Friday, July 6, 2018
How a law firm helped a teen caught between foster family and her mother
Last week, our older son's boss sent me an email. I was intrigued. Our son Harsh is a lawyer, and has nothing in common with my profession.
Opening the mail, I found a detailed note attached by Harsh's senior and a mail trail. He was all praise for Harsh and said this will make you proud as his parents. Reading the attachment, we knew why he said this.
Below are the details (as mentioned in an internal note) about a humanitarian case that Harsh and a couple of his colleagues in the well-known law firm DSK Legal--headquartered in Mumbai--handled and prevented a minor girl from being taken away from her foster parents. This story has made into the papers this week but irrespective of the traction it has gained, it was nice to know what young people--brought up in the right atmosphere--can accomplish even when working in a commercial law firm, provided the bosses are equally humane. It of course makes us feel happy but this case also shows that not all lawyers and legal firms are mercenaries.
A minor girl child, aged 14 years was born to a Hindu mother in Mumbai. She came into the care and protection of a Muslim family residing in Tardeo upon the request of her biological mother. At this time, she was only 2 months old.
Ever since, the foster family has brought up the child retaining her identity of name and religion. The family cared for and educated the child for fourteen years. They extended to her, natural love and affection as they did for their other children residing within the same house.
Fourteen years later and earlier this year, the biological mother returned to take forceful custody of the child and take her to Kanpur. Despite repeated attempts, the child and foster family refused to handover custody of the child to the biological mother and her accomplice from Kanpur. The child resisted all such attempts pleading that she wishes to continue staying with the foster family. These forceful attempts continued at the girl’s school as well. Taking cognizance of this nuisance, the teachers of her school were compelled to call the Child Line Services to seek their intervention.
The call resulted in the child being shifted to the Dongri Childrens Home and later to an anonymous NGO’s hostel. Neither the foster parents nor the biological mother were permitted to meet the girl for over 2 months.
The Child Welfare Committee, established under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2006 conducted various hearings as they are by law mandated to ascertain the best interest of the child and further expected to take decisions regarding the child’s welfare including handing over custody of the child to the foster family or the biological mother.
It was at this time that an old client of ours recommend the foster family approach us for assistance. Our team gladly took on the matter.
At the first hearing before the Child Welfare Committee, we appeared as friends of the foster family due to lawyers being disallowed from appearing. We filed an interim application seeking that the child be repatriated to the foster family in light of the fact that the child has been brought up in this family for over 14 years. We further argued that the state of children’s homes in Mumbai is unfortunate and that the child ought not to continue staying there.
However, the Committee acted with extreme cautiousness in this matter. This was possibly due to the biological mother and her advocate from Kanpur’s pressure on the Committee. We understand that they filed several petitions, complaints and applications in various fora to seek custody of the child and repatriate her to Kanpur.
During the course of these hearing, the girl child was insistent that she does not want to reside with anyone but the foster family. However and perhaps employing abundant caution, the child was subject to several rounds of counselling to reaffirm the same. The child remained in the NGO’s hostel for over 60 days during the course of these hearings.
Meanwhile, we also filed a Guardianship Petition before the Hon’ble Bombay High Court praying that the foster family be appointed as legal guardians of the child to the exclusion of her natural guardians.
The Child Welfare Committee finally rendered its decision on June 26, 2018 granting custody of the child back to the foster family. She is now reunited with her family after the lapse of 2 months. A picture of the family as reunited is attached.
The team working on this matter was that of Harsh Gokhale, Nausher Kohli and Samit Shukla.
Harsh could be of help because he a MSW from TISS and has had some experience in handling such cases before becoming a lawyer.
Later the story got some play in the media.