Monday, 30th October 2017

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Sikh couple win UK adoption battle

Damages awarded to Manders after adoption agency discriminated against them

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 7.12.19, 1:21 AM
  • Updated 7.12.19, 1:21 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
A file picture of Sandeep and Reena Mander Sourced by the correspondent

A Sikh couple who were told they could not adopt white children because of their Indian heritage won £120,000 in damages on Friday after suing the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council for discrimination.

Sandeep and Reena Mander, who are in their thirties, took legal action after they were turned away three years ago by Adopt Berkshire, the adoption agency run by the council.

The lawyer representing the couple, Georgina Calvert-Lee, said: “Today’s judgment is a victory for all British children who need loving adoptive homes, and for all the eligible, loving adoptive British families hoping to welcome them into their lives.

“The Manders are British, and they treasure the central British value of fairness. They therefore asked the court for the basic right to be treated on equal footing with other British couples.”

The couple, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, were told there were only white British pre-school children available for adoption and their chances would be improved if they looked to India or Pakistan. They were not even allowed to register with the agency.

In the end, frustrated by Adopt Berkshire, the Manders adopted a baby from the US.

The Manders, who had undergone several years of unsuccessful IVF treatment, tried to get the decision reversed and won the support of their local MP, the then home secretary Theresa May.

To her credit, the former Prime Minister often took a progressive stance on a number of social issues.

When Sandeep, a vice-president of sales at an IT company, and his wife Reena, took legal action, they also had the backing of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Following the ruling, the couple said: “This decision ensures that no matter what race, religion or colour you are, you should be treated equally and assessed for adoption in the same way as any other prospective adopter.

“We felt there needed to be a change. This is what this case has all been about for us, to ensure discrimination like this doesn’t happen to others wishing to do this wonderful thing called adoption.

“We believe our experience with Adopt Berkshire was not just an isolated event. When we went through the Inter-country adoption process we came across many couples who had similar experiences.

“Let us be clear, a child’s welfare is the most important thing when looking for any prospective adopter. However matching cultural values and beliefs is just one of many areas that should be assessed when looking at the suitability of adopters to ensure that child’s welfare.

“It should never be the overriding factor to stop you even being considered, which is what happened to us.

“And certainly, cultural values and beliefs should never be assumed based on an ethnic tick-box, as was our experience.”

Following a four-day hearing at Oxford County Court, Judge Clarke awarded the couple general damages of £29,454.42 each and special damages totalling £60,013.43 for the cost of adopting a child overseas.

She said: “I find that the defendants directly discriminated against Mr and Mrs Mander on the grounds of race.

“I consider that there is clear evidence that Mr and Mrs Mander, who I have found expressed willingness to consider a child of any ethnicity, received less favourable treatment than would a comparable couple of a different ethnicity.

“All of this discloses, in my judgment, what the unknown social worker stated in the very first phone call with Mr Mander, namely that Adopt Berkshire operated a policy of placing adoptive children with parents who come from the ‘same background’, namely race.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission which funded the case, said: “The law is very clear.

We should not be treating people differently when they are offering loving homes, just because of where they or their parents come from.”

A spokesman for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council said: “We are very disappointed by the judgment in this case, which we will now take time to consider in full.”

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead includes Windsor Castle, the Queen’s residence where royal marriages, such as that of Harry and Meghan Markle, take place in St George’s Chapel. It certainly has a very “white” view of the world that is almost caught in a time warp.