SC grants right to adoption to Muslims


Court :
Supreme Court of India

Brief :
The Bench comprising of CJI, P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh granted the Muslim petitioner, Shabnam Hashmi, right to adopt child through the Juvenile Justice(Care and Protection of Children) Act route, despite the Muslim Personal Law's prohibition on adoption. The Court said that ''Personal beliefs and faiths, though must be honoured, cannot dictate the operation of the provisions of an enabling statute. At the cost of repetition we would like to say that an optional legislation that does not contain an unavoidable imperative cannot be stultified by principles of personal law which, however, would always continue to govern any person who chooses to so submit himself until such time that the vision of a uniform Civil Code is achieved. The same can only happen by the collective decision of the generation(s) to come to sink conflicting faiths and beliefs that are still active as on date...'' However, the bench headed by the CJI, didn't accept Hashmi's plea to declare right to adoption a Fundamental Right.

Citation :
Lakshmi Kant Pandey Vs. Union of India In re: Manuel Theodore D’souza Philips Alfred Malvin Vs. Y.J.Gonsalvis & Ors

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 470 OF 2005

REPORTABLE

SHABNAM HASHMI        ...    PETITIONER(S)

VERSUS

UNION OF INDIA & ORS.        ...  RESPONDENT (S) 

RANJAN GOGOI, J.

J U D G M E N T

1. Recognition of the right to adopt and to be adopted as a 

fundamental  right  under  Part-III  of  the  Constitution is  the 

vision  scripted  by  the  public  spirited  individual  who  has 

moved this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.  There 

is an alternative prayer  requesting the Court  to lay down 

optional guidelines enabling adoption of children by persons 

irrespective of religion,  caste,  creed etc.  and further for a 

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direction  to  the  respondent  Union  of  India  to  enact  an 

optional  law the  prime  focus  of  which  is  the  child  with 

considerations like religion etc. taking a hind seat.  

2. The  aforesaid  alternative  prayer  made  in  the  writ 

petition appears to have been substantially fructified by the 

march  that  has  taken  place  in this  sphere  of  law,  gently 

nudged by the judicial verdict in Lakshmi Kant Pandey Vs. 

Union of India

1

 and the supplemental, if not consequential, 

legislative innovations in the shape of  the Juvenile Justice 

(Care And Protection of Children) Act,  2000 as amended in 

2006 (hereinafter  for  short  ‘the JJ  Act,  2000)  as  also The 

Juvenile  Justice  (Care  and  Protection  of  Children)  Rules 

promulgated in the year 2007 (hereinafter for short  ‘the JJ 

Rules, 2007’).  

3. The alternative prayer made in the writ petition may be 

conveniently dealt with at the outset.

The decision of  this Court  in  Lakshmi  Kant  Pandey 

(supra) is a high watermark in the development of the law 

relating to adoption.   Dealing with inter-country adoptions, 

1

 (1984) 2 SCC 244

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elaborate guidelines had been laid by this Court to protect 

and further the interest of the child.  A regulatory body, i.e., 

Central  Adoption Resource  Agency  (for  short  ‘CARA’)  was 

recommended for  creation and accordingly set  up by the 

Government of India in the year 1989.  Since then, the said 

body has been playing a pivotal role, laying down norms both 

substantive and procedural, in the matter of inter as well as 

in  country  adoptions.   The  said  norms  have  received 

statutory recognition on being notified by the Central  Govt. 

under Rule 33 (2) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection 

of Children) Rules,  2007 and are today in force throughout 

the  country,  having  also  been  adopted  and  notified  by 

several  states  under  the  Rules  framed  by  the  states  in 

exercise of the Rule making power under Section 68 of the JJ 

Act, 2000.

4. A brief  outline  of  the  statutory  developments  in  the 

concerned sphere may now be sketched.  

In stark contrast to the provisions of the JJ Act, 2000 in 

force as on date,  the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (hereinafter 

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for short ‘the JJ  Act, 1986’) dealt with only “neglected” and 

“delinquent juveniles”.  While the provisions of the 1986 Act 

dealing with delinquent  juveniles  are  not  relevant  for  the 

present, all that was contemplated for a ‘neglected juvenile’ 

is custody in a juvenile home or  an order  placing such a 

juvenile under the care of a parent, guardian or other person 

who was  willing to  ensure his  good behaviour  during the 

period of observation as fixed by the Juvenile Welfare Board. 

The JJ Act, 2000 introduced a separate chapter i.e. Chapter IV 

under  the  head  ‘Rehabilitation  and  Social 

Reintegration’ for a child in need of care and protection. 

Such rehabilitation and social reintegration was to be carried 

out alternatively by adoption or foster care or sponsorship or 

by sending the child to an after-care organization.  Section 

41 contemplates adoption though it makes it clear that the 

primary responsibility for providing care and protection to a 

child is his immediate family.  Sections 42, 43 and 44 of the JJ 

Act,  2000 deals  with alternative methods  of  rehabilitation 

namely,  foster care,  sponsorship and being looked after by 

an after-care organisation.  

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5. The JJ Act, 2000, however did not define ‘adoption’ and 

it  is  only  by  the  amendment  of  2006  that  the  meaning 

thereof came to be expressed in the following terms:

“2(aa)-“adoption”  means  the  process  through

which the adopted child is permanently separated

from  his  biological  parents  and  become  the

legitimate child of his adoptive parents with all the

rights,  privileges  and  responsibilities  that  are

attached to the relationship”

6. In fact, Section 41 of the JJ Act, 2000 was substantially 

amended in 2006 and for the first time the responsibility of 

giving  in  adoption  was  cast  upon  the  Court  which  was 

defined by the JJ  Rules,  2007 to mean a civil  court  having 

jurisdiction in matters of adoption and guardianship including 

the court of the district judge, family courts and the city civil 

court.  [Rule 33 (5)]  Substantial changes were made in the 

other  sub-sections of  Section 41 of  the JJ  Act,  2000.  The 

CARA, as an institution, received statutory recognition and so 

did the guidelines framed by it and notified by the Central 

Govt. [Section 41(3)].

7. In exercise of the rule making power vested by Section 

68 of the JJ Act, 2000, the JJ Rules, 2007 have been enacted. 

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Chapter  V of  the said Rules deal  with  rehabilitation and 

social  reintegration.   Under  Rule 33(2) guidelines issued 

by the CARA,  as notified by the Central  Government under 

Section 41 (3) of the JJ Act, 2000, were made applicable to all 

matters relating to adoption.  It appears that pursuant to the 

JJ  Rules,  2007  and  in  exercise  of  the  rule  making  power 

vested by the JJ Act, 2000 most of the States have followed 

suit and adopted the guidelines issued by CARA making the 

same  applicable  in  the  matter  of  adoption  within  the 

territorial boundaries of the concerned State.  

Rules  33(3)  and  33(4)  of  the  JJ  Rules,  2007  contain 

elaborate  provisions regulating pre-adoption procedure i.e. 

for declaring a child legally free for adoption. The Rules also 

provide for foster care (including pre-adoption foster care) of 

such children who cannot be placed in adoption & lays down 

criteria  for  selection  of  families  for  foster  care,  for 

sponsorship  and  for  being  looked  after  by  an  aftercare 

organisation.   Whatever  the Rules do not  provide for   are 

supplemented  by  the  CARA  guidelines  of  2011  which 

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additionally provide  measures  for  post  adoption follow up 

and maintenance of data of adoptions. 

8. It will now be relevant to take note of the stand of the 

Union of India.  Way back on 15

th

 May, 2006 the Union in its 

counter  affidavit  had informed the Court  that  prospective 

parents,  irrespective of their religious background,  are free 

to access the provisions of the Act for adoption of children 

after  following the procedure prescribed.   The progress on 

the ground as laid before the Court  by the Union of  India 

through  the  Ministry  of  Women  and  Child  Development 

(respondent No. 3 herein) may also be noticed at this stage. 

The Union in its  written  submission before the Court  has 

highlighted that at the end of the calendar year 2013 Child 

Welfare Committees  (CWC)  are presently functioning in a 

total of 619 districts of the country whereas State Adoption 

Resource  Agencies  (SARA)  has  been  set  up  in  26 

States/Union  Territories;  Adoption  Recommendation 

Committees (ARCs) have been constituted in 18 States/Union 

Territories  whereas  the  number  of  recognized  adoption 

organisations in the country are 395.  According to the Union 

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the  number  of  reported  adoptions  in  the  country  from 

January, 2013 to September,  2013 was 19884 out of which 

1712  cases  are  of  inter-country  adoption.   The  third 

respondent  has also drawn the attention of  the Court  that 

notwithstanding the time schedule specified in the guidelines 

of 2011 as well as in the JJ Rules, 2007 there is undue delay 

in processing of adoption cases at the level of Child Welfare 

Committees  (CWS),  the  Adoption  Recommendation 

Committees (ARCs) as well as the concerned courts.  

9. In  the  light  of  the  aforesaid  developments,  the 

petitioner in his written submission before the Court, admits 

that  the JJ  Act, 2000 is a secular law enabling any person, 

irrespective of  the religion he professes,  to take a child in 

adoption.  It is akin to the Special Marriage Act 1954, which 

enables any person living in India to get married under that 

Act,  irrespective of  the religion he follows.   JJA 2000 with 

regard to adoption is an enabling optional gender-just law, it 

is submitted.  In the written arguments filed on behalf of the 

petitioner  it  has  also  been  stated  that  in  view  of  the 

enactment of the JJ Act, 2000 and the Amending Act of 2006 

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the  prayers  made  in  the  writ  petition  with  regard  to 

guidelines to enable and facilitate  adoption of  children by 

persons  irrespective  of  religion,  caste,  creed  etc.   stands 

satisfactorily answered and that a direction be made by this 

Court  to all  States, Union Territories and authorities under 

the JJ Act, 2000 to implement the provisions of Section 41 of 

the Act and to follow the CARA guidelines as notified.

10. The All  India Muslim Personal  Law Board (hereinafter 

referred  to  as   ‘the  Board’)  which  has  been  allowed  to 

intervene  in  the  present  proceeding  has  filed  a  detailed 

written submission wherein it has been contended that under 

the  JJ  Act,  2000  adoption  is  only  one  of  the  methods 

contemplated for taking care of a child in need of care and 

protection and that  Section 41 explicitly recognizes foster 

care,  sponsorship  and  being  look  after  by  after-care 

organizations as other/  alternative modes of taking care of 

an abandoned/surrendered child.  It is contended that Islamic 

Law does not recognize an adopted child to be at par with a 

biological  child.   According  to  the  Board,  Islamic  Law 

professes what is known as the “Kafala” system under which 

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the child is placed under a ‘Kafil’ who provides for the well 

being  of  the  child including financial  support  and  thus  is 

legally allowed to take care of  the child though the child 

remains the true descendant of his biological parents and not 

that of the “adoptive” parents.  The Board contends that the 

“Kafala” system which is recognized by the United Nation’s 

Convention of the Rights of the Child under Article 20(3) is 

one of the alternate system of child care contemplated by 

the JJ Act, 2000 and therefore a direction should be issued to 

all the Child Welfare Committees to keep in mind and follow 

the principles of Islamic Law before declaring a muslim child 

available for adoption under Section 41(5) of the JJ Act, 2000. 

11. The JJ Act, 2000, as amended, is an enabling legislation 

that  gives a prospective parent  the option of  adopting an 

eligible child by following the procedure prescribed by the 

Act,  Rules and the CARA guidelines,  as notified under  the 

Act.  The Act does not mandate any compulsive action by 

any prospective parent leaving such person with the liberty 

of accessing the provisions of the Act, if he so desires.  Such 

a person is always free to adopt or choose not to do so and, 

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instead,  follow what  he comprehends to be the dictates of 

the personal law applicable to him.  To us, the Act is a small 

step  in  reaching  the  goal  enshrined  by  Article  44  of  the 

Constitution.   Personal  beliefs  and faiths,  though must  be 

honoured,  cannot dictate the operation of the provisions of 

an enabling statute.  At the cost of repetition we would like to 

say  that  an  optional  legislation  that  does  not  contain  an 

unavoidable imperative cannot be stultified by principles of 

personal  law  which,  however,  would  always  continue  to 

govern any person who chooses to so submit  himself  until 

such time that the vision of a uniform Civil Code is achieved. 

The same can only happen by the collective decision of the 

generation(s) to come to sink conflicting faiths and beliefs 

that are still active as on date. 

12. The writ petitioner has also prayed for a declaration that 

the right of a child to be adopted and that of the prospective 

parents  to  adopt  be  declared  a  fundamental  right  under 

Article  21 of  the  Constitution.   Reliance  is  placed  in  this 

regard on the views of the Bombay and Kerala High Courts in 

In re:  Manuel  Theodore D’souza

2

 (2000) 3 BomCR 244

2

 and  Philips  Alfred 

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Malvin Vs.  Y.J.Gonsalvis & Ors.

3

 respectively. The Board 

objects to such a declaration on the grounds already been 

noticed,  namely,  that  Muslim  Personal  Law  does  not 

recognize adoption though it  does not  prohibit  a childless 

couple from taking care and protecting a child with material 

and emotional support.

13. Even though no serious or substantial debate has been 

made  on behalf  of  the  petitioner  on the  issue,  abundant 

literature including the holy scripts have been placed before 

the Court  by the Board in support  of  its contention,  noted 

above.  Though enriched by the lengthy discourse laid before 

us, we do not think it necessary to go into any of the issues 

raised.   The Fundamental Rights embodied in Part-III of the 

Constitution constitute the basic human rights which inhere 

in every person and such other rights which are fundamental 

to the dignity and well being of citizens.  While it is correct 

that  the dimensions and perspectives of  the meaning and 

content  of fundamental  rights are in a process of constant 

evolution  as  is  bound  to  happen  in  a  vibrant  democracy 

where the mind is always free, elevation of the right to adopt 

3

 AIR 1999 Kerala 187

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or to be adopted to the status of a Fundamental Right, in our 

considered  view,  will  have  to  await  a  dissipation  of  the 

conflicting thought processes in this sphere of practices and 

belief  prevailing  in  the  country.  The  legislature  which  is 

better equipped to comprehend the mental preparedness of 

the  entire  citizenry  to  think  unitedly  on  the  issue  has 

expressed its view, for the present, by the enactment of the 

JJ  Act  2000  and  the  same  must  receive  due  respect. 

Conflicting  view  points  prevailing  between  different 

communities,  as on date,  on the subject makes the vision 

contemplated by Article 44 of the Constitution i.e. a Uniform 

Civil  Code a goal  yet  to be fully reached and the Court  is 

reminded of the anxiety expressed by it earlier with regard to 

the necessity to maintain restraint. All these impel us to take 

the view that  the present  is not  an appropriate  time and 

stage where the right to adopt and the right to be adopted 

can be raised to the status of a fundamental right and/or to 

understand such a right to be encompassed by Article 21 of 

the Constitution. In this regard we would like to observe that 

the  decisions  of  the  Bombay  High  Court  in  Manuel  

Theodore D’souza (supra)  and the Kerala High Court  in 

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Philips Alfred Malvin (supra)  can be best  understood to 

have been rendered in the facts  of  the respective cases. 

While the larger question i.e.  qua Fundamental  Rights was 

not directly in issue before the Kerala High Court, in Manuel  

Theodore D’souza (supra) the right to adopt was consistent 

with the canonical  law applicable to the parties who were 

Christians  by faith.   We hardly need to  reiterate  the well 

settled  principles  of  judicial  restraint,  the  fundamental  of 

which  requires  the  Court  not  to  deal  with  issues  of 

Constitutional  interpretation unless such an exercise is but 

unavoidable.

14. Consequently, the writ petition is disposed of in terms of 

our directions and observations made above.

NEW DELHI,

FEBRUARY  19, 2014.

...…………………………CJI.

[P. SATHASIVAM]

.........………………………J.

[RANJAN GOGOI]

…..........……………………J.

[SHIVA KIRTI SINGH]

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Vineet Kumar
on 20 February 2014
Published in Family Law
Views : 1807


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