Rights of a Single Mother in India

Rights of a Single Mother in India: All You Need to Know

This article on “Rights of a Single Mother in India: All You Need to Know” was written by an intern at Legal Upanishad.

Introduction

Given India’s conventional yet evolving culture, single mothers must deal with several issues ranging from being blamed for broken marriages and immoral character to dealing with rejections at school admissions for their children. In this article, we will discuss how single mothers are working hard to keep up with the developing society. We will get to know about the rights provided to single mothers in the Indian constitution. We will explore some of the landmark cases relating to such rights.

Who is a Single Mother?

In the changing society, women have evolved into a much stronger version of themselves. Now, despite all the taunting and character-shaming by society, women take up the ladder to achieve higher goals.  There are circumstances when the father is not involved in the parenting of a child.

Examples, desertion, renunciation of the world, divorce, child delivered out of wedlock, adoption by an unmarried woman, surrogacy, IVF child, etc. where the mother has to play the role of both father and mother. In such situations, the mothers are known as single mothers. But the magnitude of the challenges in the lives of single mothers is rather disruptively high, and some mothers seek professional mental help as well.

Rights of a Single Mother

Of course, women have been exploited in Indian society for many years, especially when it comes to being independent, but the Indian laws have tried to equip women with enough weapons like legal rights that they can do their rearing and bearing the children on their own. Single mothers yet face discriminatory problems like delays by registration authorities just because the child doesn’t have a father. Even though the law allows and identifies single motherhood, many officials are taken aback by the concept of “single motherhood by choice” due to a lack of clarity and ignorance about single parenthood.

As a result, even the most basic tasks, such as registering her child’s birth without disclosing the details of the biological father, become challenging for a single mother by choice. In the last ten years, numerous women have turned to the Supreme Court of India and various High Courts to defend their rights as single mothers after birth registration authorities either delayed or refused to register the birth of children solely because they were born to single mothers. [1]

Rights of a Single Mother in India
Rights of a Single Mother in India

RIGHT TO PRIVACY

Single mothers are granted the right to privacy if they wish not to disclose the name of the father of the child. In the case of R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu and others[2], it was held that “the right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21.” It is a “right to be let alone.” “A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his home, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, child-bearing, and education, among other matters.”[3]

In a world where the father disowns his wife and children, the woman should not be forced to disclose the name of the father if she wishes not to. Section 13 of the Hindu Maintenance and Guardianship Act, 1956 states that the welfare of the minor shall be the paramount consideration. A mother knows the best for her child, so if the welfare of the child is affected by disclosing the name of the father, then it is her own choice not to disclose it. The violation of the right to privacy and the child’s welfare shall not be affected.

In a landmark decision in the case of ABC vs. State (NCT of Delhi), the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India stated that there is no obligation for an unwed mother to disclose the identity of the child’s father because she can solely be the legal guardian of her child. In this case, a woman gave birth to her son in 2010 and raised him without the father’s support or assistance.[4]

RIGHT TO GUARDIANSHIP

Generally, the mother is the natural guardian of the child until the age of five, but after that, the father is the natural guardian. In addition, after the death of the father, a mother is granted full guardianship rights. The Guardianship and Wards Act, 1890, and The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 (HMGA), are the two principal Acts that regulate a parent’s or another person’s right to guardianship. Section 6 of the HMGA states that in the case of a married couple, the father is the natural guardian of the child, and the mother’s right is recognized after the father.

However, when a child is conceived out of wedlock, the mother becomes the natural guardian, and the father has no legal obligation. The mother of the child has complete guardianship rights over the illegitimate child. The SC, however, struck down the use of the word “illegitimate” as no child should be considered illegitimate. 

In a recent petition (X vs State of Kerala & Ors) submitted before the Kerala High Court, the Kerala Registration of Births and Deaths Rules were contested as far as they demand the mention of the father’s name to register the birth of a child. The Court was told that such a provision discriminates against single mothers.

RIGHT TO USE MOTHER’S SURNAME

The Delhi High Court observed in the recent case of Vindhya Saxena v East Delhi Municipal Corporation[5] that every child has the right to use his or her mother’s surname as his or her surname. “The father does not own the daughter to dictate that she should use only his surname. If the minor daughter is happy with her surname, what is your problem?” the Court asked the father, who had approached the Court.[6]

Society now acknowledges the fact that a woman has the right to keep her surname even after her marriage, so why not the children? The child must have the right to choose his or her surname. A single mother with sole custody of a minor child may give the child her maiden name.

The Supreme Court also supported a child’s right to know who his or her parents are, but it stipulated that this information must be kept private, kept in an envelope that is properly sealed, and only revealed when the court deems it to be in the child’s best interests. Nevertheless, since it is not always viable for everyone to approach the courts to assert their legal rights due to a variety of factors, existing laws about single mothers and guardianship must be amended as soon as possible.

SUGGESTIONS

As a single parent, you must fulfill the responsibilities of both parents. It can be difficult to balance multiple responsibilities. A single mother must take care of her children and provide them with everything they require, including her time, in addition to fulfilling all of her professional responsibilities. But the rights of a single mother in India are yet very limited. There must be some guidelines issued in their interest to protect them from further violations of their rights.

The law must evolve accordingly to the changing trends in society. Gone are the days of conventional parenting, and lawmakers must provide enough rules and regulations so that equity must be maintained in society. So, we can conclude that single mothers have the right to privacy, and guardianship to a certain extent. There is undoubtedly empowerment of women breaking the stigma of single mothers. 

REFERENCES

  1. Aruna, “Need to understand the rights of a single mother by choice”, Legal Bay, 14 September 2021, available at: https://www.legalbay.co.in/amp/need-to-understand-the-rights-of-a-single-mother-by-choice
  2. Padmalaya, “Right To Privacy Of Single Mothers”, Legal Services India, available at: https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-6728-right-to-privacy-of-single-mothers.html#:~:text=The%20Hon%27ble%20Supreme%20Court%20of%20India%20in%20a%20landmark,legal%20guardian%20of%20her%20child
  3. Zeb Hasan, “Father does not own daughter; every child has right to use mother’s surname: Delhi High Court”, Bar and Bench, 6 August 2021, available at: https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/father-does-not-own-daughter-every-child-has-right-to-use-mother-surname-delhi-high-court

[1] https://www.legalbay.co.in/amp/need-to-understand-the-rights-of-a-single-mother-by-choice

[2] https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2012/35071/35071_2012_Judgement_24-Aug-2017.pdf

[3] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/501107/

[4] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/162566950/

[5] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/125050568/

[6] https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/father-does-not-own-daughter-every-child-has-right-to-use-mother-surname-delhi-high-court

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