Single mums welcome Delhi HC’s ruling on child passports

If you were a single mum until a couple of months back in India, you wouldn't be able to take your child and travel without the father's consent. Finally Delhi High Court has thrown away this rule with a new ruling. Here's the report -CHENNAI: When Mythili Krishnan, a single mother, got a job opportunity in New York, she felt like she was on cloud nine. A data mining analyst with an MNC, all she wanted was to get out of Chennai with her child and leave behind the memories of her divorce. But reality hit hard at the passport office when she was informed she could not leave without the child's father's signature.With the recent ruling in the Delhi high court that a single mother can apply for a child's passport without the father's signature, women in the same situation as Mythili are overjoyed as they feel it is a vindication for them; their struggle and their identity .The Delhi high court also observed that, "In today's society, where women are choosing to raise their children alone, we see no purpose in imposing an unwilling and unconcerned father on an otherwise viable family nucleus. It seems to us that a man who has chosen to forsake his duties and responsibilities is not a necessary constituent for the well-being of the child."Activists say this ruling will bring the right balance to the system. "In India, in 90%-95% cases, custody is given to the mother, unless she has a criminal record or she can be proved insane. But at the passport office, it's a different scenario. There, a father - divorced, separated, single or legally married, has complete authority and can get a passport without the mother's consent. Only if he tries to take the child out of the country can the mother get a court injunction to prevent this. But for a single mother, she cannot even apply for a passport without the father's signature and a no objection certificate. So this is a great step towards more gender-neutral parenting laws," says Suresh Ram, member of the Chennai chapter of All India Men's Welfare Association (AIMWA).Women activists hailed the move. "For decades, fathers - single or otherwise - were able to apply and get their kids' passports without the need for the mother's signature in India. So if fathers can do that, mothers should also have the same rights. So we welcome the move. We have known of cases, where fathers have surreptitiously tried to take the child out of the country or in other words kidnap the child," say activists. "Many laws in this country greatly discriminate against women. This is an important judgement that will give great personal liberty and economic freedom for women," says women activist and Tamil writer Salma.All adult women - single mothers including - have freedom to leave the country for however long they wish and for whatever reason. But it is an emotional choice/decision that they don't want to leave without their son/daughter - bringing up the passport problem, say single mothers. "In most custody battles, fathers get visitation rights, which means a single mother cannot leave the city, the state or the country without due permission and consultation with the father and the courts," says Bindhya S, a single mother.
 P Wilson, former additional solicitor general of India believes that this "highly progressive move" will go a long way in helping single mothers as the ruling covers unwed mothers, sex workers, surrogate mothers, rape survivors, children abandoned by father and also children born through IVF technology. "This is a landmark judgement and will do a lot towards liberating women. I have personally faced a lot of discrimination as a single mother. The insistence on the father's name, initials and presence when one applies to a school or for a passport - is outdated anarchic system that demeans a woman and her role in bringing up a child," says retired police official G Thilakavathi, who was the first woman from TN to become an IPS officer in 1976.

 Lawyers though say that it will take some time for the decision to be implemented by the passport office. "The ruling directs the passport office to accept applications even where the father's name is not mentioned. Earlier, the software didn't permit such an entry. Now with the ruling that procedures should not in any way hamper an individual's liberty it will bring great relief in certain quarters; particularly for unwed mothers and rape victims," says Beaula Jemima, a lawyer.

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