How has the law been aiding single mothers and their children?

Of all the shame reserved for women in our patriarchal world (which is abundant), a major portion is reserved for single women and mostly single mothers, with no faults of their own.

Single women are typically referred to the women separated from their spouses or abandoned by them or divorced or widows and also those who remain unmarried after 35 years of age. Single mothers are simply all the single women in the aforementioned categories but with child(ren) to whom they are parents. Such parenthood may result from either natural birth, surrogacy, or adoption. The definitions and related legal aspects differ according to the jurisdiction.

Our society has never been accepting of single women/mothers because of how habituated we have become to be in control of our male counterparts. If a female is choosing to stay single or raise their child(ren) without a male’s assistance or companionship, she must be possessing some evil desires or damnable shortcomings for which we as a society call her out.

She must never have been ‘wifely’. She failed in satisfying her in-laws. She could not compromise and adapt in her new home. They had all the reasons to throw her out of the family. Maybe she has an affair outside. Why could she not just marry and settle? What does she need this kind of freedom for? How will the child without a father turn out to be? She must have lost her mind that she thinks she can do this alone. 

The struggles of verbal and mental abuse plus situational complexities faced by children of such single mothers are yet another world of miseries. The impact is more when the separated or divorced parents share a hostile relation and cannot find a middle ground for their kids through proper and clear communication.  

Why do we subject single women/mothers and their children to these contextless questions and baseless allegations? When will we understand the different opinions a woman may have about the way of leading her life? How has the law come to the rescue of these women and children?  If not, where is it failing?


Relevant Statistics

The U.S. seems to be leading the single parent ratio compared to other countries, shows the Pew Research Center Study dated 12 December 2019. The study was conducted among 130 countries. According to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 4 out of 11 million single parent households with children under the age of 18 years are being led by single mothers which is 80 percent of the single parent families. 

A comparative study by the same Pew Research Center showed that China had 3 percent, Nigeria had 4 percent, India had 5 percent and Canada had 15 percent of the children under single parent care. 

Australia Bureau of Statistics reported in June 2021 that 1 in 7 families were one-parent families out of which 79.8 percent was headed by single mothers.

In the countries like India, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Hungary, Columbia, Poland, Bulgaria etc. do have laws allowing single-parent adoption but there are constraints in the age and sex criteria of both the adoptive parent and the adoptee.


Situation in Nepal

Nepal’s Health and Population Ministry has now enabled single mothers to issue their child’s birth certificate without having to disclose their father’s identity. Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Rights Act 2075, in Section 9, has provided for this.

The Act Relating to Children, 2075 speaks for the right to choice of children of single parents (mainly women) in Section 4 which allows them to choose the surname of either of their parents. These children include the children born out of rape and incest as well.

The issue of citizenship has been critical for the children of single mothers in Nepal. The prevalent laws demand the identity of both the parents for issuance of citizenship. But the Sabina Damai case of 2011 set a precedent after which the Supreme Court had ordered the Home Ministry to give out citizenship papers based on the mother’s identification. But the most local levels still cause a problem over it, demanding father’s identification documents as well.

Children are also protected in terms of their property rights. The establishment of the father-children relationship provides for the children's right over their paternal property regardless of the marital status between their parents. The child's property rights are ensured through their mother even in the absence of their father's identity.

Case Laws

  • Supreme Court of Nepal in the landmark case of 2011, Sabina Damai v The Government of Nepal, Office of the Prime Minister et. al. ruled that citizenship should be given to a child in the name of just their mother in the case where the mother is a Nepali citizen and the father has not been traced.
  • Supreme Court of India in the 1999 case of Githa Hariharan v Reserve Bank of India, said that the welfare of the child persists above the preferential rights of either of the parents which meant that the mother had sole guardianship over the child in the absence of father instead of waiting for the death of the father. 
  • In the landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of India in the case ABC v State (NCT of Delhi), it was stated that an unwed mother did not have to disclose the father’s identity as she could solely be the legal guardian of the child.
  • Shalu Nigam & Anr v The Regional Passport Officer & others, 2016 was yet another landmark case where the Delhi High Court held that the name of only the mother shall be sufficient to issue one’s passport as she is also a natural guardian of her child thus not making the father’s name compulsory.
  • A plea has been recently filed before Kerala High Court challenging the ‘Registration of Births and Deaths Rules’ that the requirement of the father’s name for registering a child’s birth is discriminatory to single mothers.


Data show that a single-mother family is poorer in comparison to married-couple families. The gender-discriminating pay rules have not been helping. Motherhood, and simply existing is a difficult journey for most of us. Single mothers have to bear the emotional, financial, and decisional conflicts and pressures in greater severity. The least we can do is be understanding of their situations.

Choosing the route of defamation suit at every instance of catcalling single women/mothers and their children is not feasible. Awareness should start from us at individual levels and collectively, as a society careful of the well-being of all its members despite the variety of lives they are leading.