Blog, stories and articles on personal issues and challenges faced by South Asians and Non Resident Indians (NRIs)

Needed: Laws for kids of broken NRI marriages

Child custody battles have become part of everyday lingo for the 25-million NRI populace. Ali, a British national, married Zeenat in 1987 at Hyderabad, and the couple had two sons in ‘88 and ‘91. They divorced in ‘97 and though Zeenat got custody of the boys she could not get them out of UK. But in ‘98 , she managed to get them to India. Ali found them in 2004, and a long legal proceeding in India later, met his children last year. All this while the boys lived a life in an alien country with no friends. And without their father.

This, by no means is an exceptional tale of woe, for scores of NRI marriages hit rock bottom, end in divorce and the children forced to live in a culture they had no clue about before setting sight.

Take the case of Nirmaljit, a UK citizen, who married Gagandeep, a man from Punjab, in 1980. The couple had a son the following year in England, where they were based, before the almost inevitable divorce in ‘85. Nirmaljit got the custodial rights, but her ex-husband “abducted” the child and left England - against court ruling. After eight years of legal battle Nirmaljit traced her son in the US.

According to reports and statistics, “child abduction” - just what Gagandeep did - and child custody battles have become part of everyday lingo for the 25-million NRI populace. With different laws in force in different countries, it’s a nightmare of the worst order for the children, especially those “abducted” to India, as the legal eagles go about their business.

Under Indian law, foreign courts’ judgments in child custody disputes are taken as only one aspect for deciding the custody right. Anil Malhotra, a Supreme Court advocate, says: “There is no statutory law in India regarding child abduction, and the grind begins just there. When abducted, children lean towards the parent who’s removed them (from their base), which creates a psychological imbalance. “For, out of guilt the parent starts involving the minor in marital decisions, besides depriving the child from native environment.”

Malhotra says the need of the hour is “proper child protection laws - not country-biased but beneficial for the child. The parent who comes looking for the child from abroad has neither the time nor is well-versed with Indian Law. “Punjab’s family courts have no counselor (or) psychologist to help make a child-sensitive decision.” Experts say child welfare decisions are social problems, not just legal dilemma.

According to them, the country needs welfare agencies and child protection homes to care for children from broken NRI marriages on the rise. ‘Cheat NRI wedding’ victim now fights to save other possible victims
A PhD scholar at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University; a founder-member of ‘Ark Foundation’, an NGO working for women’s empowerment and community health and education; and someone who does not want to settle abroad. No matter the cost.

Sneha Singh does not readily fit the bill as a woman duped by an NRI husband following a “cheat marriage". Still, she is. Her advise for Indian parents now is to be extra-vigilant while marrying their daughters off to the growing NRI community.

“I was educated, fully aware of my rights and was already running my Foundation. But still I got into a cheat marriage, where my ex-husband hid several personal and professional details from me and my family,” Singh told Newsline today on the sidelines of a two-day workshop on ‘Problems of NRI marriages’, organised here by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and National Commission for Woman.

A month after the December 2003 wedding, “I discovered that his claims, that he worked as a software professional in the US, were wrong. He did not even have a regular job. His family, too, hid his schizophrenic traits.” Going back to the tumult of her marriage, she says: “My husband filed for divorce a few months later on the grounds that I was a criminal and should be put behind bars. But after a legal battle for over nine months, the court nullified his complaint and gave me divorce this February.”

Now, in a bid to guide others girls Singh has decided to start a separate legal cell on NRI marriages. The idea, she says, is to offer legal counselling to those willing to get into NRI marriages. -

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