The Kerala High Court on Friday held that a child born out a live-in relationship and acknowledged so by the mother of the child would have to be treated as a child born to a married couple for the purposes of surrendering a child for adoption under Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 [JJ Act].
The judgment authored by Justices A Muhamed Mustaque and Dr. Kauser Edappagath stood out for certain pertinent observations on the agency of women, motherhood and the challenges faced by single women in Kerala.
The case has an interesting factual background.
The child’s parents, one a Hindu and the other a Christian, had met during the tragic floods that wreaked havoc in Kerala in the year 2018. They were actively working with NGOs during the crisis.
After growing close and deciding to live together, they settled at Ernakulam, 65 km from the parental house of the woman. The woman became pregnant in May 2019 and gave birth to a baby girl in February 2020.
The couple later drifted apart and the man became elusive for a while. The woman’s attempts to contact the man failed, whereupon she decided to give up the child for adoption.
The woman gave up her child to the Committee when her live-in partner moved to another State and called off the relationship for a while. The woman even executed a Deed of Surrender in June to give up her child in adoption.
Treating the woman as an unwed mother, the Committee proceeded to give the child in adoption to a couple under provisions of the Adoption Regulations, 2017 and Section 38 of the JJ Act.
However, the couple later reunited and approached the High Court by way of a Habeas Corpus plea, seeking the return of their child after they were denied the same by the Committee.
Before the High Court, the Government Pleader submitted that the child had already been given up for adoption.
The Court, however, stated that consent of both the parents would be needed to given a child for adoption if the mother acknowledges the biological father.
Below are five pertinent observations made by the Court.
Kerala has 100 percent literacy but attitude towards women despicable
The Court said that while the State boasts of 100 per cent literacy, the attitude of people in the State towards women is “despising”. This is more so when it comes to single mothers who receive no financial or social support, the Court stated.
Single mothers forced to bear guilt without support from system
“She faces emotional challenges and forced to believe she is destined to be isolated as result of guilt. She gets hardly any support from the system,” the Court said.
A woman feeling that she needs support of man is the failure of the system
The woman in the case did not attempt to exterminate the child in her womb; she bore the pain to give birth. However, was forced to give up her child for adoption since she thought that without the support of a man, she cannot survive, the Court observed.
“If a woman feels she is nothing without the support of the man that is the failure of the system. She shall not succumb to the temptation of giving up,” the judgment said.
Woman alone has right of choice on her body and motherhood
The Court underscored that a woman’s womb is the “precious possession” of her personhood and no one can claim a right over it.
“Woman alone has the right of choice on her body and motherhood. The power of human in this Universe is the power of motherhood,” the Bench opined.
State should evolve scheme to support single others
The Court exhorted the State to formulate a scheme to support single mothers.
“It is for the State to make her realize that her struggle with the forces undermining her existence can be validated with the support of rule of law. That self belief must be her identity and respect due to her,” the Court opined.