India on Friday expressed its “dismay” over the treatment of baby Ariha Shah by the German authorities. The toddler was taken away from her Indian parents in Germany by child protection services nearly two years ago. Meanwhile, German sources defended the actions of the German Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt), that had been given custody of the girl in September 2021 after allegations that the 7-month-old girl had been physically abused at home, and said the court process in Germany made it unlikely Ms. Shah would be returned “soon”.
In particular, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it is concerned about the shifting of the child from one foster facility to the other, and the Indian Embassy has repeatedly sought consular access to the child as well as “cultural immersion” for Ms. Shah at the Indian Cultural Centre in Berlin.
“We are dismayed to learn that the child was abruptly shifted away from her current foster parent to a specialised foster care arrangement. The manner in which this shift was carried out is a matter of concern,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi responding to questions at the weekly media briefing.
“We remain committed to ensuring the return of Ariha Shah to India,” he added.
The German Embassy in India has declined to speak about the case, citing privacy concerns. German sources aware of the case said the authorities had made an effort to search for and identify an Indian family living in Germany to provide foster care to baby Ariha.
However, after initially agreeing to take her, the family reportedly refused, given the publicity that the case has generated in India. As a result, they said the authorities had found another family to take care of her. “With the court process continuing, it is not likely that the baby will return to India in the near future or soon,” the sources said, denying that the procedure had been discriminatory.
The MEA was responding to appeals from the child’s Mumbai-based parents Dhara and Bhavesh Shah, who met with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde last week, asking for stronger diplomatic action from the government. In a letter to External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar Mr. Shinde also urged him to meet the parents personally to understand the details of the case first hand.
Speaking to India Today Television channel, mother Dhara Shah recalled the stand former EAM Sushma Swaraj had taken while in opposition on a similar case in Norway, where eventually the government was able to secure the return of two children confiscated by child services on similar charges.
“If the Government of India intervenes, if Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervenes in this case, my daughter will get justice. She’s an Indian baby. She’s a Gujarati baby,” Ms. Shah said in the interview.
Facing criticism for the lack of movement in the case of Ariha Shah, the MEA said it and the Indian Embassy in Berlin had been “persistently advocating” for her return. Even so, there has been no resolution in the case even as several high-level visits between Berlin and New Delhi, including two visits to Germany by Mr. Modi in 2022, and a visit to Delhi by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in February this year, who will return in September for the G20 summit, have occurred.
German sources told The Hindu that given the reports of the “most horrible injuries” to the child, the parents had lost custody as they had failed to protect her. According to the sources, criminal charges against the Shahs had been dropped last year because it could not be ascertained that they were responsible for the injuries, but they remained “in violation of conventions of safety of children”.
“Our long term goal would be to help bring her to safety and to her family in her country. But the court has to decide whether this will be possible, and it doesn’t matter if the parents are Indian, German, Turkish or Norwegian, the rules would be the same,” a source said.