Children have a right to entertain a relationship with their grandparents
Nothing can be more insulting to the readers of a newspaperwhen the latter publishes information which is highly misleading. Last Sunday, I read with stupor the following caption, from the columns of a Sunday paper: “Depuis juin 2007 : Un rapport de la Commission pour la réforme des lois dort dans un tiroir”. The article in question which gives nevertheless a faithful account of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission (LRC) concludes: “Le gouvernment de l’Alliance Sociale de Navin Ramgoolam avait promis de changer la vie des Mauriciens en 100 jours.
Quelque part un grand-père lui prie chaque jour de pouvoir enfin prendre son petit enfant par la main.”The author of the article was referring to the recommendations of the LRC in relation to the rights of grandparents to have access to their children which is already law since the recommendations were enacted in December of that year by the National Assembly. In fact, in a very interesting paper produced by the LRC in June 2007, the Commission highlighted the shortcoming of our own Civil Code when compared with the French Civil Code (CCF). Article 371-4 of the CCF provides in the first alinea that:
« L’enfant a le droit d’entretenir des relations personnelles avec ses ascendants. Seul l’intérêt de l’enfant peut faire obstacle à l’exercice de ce droit. »
As the report makes clear, under the first alinea of Article 371-4 of the CCF, a child has a right ‘d’entretenir des relations personnelles avec ses ascendants’. It is presumed that “il est de l’intérêt de l’enfant, sauf raisons graves, qu’il puisse entretenir des relations avec ses grand-parents, voire avec d’autres ascendants, qu’il s’agisse d’ascendants légitimes ou naturels, ou des ascendants par le sang en cas d’adoption simple car il n’y a pas alors de rupture avec la famille par le sang…”
The right also encompasses “un droit de correspondence, de visite et d’hébergement” subject of course to the best interests of the child, a matter to be determined by the Courts.
On 11December 2007, a few months after the report was published, the Attorney General introduced the Code Civil Mauricien (Amendment) Bill (No XXIV of 2007) to the National Assembly with the aim to cure a long-standing injustice whereby grandparents were denied a relationship with their grandchild by parent having the custody of the child. Today it is recognized that the emotional well-being of a child, especially children from broken homes, is enhanced if the emotional bond that exists between the child and his grandparents is preserved.
As parents we are privileged witnesses to the special bond between children and their grandparents. In fact very often we ensure that the relationship is deepened so that there is a transmission of the family values cherished by the generations of our parents. The reference made by one Honourable Member to an extract of a Canadian judgment is apt quoting: “Les contacts entre petits-enfants et grands-parents, constituent une grande richesse tant pour l’enfant, les grands-parents, que la société. Ils sont, à n’en pas douter, une grande source de joie, d’affection, d’apprentissage et de connaissance; réciproquement d’ailleurs. Les contacts entre générations constituent, en fait, une source d’apport mutuel unique, non seulement précieuse mais indispensable, et cela, encore une fois, tant pour les personnes impliquées que pour la société tout entière.”
On 12 December 2007 the Act came into force providing for three things. First a child has the right to entertain a relationship with his or her grandparents and other ascendants. Second, a Judge in Chambers has power to enable a third party, who may or may not be a related to the child, to entertain a relationship with the child when such is in the best interests of the child. Third, a child is not to be separated from his brothers and sisters, save in exceptional circumstances. We owe this important piece of legislation to the Commission chaired by Mr Guy Ollivry QC and to its dynamic Chief Executive Officer Mr Pierre Rosario Domingue.
A short incursion on the website of the LRC shows how important a role the LRC has played since it has come into existence. The Prime Minister and his Attorney General should be congratulated for having made a significant difference to the lives of all grandparents.