If a minor is in the custody of biological mother, the natural guardianship can be presumed and hence, the custody is lawful

High Court of Kerala: The Division Bench comprising of V. Chitambaresh and Sathish Ninnan, JJ., recently dealt with a writ petition filed by the mother for presenting the child in question to the Court since he had allegedly been removed from her custody without any orders from a court of law.

The petitioner contended that following her separation from her husband, despite her having full custody of the child, he was taken away by his paternal grand parents from his maternal aunt’s house while she was away working and was never returned back. The paternal grand parents refuted the claims and instead alleged that he was found abandoned in a store nearby the school. They also contended that by virtue of their son, the father of the child, being the natural guardian and since he was living abroad, they would have custody of the child.

The Court referred to Section 352 of Mulla’s Principles of Mahomedan Law wherein it has been laid down that a mother is entitled to the custody of her male child until he has completed 7 years of age or her girl child until she has attained puberty. The only exception to the rule arises if the mother has remarried, in which case, the father gets custody of the child. In the present case, since the child has not completed 7 years, the mother gets the custody.

The Court also acknowledged that the question of guardianship is separate from that of custody as was held in Athar Hussain v. Syed Siraj Ahmed, (2010) 2 SCC 654. The Court also referred to Nithya Anand Raghavan v. State (NCT of Delhi),  (2017) 8 SCC 454 wherein it was held that at the threshold the High Court is only supposed to examine whether “the minor is in lawful custody” of the respondent or not and a natural guardian would constitute as one by default. The biological mother is one such natural guardian. Once such a factor has been ascertained, only in exceptional cases can writ petitions for removal of guardianship of the child from the mother be entertained by the High Courts.

The Court thus ordered for the custody of the child to be returned to the mother and the parties to move the Family Court for further remedies if needed. It quoted Cardinal Mermillod’s famous quote, “A mother is she who can take the place of all others, but whose place no one else can take”. [Ancy A. v. Station House Officer, WP(Crl). No. 42 of 2018, order dated 7-2-2018]

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