20 Feb 2023 4:30 PM GMT
The Supreme Court observed that DNA tests of children born during the subsistence of a valid marriage may be directed only when there is sufficient prima-facie material to dislodge the presumption under Section 112 of the Evidence Act."Children have the right not to have their legitimacy questioned frivolously before a Court of Law. This is an essential attribute of the right to privacy",...
The Supreme Court observed that DNA tests of children born during the subsistence of a valid marriage may be directed only when there is sufficient prima-facie material to dislodge the presumption under Section 112 of the Evidence Act.
"Children have the right not to have their legitimacy questioned frivolously before a Court of Law. This is an essential attribute of the right to privacy", the bench of Justices V Ramasubramanian and B V Nagarathna observed.
The court also observed that it is not prudent to draw an adverse inference under Section 114 of the Evidence Act, in every case where a parent refuses to subject the child to a DNA test.
In this case, a husband filed an application seeking a direction to subject second child born to the wife, during the subsistence of her marriage with the respondent, to deoxyribonucleic acid test (“DNA test”), with a view to ascertain his paternity. This application was filed in a divorce proceedings. The Family Court allowed it and the said order was affirmed by the Bombay High Court.
While setting aside the order, the Apex Court bench made the following observations:
DNA Tests : Principles Summarized
i. That a DNA test of a minor child is not to be ordered routinely, in matrimonial disputes. Proof by way of DNA profiling is to be directed in matrimonial disputes involving allegations of infidelity, only in matters where there is no other mode of proving such assertions.
ii. DNA tests of children born during the subsistence of a valid marriage may be directed, only when there is sufficient prima-facie material to dislodge the presumption under Section 112 of the Evidence Act. Further, if no plea has been raised as to non-access, in order to rebut the presumption under Section 112 of the Evidence Act, a DNA test may not be directed.
iii. A Court would not be justified in mechanically directing a DNA test of a child, in a case where the paternity of a child is not directly in issue, but is merely collateral to the proceeding.
iv. Merely because either of the parties have disputed a factum of paternity, it does not mean that the Court should direct DNA test or such other test to resolve the controversy. The parties should be directed to lead evidence to prove or disprove the factum of paternity and only if the Court finds it impossible to draw an inference based on such evidence, or the controversy in issue cannot be resolved without DNA test, it may direct DNA test and not otherwise. In other words, only in exceptional and deserving cases, where such a test becomes indispensable to resolve the controversy the Court can direct such test.
v. While directing DNA tests as a means to prove adultery, the Court is to be mindful of the consequences thereof on the children born out of adultery, including inheritance-related consequences, social stigma, etc.
Children have the right not to have their legitimacy questioned frivolously before a Court of Law.
Children have the right not to have their legitimacy questioned frivolously before a Court of Law. This is an essential attribute of the right to privacy. Courts are therefore required to acknowledge that children are not to be regarded like material objects, and be subjected to forensic/DNA testing, particularly when they are not parties to the divorce proceeding. It is imperative that children do not become the focal point of the battle between spouses whether an adverse presumption can be drawn in the nature of Illustration (h) to Section 114, as to the wife’s adulterous conduct when she refuses to comply with a direction for the child to undergo a DNA test.
The concept of privacy for a child may not be equivalent to that of an adult.
The concept of privacy for a child may not be equivalent to that of an adult. However, the evolving capacity of children has been recognised and the Convention acknowledges the control that individuals, including children, have over their own personal boundaries and the means by which they define who they are in relation to other people. Children are not to be deprived of this entitlement to influence and understand their sense of self simply by virtue of being children. Further, Article 8 of the Convention provides children with an express right to preserve their identity. Details of parentage are an attribute of a child’s identity. Therefore, long-accepted notions about a child’s parentage must not be frivolously challenged before Courts of Law.
Finding as to illegitimacy, if revealed in a DNA test, would, at the very least adversely affect the child psychologically.
It is undeniable that a finding as to illegitimacy, if revealed in a DNA test, would, at the very least adversely affect the child psychologically. It can cause not only confusion in the mind of the child but a quest to find out who the real father is and a mixed feeling towards a person who may have nurtured the child but is not the biological father. Not knowing who one’s father is creates a mental trauma in a child. One can imagine, if, after coming to know the identity of the biological father what greater trauma and stress would impact on a young mind. Proceedings which are in rem have a real impact on not only the child but also on the relationship between the mother and the child itself which is otherwise sublime. It has been said that parents of a child may have an illegitimate relationship but a child born out of such a relationship cannot carry the stamp of illegitimacy on its forehead, as, such a child has no role to play in its birth. An innocent child cannot be traumatised and subjected to extreme stress and tension in order to discover its paternity. That is why Section 112 of the Evidence Act speaks about a conclusive presumption regarding the paternity of a child, subject to a rebuttal, as provided in the second part of the Section. In today’s world, there can even be a race to claim paternity of a child so as to invade upon its rights, particularly, if such a child is endowed with property and wealth. There could also be exclusions in a testament doubting the paternity of a child or an evasion in performance of parental obligations such as payment of maintenance or living and educational expenses by simply doubting the paternity of a child. In many cases, this would cast a doubt on the chastity of the mother of a child when no such doubt could arise. As a result, the reputation and dignity of a mother of a child would be jeopardised in society. What is of utmost importance for a lady who is the mother of a child is to protect her chastity as well as her dignity and reputation, in that, she would also preserve the dignity of her child. No woman, particularly, who is married can be exposed to an enquiry on the paternity of a child she has given birth to in the face of Section 112 of the Evidence Act subject to the presumption being rebutted by strong and cogent evidence. Section 112 particularly speaks about birth of a child during marriage and raises a conclusive presumption about legitimacy. Section 112 has recognised the institution of marriage i.e., a valid marriage for the purpose of conferring legitimacy on children born during the subsistence of such a marriage.
A child should not be lost in its search for paternity
As to children born outside a valid marriage, the personal law of respective parties would apply. But in the cases of children born from a relationship in the nature of marriage and when the parents are in a domestic relationship or those born as a result of a sexual assault or to those who are in a casual relationship or to those forced or subjected to render sexual favours and beget children, the problem of their legitimacy gets complex and is serious. A child should not be lost in its search for paternity. Precious childhood and youth cannot be lost in a quest to know about one’s paternity. Therefore, the wholesome object of Section 112 of the Evidence Act which confers legitimacy on children born during the subsistence of a valid marriage, subject to the same being rebutted by cogent and strong evidence, is to be preserved. Children of today are citizens and the future of a nation. The confidence and happiness of a child who is showered with love and affection by both parents is totally distinct from that of a child who has no parents or has lost a parent and still worse, is that of a child whose paternity is in question without there being any cogent reason for the same. The plight of a child whose paternity and thus his legitimacy, is questioned would sink into a vortex of confusion which can be confounded if Courts are not cautious and responsible enough to exercise discretion in a most judicious and cautious manner.
Questions surrounding paternity have a significant impact on the identity of a child.
Further, questions surrounding paternity have a significant impact on the identity of a child. Routinely ordering DNA tests, particularly in cases where the issue of paternity is merely incidental to the controversy at hand, could, in some cases even contribute to a child suffering an identity crisis. It is also necessary to take into account that some children, although born during the subsistence of a marriage and on the desire and consent of the married couple to beget a child, may have been conceived through processes involving sperm donation, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). In such cases, a DNA test of the child, could lead to misleading results. The results may also cause a child to develop a sense of mistrust towards the parents, and frustration owing to the inability to search for their biological fathers. Further, a child’s quest to locate its biological father may compete with the right to anonymity of the sperm donor. Having regard to such factors, a parent may, in the best interests of the child, choose not to subject a child to a DNA test. It is also, antithetical to the fundamentals of the right to privacy to require a person to disclose, in the course of proceedings in rem, the medical procedures resorted to in order to conceive.
Not prudent to draw an adverse inference in every cases
The reasons for the parent’s refusal may be several, and hence, it is not prudent to draw an adverse inference under Section 114 of the Evidence Act, in every case where a parent refuses to subject the child to a DNA test. Therefore, it is necessary that only in exceptional and deserving cases, where such a test becomes indispensable to resolve the controversy, the Court can direct such test. Further, a direction to conduct DNA test of a child, is to be ordered even rarely, in cases where the paternity of a child is not directly in issue but is merely collateral to the proceeding, such as in the instant case.
Aparna Ajinkya Firodia vs Ajinkya Arun Firodia | 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 122 | SLP (C) No.9855/2022 | 20 Feb 2023 | Justices V Ramasubramanian and B V Nagarathna
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