The Supreme Court judgement allowing a single, unwed mother to be the sole guardian of her child without requiring the biological father’s consent, has been hailed as a noteworthy step towards gender equality. Until this landmark ruling, a mother applying for sole guardianship needed prior consent of the biological father under the law, specifically Section 11 of the Guardians and Wards Act. Again, Section 19 of this Act mandated that a mother cannot be the sole guardian if the father is alive and fit. It is this state of affairs the apex court has chosen to put an end to, making some acute observations about the realities of modern nuclear families. ‘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 learned judges commented. The apex court has also acknowledged that the predomint legal thought across the world and in some statutes in India is that ‘a mother is best suited to care for her child’. Along with this, the Supreme Court took a stern view about indifferent, absentee fathers having the fil say about the child’s status merely by virtue of being the biological male parent. It has observed that giving legal recognition to such a father would be an ‘exercise in futility’.
The case had come on appeal to the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court and a local Guardian Court had rejected the petition of a woman, a Christian by faith and a gazetted government officer, seeking sole guardianship over her minor son. The woman had contended that the child’s biological father had stayed with her barely for two months, and had later married and raised a family. He thereafter never showed any interest in her child, whom she raised on her own. She now wanted guardianship rights so that her son could inherit her fincial assets. It was repugnt for her to disclose the father’s identity before the court and issue a legal notice to him seeking sole guardianship of the child. Agreeing with her, the Supreme Court ruled that the lower courts had erred in deciding the matter without taking into account the ‘welfare of the child’. With the apex court now allowing unwed mothers to keep secret the identity of the biological father of their child, hopefully single motherhood will gain some acceptance and dignity in Indian society. Unwed mothers can now get birth certificates issued for their biological child merely by furnishing an affidavit to this effect. This promises to put an end to uncomfortable questions about a child’s fatherhood even in school admissions. It is high time that unwed mothers, who have for long battled against an unsympathetic, patriarchal mindset — now get to enjoy the rights of a legal and tural guardian for their children, while fulfilling all their responsibilities to the hilt.