Mumbai: In a rare case, court steps in to protect minor from her mother
Mother returns to claim daughter she abandoned, who is now being raised by neighbours
In an unusual move to ensure that a 14-year-old girl is kept safe from her biological mother, a Bombay High Court lawyer has agreed to let the child stay at her house and will bear all her expenses until the case is decided. The police have been directed to provide necessary protection to the child. Advocate Kalpana Merchant, who is known to the child's guardians (who have brought her up from infancy), has said she will make all arrangements to ensure the child's safety.
Advocate Mikhail Dey, who has been monitoring the development in court, said, "It is a rare case brought before the court, wherein there is a direct threat to the child from her biological mother."
A guardianship petition was moved before the court recently by a family residing at a chawl in Tardeo. They have been taking care of the 14-year-old girl since her birth, soon after her mother abandoned her and moved out of Mumbai. "The petitioners, however, do not have legal documentation to establish the same. The child was accepted as their own and they enrolled her in a school nearby, where she was doing very well academically and had even won awards. The petitioners have two sons, whom the girl considers her brothers," said Dey.
The petitioners moved the high court, seeking its intervention after the biological mother returned to Mumbai recently and demanded custody of the child 14 years later. They had to also move the Child Welfare Committee, Mumbai. The court observed that the regrettable upshot of this was that the child had to spend two months at the remand home in Umarkhadi, away from the only family she has known since birth. The court further observed that the matter assumes a sinister aspect over allegations that she was previously abducted or of her custody forcibly taken resulting in her stay at the remand home. The biological mother now, apparently lives in the same neighbourhood in Tardeo.
This means that the child is today almost entirely confined to the petitioners' house as there is a significant risk to her when she goes to school, or to play with her friends. Justice Gautam Patel had a meeting with the petitioners' lawyer and then spoke to the child and found her to be intelligent and articulate, but she was unprepared or unable to tell him a few things and hence the court requested a deputy official assignee for her assistance. The assignee met the girl separately, where the child spoke freely.
The court said
"In her conversation with me, the child was clear that she did not want to be with the biological mother. She is, after all, 14 and her wishes cannot be brushed aside. She refers to petitioners as parents and brothers. She is equally clear that her focus just now is on completing her schooling," Justice Patel said. The next task is to issue directions to ensure her safety until her biological mother is brought before the court and heard.
Woman lawyer to shelter child
Advocate Merchant has agreed to make available her own residence for a temporary period with sufficient security in the interest of the child. Merchant has volunteered to bear all costs and is seeking no compensation or repayment. The matter will be heard again on July 24.
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