For the second time, Mariya Ibrahim is before the European Court of Human Rights, where she already won a case in 2019.
by Alessandro Amicarelli
A disproportionate number of cases involving forced adoption at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) come from Norway. Norwegian social services are quick to deprive parents of their rights, accusing them of neglect, and to place children in foster care, which then leads to adoption. Often, this happens to children of poor immigrant single parents, who end up being adopted by well-off Norwegians. Scholars and the ECHR have noted that Norway may confuse poverty with neglect, and that compelling extremely poor parents to give away their children for adoption by rich families violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the respect of private and family life. While Norway claims that this guarantees children a better future, the ECHR has consistently stated that there are other ways to help destitute children and parents without breaking family relations.
Now, for the first time, freedom of religion comes to the forefront of this decade-old controversy. Mariya Abdi Ibrahim is a Somali woman born in 1993. Due to the civil war in her country, she escaped to Kenya, where she gave birth to a son in 2009. She then moved to Norway, where she successfully applied for refugee status. In December 2010, her son was placed in emergency foster care by the Norwegian social services, who argued Mariya was not in a condition to care for him.
In 2011, the child was transferred for long-term foster care to a Norwegian couple, who happened to be devout Evangelical Christians. They expressed the desire to adopt the child. Mariya appealed to Norwegian courts opposing the adoption. She lost, and in 2015 the adoption was authorized. Mariya was also deprived of her parental rights, and prevented from having any further contact with her son.
Mariya then went to ECHR which, on December 17, 2019, ruled in her favor, and ordered Norway to allow her to keep periodical contacts with her son, while leaving him with his adoptive family. Mariya herself had not disputed the fact that the foster parents loved her son and cared for him, but objected to the fact that he had been totally cut off from her and from his Somali identity and heritage.
Mariya also became aware that her son has been baptized into the Mission Covenant Church, the Christian church to which his adoptive parents belong. Now she is again before the ECHR court, which has referred her case to the Grand Chamber, this time insisting that Norway has also violated article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, protecting freedom of religion or belief. Mariya’s son is 11, and she claims he is being cut off from any contact with the Muslim community and deprived of the right to eventually choose Islam, the religion of his mother and his ancestors.
Last week, the ECHR heard the arguments, and Mariya’s lawyers arguing that all problems came from the authorities’ choice to place the child with ethnic Norwegian Christian foster parents, while Somali or Muslim couples seeking adoption also existed in Norway. Mariya told a Norwegian TV channel that she regards the case as one of “child stealing” and forced conversion to Christianity.
She is now waiting for the ECHR decision.