Hindu grandmother fails to get custody of Muslim grandson

Amir Hussain
Senior Reporter
Gavel stock photo

A Hindu paternal grandmother has failed in her bid for shared guardianship and custody of her Muslim grandson following the death of her son.

The grandmother had alleged neglect and abuse of the boy as reasons for her application to the Family Court against her Muslim daughter-in-law. She claimed for example, that the boy had fingermarks on the back, rashes on the buttocks, and was undernourished.

Denying the allegations to the court, the mother had pointed out religious differences, saying the child should be raised in the religion shared by both her and her late husband. The two women are “from different worlds and have different values, and the child will suffer because of the clash of values” if the grandmother is given joint custody, the mother’s lawyer had argued.

The mother also claimed that the grandmother would influence the child into becoming a Hindu, and that the grandmother despised the mother’s Indonesian nationality, race and religion.

In grounds of decision for the case released last Wednesday (10 October), District Judge Eugene Tay noted the “heated and acrimonious” nature of the relationship between the child’s mother and paternal grandmother. The judge said “both appeared to have different beliefs and value systems and views of raising the child”.

The Family Court heard that the boy was born in December 2016 and soon after, his parents would leave him with the grandmother during the day and pick him up at night. In February 2017, the infant and his parents moved in with the grandmother.

In June 2017, the parents shifted to a rental flat. The boy was left with the grandmother in the morning when the parents went to work and was picked up by the parents at night.

The boy’s father was hospitalised in late August 2017 and died at the end of the month. After the father died, the boy was taken care of by the mother.

In December 2017, the grandmother applied for sole custody of the boy, or alternatively, joint custody with the mother having custody of the boy only from 2pm on Saturday to 7pm on Sunday.

Judge Tay heard the case on 7 June. On the day of the hearing, the grandmother’s lawyer sought an adjournment to refer the matter to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), as the grandmother had alleged abuse and neglect of the boy. But the judge decided to carry on with the hearing, as there had been no involvement by MSF in the case at that point in time.

The grandmother’s lawyer also told the court that she would now be seeking only joint guardianship and joint custody, and that matters relating to the child’s religion would be left to the mother to decide solely.

The grandmother’s case was that while the boy was with her, he “lived in a conducive, healthy environment and was well looked after and healthy”. The grandmother claimed to have provided financial, physical and emotional support for the boy, which he would not be able to get from the mother.

The grandmother also asserted that the boy “would have a better upbringing under her care and control and would grow up to be a better person, morally and intellectually”. The grandmother said it would be in the child’s best interests that “custody and care and control” be granted to her, lest his “life and future” be “affected and ruined”.

The mother, however, said the boy was doing well under her care. The grandmother’s allegations of neglect and abuse were unproven. The mother also strongly denied the grandmother’s allegations that she had left the baby with Indonesian women on two separate occasions. Instead, she claimed she had been a dedicated and responsible mother.

The mother also pointed out she is a Muslim while the grandmother is a Hindu. Her son should be raised as a Muslim as the late father was a Muslim, she added.

The mother asked that the grandmother have supervised access to the child from 2pm to 4pm on Saturdays, and refrain from influencing him on Hinduism.

In his grounds, Judge Tay said there was no supporting evidence of neglect and abuse. There were no medical reports regarding injuries sustained by the baby, as alleged by the grandmother.

Said the judge, “In any event, even if the (grandmother’s) allegations were to be accepted fully, which for avoidance of doubt I did not, I was not persuaded that such allegations by themselves necessarily amounted to neglect or abuse. I did not think they were compelling enough to override the (mother’s) right to have custody of the child.

“In addition, the fact remained that the (grandmother) herself could have referred the matter to MSF or the relevant authorities to investigate, if indeed she was of the view that the (mother) had abused and/or neglected the child. However, there is no evidence that the (grandmother) had done so,” he added.

I was not satisfied that there were compelling reasons for the child to be removed from the (mother’s) custody or to override the (mother’s) right of custody of the child. I was not persuaded nor satisfied on the evidence that the (mother) was unable to care for the child.”

Judge Tay dismissed the case on 28 June, and the grandmother filed an appeal on 11 July.

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