Allowing women to be guardians: Panel examines bill

New Delhi, May 23 (Calcutta Tube) A parliamentary panel is scrutinising a bill aimed at giving Indian women equal rights as men in adopting children and becoming guardians of minors, including their own kids – something they are barred from under existing law.

The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 seeks to entitle women to equal rights as men on the issue of guardianship of minor children by removing a gender-discriminatory clause from a law of 1890 vintage – the Guardians and Wards Act. The bill, which also seeks to amend the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha April 22 by Law and Justice Minister M. Veerappa Moily.

As the first step to examine the proposed legislation, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Law and Justice, headed by senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Jayanthi Natarajan, has solicited public opinion on the bill. Public views and opinion were sought by the Rajya Sabha secretariat last week. These have to be submitted by the month end. The house had referred the bill to the parliamentary panel for scrutiny and fine tuning.

The bill seeks to amend the Guardians and Wards Act to entitle a minor’s mother, besides the father, to be appointed as his or her guardian. The current provisions of the law authorise courts to appoint either the father or any other person, in case the father is not alive or not fit, as the guardian of a minor child.

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill explains that the amendment will ‘include the mother along with the father as a fit person to be appointed as guardian so that courts shall not appoint any other person as a guardian of a minor if either of the parents is fit to be the guardian of such minor.’

This amendment is being made under a recommendation in the 83rd report of the Law Commission of India, the bill explained.

Similarly, the bill seeks to amend sections 8 and 9 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act to give women equal rights as men in matters of adopting children or giving her children in adoption to others.

The bill entitles any major Hindu woman of sound mind to adopt a son or daughter.

However, if married, she will have to take the consent of her husband for adopting the children, ‘unless the husband has completely and finally renounced the world or has ceased to be a Hindu or has been declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be of unsound mind’, says the bill.

The bill also seeks to entitle the mother ‘to give her child in adoption if the father is dead or has completely and finally renounced the world or has ceased to be a Hindu or has been declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be of unsound mind.’

The present provision of the law entitles only men to adopt children, give them in adoption, albeit in consultation with their living wife and not vice versa.

Explaining the reasons behind seeking to change the law, the bill says: ‘As per the census held in 2001, the female population in India constitutes about 48.26 percent of the total population.’

‘The empowerment of women by various legislative as well as other measures is an avowed policy of the government and bringing complete equality for them in all spheres of life is a matter of utmost concern,’ the statement said.

It added that while ‘the constitution of India guarantees equality of status and equality of opportunity to all citizens, irrespective of the fact whether they are men and women, there is also a growing demand for making laws free from gender bias and to provide legal equality to women in all spheres of life.’

(Rana Ajit can be contacted at rana.ajit@ians.in)

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