Case summary- Lakshmi Kant Pandey v. Union of India

In this Public Interest Litigation case, the Apex Court took into account allegations of negligence and misconduct on the part of adoption agencies while allowing international adoptions. In its ruling, the Court established measures to ensure that foreign adoptions would be handled in a way that promoted children’s welfare and their right to family life.


Supreme Court of India


Date of the Ruling: 

February 6 1984


Type of Forum: 




Lakshmi Kant Pandey, an attorney who wrote to the Supreme Court, later converted to petition, alleged negligence and misconduct on the part of social groups and for-profit adoption businesses that assisted in placing Indian children with foreign parents. He underlined the lengthy and perilous journeys these kids took to other nations and cases of neglect from their adopted parents that led to the children’s impoverishment or sexual exploitation. The ground for public interest litigation was established when the Court considered his letter as a writ petition, which is a filing made with a higher court to seek a quick examination of an issue.


In its ruling, the Court emphasized that the lack of legislative oversight of international adoptions in India might be extremely harmful to Indian children, who could be exposed to abuses like profiteering or trafficking, for instance. The Court established a comprehensive framework of normative and procedural safeguards for regulating inter-country adoption in order to protect children’s welfare and to ensure their security in healthy, decent family life. The Court did this in consultation with several social or child welfare institutions. The Court referred to many pertinent laws and regulations when establishing standards and processes, including  Articles 15(3), 24, and 39 of the Indian Constitution regarding child welfare and the principles embodied in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959). The defined safeguards include, among other things, that foreigners who want to adopt be sponsored by appropriately licensed agencies in their own country, that no adoption application from a foreigner should be entertained directly by any adoption agency in India, and that organizations engaged in international adoptions that the Government of India licenses must meet certain requirements and undertake specific responsibilities in ensuring the safety of the adoptees.


The written submission:


The Indian Council of Social Welfare was the first to submit written arguments in response to the Court’s notice, and its written statement, which was submitted on September 30, 1982, not only contained a substantial amount of information that was relevant to the issue of adopting Indian children by foreign parents, but it also contained a number of suggestions and recommendations that the Court should take into account when establishing the rules and guidelines for approving such adoptions and laying out the law. The only written argument presented at the writ petition hearing on October 12, 1982, before the Court was that neither the Union of India nor the Indian Council of Child Welfare had responded to the Court’s notice, nor had the Indian Council of Social Welfare.


However, the Swedish organization Barnen Framfoer Allt Adoptioner wrote a telegram to the Court indicating that it wanted to participate in the writ petition hearing and provide the Court with pertinent information. S.O.S., Children’s Villages of India also made an appearance through their attorney, Mrs Urmila Kapoor, and requested permission to intervene at the writ petition hearing in order to make their arguments on the adoption of Indian children by foreign parents. Since S.O.S. Children’s Villages of India is a recognized organization dedicated to the welfare of children, the Court granted them permission to intervene and present their arguments in Court by order dated October 12, 1982.


Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 


Over many years, the rules established by the Supreme Court governed adoption and served as a useful instrument for advocates for children’s rights. Following the decision, several social services or child welfare organizations that place children for international adoption believed that there were some challenges in putting the standards and guidelines established by our decision into practice. As a result, they asked the Court for clarification. The Court addressed these matters in an additional judgment dated September 27, 1985. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled in another case where the petitioners claimed that the adoption safeguards had not been followed that any adoption that did not follow or violate the instructions outlined in this judgment could result in the adoption being declared invalid and subject the adoptee to legal repercussions.


The Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), which established criteria for the adoption of Indian children and codified the protections outlined in the Supreme Court verdict and other related decisions by the Court, was one of the Court’s orders that the Government of India complied with. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (amended in 2006) and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007, were additional, if not substantial, legislative improvements. India, however, still lacks a comprehensive national adoption law. N.G.O.s have been lobbying the government to enact pertinent national legislation for years as dishonest practices in the domain of international adoptions persist.


Significance of the Case: 

This case perfectly illustrates how India’s procedural innovation in public interest litigation has relaxed the standards of standing (which govern who can bring a lawsuit) to make the legal system more accessible to underrepresented groups in society. It also serves as an illustration of the Indian Supreme Court’s judicial activism. The Court did not hesitate to offer detailed instructions to govern adoptions and safeguard kids from prostitution and slave labour when faced with a legal vacuum on a subject with significant social repercussions.

Case summary by Vaishnavi Singh

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