30 Sep 2023 6:15 AM GMT
In an interesting development, the Kerala High Court invoked its parens patriae jurisdiction to select the name of a child, caught in a dispute between her estranged parents with respect to what her name should be.Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas reasoned that attempting to resolve the dispute between the parents will cause inevitable delay and in the meanwhile, the absence of a name would not...
In an interesting development, the Kerala High Court invoked its parens patriae jurisdiction to select the name of a child, caught in a dispute between her estranged parents with respect to what her name should be.
Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas reasoned that attempting to resolve the dispute between the parents will cause inevitable delay and in the meanwhile, the absence of a name would not be conducive to the welfare or the best interests of the child.
"In the exercise of such a jurisdiction, the paramount consideration being the welfare of the child and not the rights of the parents, the Court has to perform the task of selecting a name for the child. While choosing a name, factors like the welfare of the child, cultural considerations, interests of parents and societal norms can be reckoned by the court. The ultimate objective being the well-being of the child, the court has to adopt a name, taking into consideration the overall circumstances. Thus, this Court is compelled to exercise its parens patriae jurisdiction to select a name for the child of the petitioner," the Court observed.
The child in question had no name on her birth certificate. Since the child was set to begin her education, the school authorities insisted on a name for her, and refused to accept the birth certificate which carried no name. When the petitioner mother attempted to register a name for the child - namely, 'Punya Nair', the Registrar insisted on the presence of both parents before him to register the name. However, the couple could not arrive at a consensus on the issue, since the father wanted to name the child 'Padma Nair'.
It is noted that the relationship between the couple had turned sour following the birth of the child. The petitioner had initially sought the help of the Family Court to compel her husband to cooperate with her in obtaining a birth certificate for the child with the name 'Punya Nair'.
The Family Court had directed both of them to appear before the Secretary of the Aluva Municipality for processing the birth certificate, which was not complied with, leaving the child still unnamed.
"Indisputably, the child has to be given a name. Fortunately, the parties are not in discord on that. Thus, the issue boils down to what should be the name to be entered in the birth certificate. The name creates an identity, which remains with the person in all probabilities forever, until varied by choice," the bench noted.
In light of the Registrar's stance that both parents had to apply to register the name of the child, the Court was also posed with the question as to whether the registration of a name in the birth certificate requires an application by both parents or only one of them.
It thus perused Section 14 of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 ('Registration of name of child') and Rule 10 of the Kerala Registration of Births and Deaths Rules, 1999, which deals with the period of purpose for Section 14 of the Act.
Justice Thomas found that the provisions employed the terms 'the parent', which could refer to either the father or the mother, or in rare contexts, both of them. The Court thus observed that the context in which the term is used would determine the nature of the meaning to be accorded.
The Court was of the considered opinion that since the Act and the Rules used the terms 'the parent' in the singular meaning and not in the plural, either the father or the mother would be entitled to get the name of the child registered.
"In cases where a dispute exists between the parents of the child, it is necessary that one of them be entitled to appear before the Registrar of Births and Deaths to provide a name. Insisting on the appearance of both parents is not contemplated as mandatory by the statute. This interpretation is essential in the context of increased instances of ‘single parent’ and considering the interests of the child," the Court said.
Taking note that such an interpretation could also lead to occasions where one parent may rush to the Registrar to incorporate the name of his or her choice for the child, the Court stated that such possibilities could not be a reason to adopt an interpretation ignoring the terminologies of the statute and rules. It added that in case any parent subsequently wishes to correct the name, they could initiate legal proceedings to do so.
In this breath, the Court also proceeded to hold a Government Circular of 2016, which permitted corrections to be carried out based on the application of the parent who has custody of the child, following the dissolution of marriage or desertion of child by any parent. The Court discerned that while the Circular was well-intended, the power to issue the same could not be traced to the Act or the Rules, save Section 32 of the Act to overcome difficulty in the implementation of the Act, which could only be for a period of two years.
It thus held that the State Government had no power to issue such a Circular.
On taking into account the factual averments of the case, the Court opined that the name suggested by the mother, with whom the child was residing at present, had to be given due importance, and added that the name of the father also had to be incorporated since the paternity was also undisputed.
The Court thus arrived at the name of 'Punya Balagangadharan Nair' or 'Punya B. Nair' for the child.
"In order to set at rest the disputes between the parties on the name, the child is directed to be given the name 'Punya’, and the name of the father - 'Balagangadharan' also be added along with the name ‘Nair’. Thus, the daughter of the petitioner, born on 12-02-2020 in the wedlock with the fourth respondent, is hereby given the name ‘Punya Balagangadharan Nair’ or ‘Punya B. Nair'," the Court held.
The petitioner was thus granted liberty to approach the Registrar and file a fresh application showing the name of the child as 'Punya B.Nair', and the Registrar was also directed to register the name without insisting on the presence or consent of both parents.
Counsel for the Petitioner: Advocates A.T. Anilkumar and V. Shylaja
Counsel for the Respondents: Advocates K.T. Thomas, Vinay Vijay Shanker, Thomas C. Abraham, and Nikhil Berny
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ker) 527
Case Title: Sangeetha R. v. The Secretary & Ors.
Case Number: WP(C) NO. 24532 OF 2023
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