LONDON / CHENNAI (TIP): An Indian-origin couple who won a major UK court appeal recently that prevented their children from losing their Indian citizenship are now appealing for authorities in Britain to allow their two minor children in foster care in Britain to be reunited with their family to live in India.
The parents, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are originally from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu and moved to the UK in 2004. They lost all contact with their children – a son aged 11 and daughter aged 9 – in August 2015 when they were taken into the care of the local childcare authorities in Birmingham.
Their case has been going through the family courts in Britain and last week, a UK Court of Appeal judgment concluded that the Birmingham Children’s Trust must seek the court’s approval before any attempt to apply for British citizenship for the children in the face of “parental opposition”.
“I am an Indian national. The children are Indian nationals too. We would love to go to India. We don’t want British citizenship for the children. We have made this clear,” said the 52-year-old father, a civil engineer struggling to make ends meet in Birmingham.
“The Indian High Commission supported the return of my children in the court proceedings,” he said.
The Consulate General of India (CGI) in Birmingham said it has been providing consular and legal assistance to the parents in their four-year-long legal battle.
“We had submitted in the honorable Family Court in Birmingham that the Indian Consulate wishes to provide assistance for the children’s welfare needs and provide the necessary arrangements to provide the Indian passports for the children and will fund the costs of the flights and transportation to India and overseeing their care arrangements,” the CGI in Birmingham noted in a statement.
The CGI said that it continues to offer support and monitor the progress in the case and had also assisted the parents to procure a home study report from the Child Welfare Committee, District Nagapattinam, regarding prospective custodians of the children in Tamil Nadu.
“We must understand that the case is sub-judice and any comments on this case may not be appropriate,” the Indian consulate noted.
The case was described by the UK Court of Appeal as a “challenging one for everyone”, with the Tamil-speaking parents requiring interpreters.
In the latest appeal, the father was represented by prominent Indian lawyer Harish Salve, who argued that a change of citizenship marks a “fundamental change” and “matter of great moment”, which may or may not be in the children’s interests.
The reasons behind the children’s removal from their parents” care were not revealed in court but a previous ruling in December last year determined that the minor boy and girl must remain in long-term foster care for the remainder of their childhoods.
“My sole purpose of staying back here [in Birmingham] is to get my children released from the UK authorities and have them returned to India, whether with or to approved relatives… The children will lead a peaceful life with safety and security in India,” said the father, speaking in Tamil.
His wife, a 45-year-old Indian national also from Tamil Nadu, is now living in Singapore with her mother and the couple’s four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, born after she left the UK while pregnant over fears of losing her third child to foster care as well.
“Don’t I care for my third child well now? Their accusations are just false. They separated my children from me… I was not able to comprehend what was happening and I was just stunned. I asked for an interpreter since I could not understand English much,” said the tearful mother from Singapore, also speaking in Tamil.
In court, she was assisted by Delhi-based advocate Nandita Rao, described as a legally qualified “McKenzie friend” – or someone who assists a litigant in UK court proceedings by giving advice.
“In my personal capacity, as a person interested in child rights, I would suggest that the Birmingham authority ought to assess its capacity to preserve the nationality of children (who are not citizens of the UK) in the foster care system,” said Mr Rao.
“Nationality has a de jure part (i.e. identity in law) and a de facto part (cultural identity). The latter includes preserving the language, food habits, social and family contacts of the child. If the authority is not in a position to ensure the cultural identity of a child is preserved… the local authority should explore foster care for the child in his home country, unless the child is an asylum seeker or has a risk of persecution in its home country,” she said.
The local authority, the Birmingham Children’s Trust, said it was considering the implications of the judgment handed down by the UK Court of Appeal on August 6.
“We have received the judgement and we will be considering the outcome and implications in our future practice,” said a spokesperson for the Birmingham Children’s Trust.
Last week’s ruling had acknowledged that changing a child’s citizenship was a “momentous step” and not a routine matter.
“Changing a child’s citizenship is a momentous step with profound and enduring consequences that requires the most careful consideration… The local authority should now indicate whether it wishes to progress the matter, in which case we will give appropriate directions,” it noted.