmed
For respondents: Mr. Vinod Kumar and Mr. S. Subramanya