Sikh Couple Told They Cannot Adopt White Child – Can Human Rights Help?
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Sikh Couple Told They Cannot Adopt White Child – Can Human Rights Help?

By Harvey Slade, Associate Editor 29 Jun 2017
Discrimination, Race, Young People

British Sikh couple Sandeep and Reena Mander have been told that they cannot adopt a child because of their “cultural heritage”.

The Berkshire couple were happy to give a home to a child of any race, but told that they would not be able to adopt because only white children were available. They were also refused permission to register their interest in adopting with the agency altogether.

The couple complained to their local adoption agency about the decision, and even received backing from their local MP, Prime Minister Theresa May. They said that she was “shocked and very helpful”, with her office writing letters to the agency to argue the couple’s case. Unfortunately, even this wasn’t enough.

Why did the agency refuse them?

The couple were told that the issue had nothing to do with their capability as parents, but because their “cultural heritage was defined as ‘Indian/Pakistani’.”

In doing so, it seems that the agency is arguing two things:

  1. That they are entitled to take into account a prospective parent’s ‘cultural heritage’; and
  2. That because the couple’s cultural heritage didn’t match any of the children’s, adoption in this case was unsuitable.

Surely they can’t do that?

The couple are applying to Slough County Court for a declaration that they should be allowed to adopt.

It seems clear that adoption agencies can prioritise parents from the same ethnic group, but a recent change to the law has removed the requirement that agencies give “due consideration” to “religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background”. This change was thought to have ended the practice of allowing only ethnic matches for adopted children.

What is the couple arguing?

Georgina Calvert-Lee, the couple’s lawyer, has argued that the adoption agency’s interpretation and application of the law was incorrect. She also said that:

It is unacceptable for a child to be denied loving adoptive parents solely on the grounds that the child does not share the same racial or cultural heritage as the adopters.

This is a point echoed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who are supporting the couple’s case:

It is important that local authorities and adoption agencies apply the law about adoption correctly and the Commission is concerned that if they don’t other couples will be unlawfully discriminated against because of their race.

Ms Calvert-Lee’s argument is that everyone who is over 18 is entitled to register to adopt a child, something that was denied to her clients. This, she says, makes it clear that the adoption agency was basing their decision solely on the couple’s cultural heritage.

What about their human rights?

There are two rights in the Human Rights Convention (which takes effect in UK law through the Human Rights Act) that are relevant to this case:

  • Article 8, which guarantees our right to a family life.
  • Article 14, which ensures that we are not discriminated against in the enjoyment of our rights.

As it stands, the couple aren’t relying on these rights – instead, they’re arguing that the law has been applied incorrectly and shouldn’t allow such discrimination. But, if it is found that the law does allow adoption agencies to refuse registration on the grounds of race, then it is possible that the law itself will be challenged under the Human Rights Act.

More is expected on this as the couple’s legal battle begins.

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Featured image: Unsplash.com. First image: Unsplash.com. Second image: United Nations / Flickr. Final image: Andres Musta / Flickr.

About The Author

Harvey Slade Associate Editor

Harvey has an LLB (Hons) in Law and an LLM in Human Rights Law from the University of Nottingham. He has previously worked in the public law department of a legal aid law firm, assisting victims of trafficking, and is now working for Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

Harvey has an LLB (Hons) in Law and an LLM in Human Rights Law from the University of Nottingham. He has previously worked in the public law department of a legal aid law firm, assisting victims of trafficking, and is now working for Transform Drug Policy Foundation.