Sikh Couple Win Landmark Racial Discrimination Adoption Case

Sandeep and Reena Mander received almost £120,000 in damages, after being told by the council there were only "white British pre-school children" available to adopt.
Sandeep and Reena Mander outside Oxford County Court, Oxford
Sandeep and Reena Mander outside Oxford County Court, Oxford
PA Wire/PA Images

A British Sikh couple have won a landmark ruling and nearly £120,000 in damages after being racially discriminated against by a council through not being allowed to adopt.

Sandeep and Reena Mander were forced to adopt from overseas after Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council rejected in 2016 their application to join a register of approved adopters because of their Indian ancestry.

The couple, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, were told there was only white British pre-school children available for adoption and their chances would be improved if they looked to the sub-continent.

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.

With the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the couple, who are in their 30s, sued the local authority for discrimination.

Following a four-day hearing at Oxford County Court, Judge Melissa Clarke ruled in their favour and ordered the council to pay them 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.”

The judge also made a declaration that the council “directly discriminated” against the couple in the provision of adoption services on the grounds of race.

But she rejected the Manders’ claim that they had also suffered discrimination under Article 12 of the European Convention of Human Rights and the right to “found a family”.

Lawyers for the couple said the judgment was a landmark ruling with the finding of racial discrimination in adoption law.

“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,” Mr Mander, a vice-president of sales at an IT company, said.

“We believe our experience with Adopt Berkshire was not just an isolated event. When we went through the Intercountry 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.

“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.

“And today’s landmark ruling will ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Mander, who works as a programme manager for a telecoms company, added: “Today is such a relief and is a relief that we can change things for other people and not face racial discrimination.

“It is absolutely amazing. We know we can move on knowing we have changed something for the better.”

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.”

The couple’s lawyer, 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.”

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.

“We have reviewed our policies to ensure they are fit for purpose and are confident that we do not exclude prospective adopters on the grounds of ethnicity.

“Finally, we always put the best interests of the children at the heart of any adoption decisions and are committed to best practice in our provision of adoption services.”

Dr Krish Kandiah, founding director of the fostering and adoption charity Home for Good, said: “Right now there are over 250 children from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds who have been waiting to be adopted for over 18 months and yet I’ve heard numerous times that prospective adopters go abroad because their local authority or agency didn’t snap them up.

“When the number of children waiting far outstrips the number of adopters coming forward, we need to radically rethink the way we capture those who are inspired to adopt and stop them falling through the cracks in the system. The reality is that too many feel their only option is international adoption but that shouldn’t be the case.”