In an unusual display of unity, 59 parliamentarians belonging to 19 political parties have written to the German Ambassador to India Philipp Ackermann, seeking repatriation of Ariha Shah, a two-year-old girl who has been in German foster care since September 2021. A diplomatic spat has broken out between Delhi and Berlin as the government countered claims in Germany that they had tried to identify an Indian family to take care of the child pending a court verdict.
“India can well look after her own children. We request you to consider how your country would feel if a German baby was forcibly kept with Indian foster care. The Indian government has formally asked the German government of the child’s return to a Jain foster family in India under supervision of Indian child welfare authorities,” the Parliamentarians asserted in their joint letter. The signatories include Communist Party of India (Marxist)‘s John Brittas, Hema Malini, Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi from BJP, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MP K. Kanimozhi, Harsimrat Badal from Akali Dal, Supriya Sule from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Priyanka Chaurvedi from Shiv Sena (UBT), Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP Ram Mohan Naidu and Mahua Moitra from Trinamool Congress, among others.
Ariha was taken away from her parents in September 2021 when she was seven months old by Jugendamt, German Child Services. This was after the child had suffered an accidental injury in the perineum for which she was hospitalised. An investigation was instituted against her parents for child abuse. In February 2022, the police case was closed without any charges against the parents. Despite this the baby was not returned to her parents and the Jugedamt pressed for permanent custody of the child in the German courts. The court-appointed psychologist recommended that the child should be placed with the parent in a parent-and-child facility, with the other parent regularly visiting her. Even though this would be impractical as it would mean a prolonged stay in Germany, it is a recognition that the baby could be with her parents, under supervision. But, before court orders, the Jugedamt had removed the baby to a special needs facility. Ariha is not a special needs child.
Pressing for Ariha’s repatriation, the Parliamentarians wrote that shifting her around from one carer to another will cause deep and damaging trauma. The parents are allowed only fortnightly visits. The videos of these meetings are heart-wrenching and they reveal the deep bonds the baby has with her parents and the pain of separation, they said.
“We do not cast aspersions on any agency in your country and assume that whatever was done was thought to in the best interests of the baby. We respect the legal procedures in your country, but given that there are no criminal cases pending against any member of the said family, it is more than time to send the baby back home,” the letter urges.
Meanwhile the case has snowballed into a diplomatic feud between India and Germany. Government sources said, that reports defending the action of the German agency in the Ariaha Shah case are inaccurate and appear to be an attempt to obfuscate the issue. The sources further said that the parents were forced to contact the media as the agency was unresponsive. “At no timely stage did the agency share information about any Indian foster family willing to care for the child. Moreover, the main issue remains that an Indian child is not being allowed to return to India,” sources added.