Somali refugee wins second case against Norway over forced adoption

10 December 2021

Mariya Abdi Ibrahim won another case at Europe’s human rights court in 2019 over the forced adoption of her son, which resulted in Norway changing some of its regulations around adoption.

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Norway violated the human rights of a Muslim refugee from Somalia when authorities removed her child from her care and placed him with a Christian family, Europe’s top rights court held Friday.

The European Court of Human Rights found that placing Mariya Abdi Ibrahim's son with an evangelical Christian couple against her wishes violated her right to family life.

Ibrahim arrived in Norway at the age of 16, with her then 3-month-old son in tow. Originally from Somalia, she fled after the terrorist group al-Shabaab targeted her for being unmarried and pregnant. When her son was 10 months old, the Norwegian Child Welfare Services removed him from Ibrahim’s care, citing neglect and abuse. He was ultimately adopted by a Norwegian couple who are members of the Evangelical Mission Covenant Church and cut all ties with his biological mother.

In 2019, the Strasbourg-based rights court found that Norway hadn’t done enough to keep mother and son together. It found the country's actions violated the 1953 European Convention of Human Rights, which created the court and protects the civil and political rights of Europeans. That decision led to some changes in Norway's adoption regulations.

After her attempt to block the removal of her son failed, the now 28 year-old had requested that he be placed with relatives, or in lieu of that, another Somalian or Muslim family, but the Norwegian court denied her request. Ibrahim wanted her son to maintain ties to his Somalian heritage and her Muslim faith.

Friday’s decision from the Strasbourg court found that the Norwegian authorities failed to take into account the boy’s religious and cultural background.

“The arrangements … failed to take due account of the applicant’s interest in allowing [her son] to retain at least some ties to his cultural and religious origins,” the 17-judge panel wrote. Norway had argued during a hearing in January that there were too few foster and adoptive parents from minority backgrounds to accommodate the request.

The court ordered Oslo to pay Ibrahim 30,000 euros ($33,000) in damages.

“Both my client and I are pleased with the unanimous verdict,” Ibrahim's attorney Anna Lubin told Courthouse News via email.

Norway has faced a disproportionately high number of child welfare cases at the European Court of Human Rights. Critics say the Norwegian Child Welfare Services agency is too quick to remove the children of immigrants. In the 2011 removal of two children from their Czech parents due to allegations of sexual abuse, the parents were eventually exonerated but the state refused to return the children and has now terminated their parental rights.