Indian diplomats in Germany received a “consular visit” last month with ‘Baby Ariha Shah’, the two-year-old child who has been taken into parental custody by German Youth Services in September 2021, the government revealed, although the child’s parents say they are being denied visitation rights with her. Germany’s Ambassador to India said a resolution of the issue is unlikely to happen “very soon”.
Ariha was taken from her parents Dhara and Bhavesh Shah in 2021 by the ‘Jugendamt’ or youth services, after she was brought to a hospital in Berlin with what they called “grievous” injuries. While a German court has since ruled it as evidence of deliberate abuse, the parents have consistently denied the charge, explaining the injuries as accidental. New Delhi, that says the German court decision is a violation of Ariha Shah’s “cultural rights”, has been pushing for the repatriation of Ariha Shah, who is an Indian citizen, offering to ensure foster care for her in India, said that Indian Embassy officials were able to meet her on August 31.
“Resource material relating to Indian festivals, customs and practices were handed over by our embassy with the expectation that the child’s caregivers would incorporate these into her routine to enable the child to remain in touch with her faith and culture,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi in response to a question on Thursday. “We remain in constant engagement with German authorities to safeguard the child’s cultural rights, her national identity and to ensure her return to India,” he added.
According to a court order in June, Ariha has been ordered into foster custody, to be brought up in Germany until she is an adult, and the Shahs have launched a nationwide campaign calling on the Modi government to intervene. While the matter was raised during a visit by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar last year, Prime Minister Modi and German Chancellor Scholz, who have met twice this year, including at the G-20, have not discussed it, officials said.
When asked, Dhara Shah, the mother of Ariha, told The Hindu she has not been able to see her daughter since July this year. Ms. Shah said that she had travelled to Germany especially this week for a visitation appointment granted to her and her husband for September 19. However, when they reached the visitation venue, Ariha was not brought to see them, as authorities said she was “crying”.
“Jugendamt services have cancelled our visitations using illogical excuses each time and trying to alienate her from her parents, culture and language,” she wrote in a social media post on Tuesday.
Speaking at a think tank event, German Ambassador Phillip Ackermann said it was difficult to discuss the case due to privacy and data protection laws in Germany.
“Rest assured, we are trying hard to find a solution. I don’t think it’s coming very soon, but I can only say that the [Indian Ambassador to Germany] and I are trying, and all the concerns will be conveyed to the German government,” he said in response to a question on the issue during a virtual event with Mr. Ackermann and Indian Ambassador to Germany P. Harish, organised by the Ananta Centre in Delhi.