The tragic death by suicide last week of Priyadarshini Patil, a 40-year-old Indian-origin woman from Australia, and her family’s battle for custody of her two children has once again highlighted child custody cases in foreign countries involving Indian or Indian-origin parents. Ms Patil, found dead in Karnataka’s Belagavi on August 27, had been fighting for custody of her children for nearly three years. This was after New South Wales officials accused Ms Patil and her husband of “improper care” and separated the children – both Australian citizens.
Ms Patil returned to India earlier this month – to help her father deal with situation. A week later she died by suicide, leaving behind a suicide note blaming some neighbours and the New South Wales Department of Communities and Justice for ruining her family and her life.
What Is The Priyadarshini Patil Child Custody Case?
Ms Patil, who worked in the IT sector, and her husband were unhappy with treatment provided for one of her children, who media reports indicate suffers from ulcerative colitis – an inflammatory bowel disease causing inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract.
The child was admitted to a private hospital in New South Wales but there was no improvement after six months of care, prompting the parents to seek a medical transfer.
According to reports, the request was refused and a child protection case was triggered.
The contention was that Amartya’s condition had not improved because of “improper care” at home. Ms Patil’s second child, who is over 18, was also taken into welfare officials’ custody.
As is protocol in such cases, social workers met the parents and inspected the home environment, and six submitted positive reports but these were replaced by a seventh.
Based on this report, child welfare officials took the Patils’ children into custody.
“No Concrete Steps Taken So Far”
NDTV spoke to Suranya Aiyar, the child rights lawyer leading the campaign in India to ensure the children are returned, and she stressed the need for an international system that recognises the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child in cases of children who are either Indian citizens or whose parents are new arrivals in a foreign country.
“So far as I am aware, no concrete steps have been taken. The request for the children to be returned to India is quite old… it was made several months before this tragic suicide but there has been no response…” Ms Aiyar said.
“What we are seeing, again and again in these cases, is that the system is not able to respond to the plight of families, and particularly children, who are either Indian citizens or are new arrivals in a foreign country. And once they are taken away from the parents or, as in this case, once the parental rights have been severely constrained, there have nowhere to go… and the children are, essentially, held hostage by foreign child services authorities.”
Ms Aiyar underlined the fact that “India is consicous of the existence of crimes against the child” and that the government is a signatory to the UN’s convention on child rights.
“If you can have an international system for the exchange of prisoners based on country of origin… and a system where even someone accused of the worst crimes will have consular access… there is no reason why such children can’t be returnd to India when a foreign government assesses parents to be incapable (of caring for the children) in any way.”
Priyadarshini Patil’s Legal Battle In Child Custody Case
Multiple media reports indicate Ms Patil and her husband began a long-winded war of red-tape against child welfare officials, whom she accused of “forcibly” holding her children.
There have also been protests in India – at the Australian High Commission in Delhi – to initiate an inquiry and the Indian government has also become involved, with Union Minister Pralhad Joshi reportedly having promised to contact Australia via the foreign department.
What Is The Australian Government Saying?
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said it is “greatly saddened by the death of an Australian woman in India” and that it offers its “deepest condolences”. consular assistance is being provided to Ms Patil’s family.
According to The Hindu, officials have now begun reviewing the case and are in contact with Ms Patil’s husband, who flew back to India to perform the rites at his wife’s funeral.
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