Can we force a 16 year-old girl to interact with mother, asks SC

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Can we force a 16 year-old girl to interact with mother, asks SC
© Provided by The Times of India

NEW DELHI: In today’s world, can a 16-year-old girl be forced by the court to interact with her mother when she feels secure with her father and does not want to talk to her mother, the Supreme Court asked the US-based mother who accused her estranged husband of poisoning the minds of her two daughters after surreptitiously fleeing with them to India.

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Appearing for the US-based mother belonging to the Parsi community, senior advocate Sidharth Luthra said that the daughters were just 15 and 13 years old when her husband fled with their daughters to India in August 2019 after assuring a US court, where she had filed a divorce suit in 2017, that he would return back within two weeks. Since then it has been a struggle for the mother to even talk to her daughters over the phone or video calls, Luthra complained.

Appearing for the husband, senior advocate Sidharth Bhatnagar told the court that one of the daughters has attained the age of majority and is studying abroad while the other daughter is now 16 years of age. Since they do not want to interact with the mother, there is little the husband could do in this regard, he said.

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A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli said, “The youngest girl is of 16 years. In today’s world, anyone who is 16 years or above, decides what is good for her/him. You think a father can tutor a 16-year-old?” The court also asked the mother how many times had she attempted to interact with her daughters in the past year.

“We cannot hold their hand and force them to interact with their mother. The court can only decide whether the children have taken a conscious decision,” the CJI-led bench said and asked the husband whether he could arrange for a video-conference meeting with the two daughters. Bhatnagar said no orders are required to be passed and that he would arrange for it voluntarily on Wednesday.

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Even the Bombay HC, after interacting with the two daughters, had pronounced a judgment on March 24 last year rejecting the US-based mother’s plea for custody of the children. It had said, “We are of the opinion that even though the petitioner is the mother of the children, that alone cannot be a factor for passing an order in her favour. The daughters have been in India now for the better part of three years and one of the daughters would soon be attaining the age of majority.”

“Taking an overall view of the facts of the present case, we are of the opinion that it would be in the best interest of the daughters of the petitioner and their father, that the prayers made on behalf of the petitioner in this writ petition are not granted. … we are unable to persuade ourselves to hold that the daughters are in improper or illegal custody of the father. There can be no doubt about the fact that this opinion, which we have expressed, cannot have any effect on the right that the petitioner may assert as regards custody of the daughters in appropriate proceedings, which would have to be decided in accordance with the law,” the HC had said while granting the mother the right of visiting her daughters in India, cost of which would be borne by her estranged husband.

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