A case in which a mother living in Norway sought to set the adoption of her son aside on the grounds that her lack of consent was in breach of her right to family life, was heard in the European Court of Human Rights today.

The hearing in Strasbourg focused on whether Norway had violated Mariya Ibrahim’s religious rights as a Muslim in allowing her son to be forcibly adopted by Christians. The hearing forms part of what is a long and protracted case filled with conflicting professional evidence and what appear to be serious oversights with regard to the boy’s best interests.

Ms. Ibrahim became pregnant when she was 16 years old, and after a traumatic incident fled to Kenya in 2009 where she had family, and gave birth to her son in the same year.

In 2010, Ms. Ibrahim left Kenya with her son, travelling first to Sweden and then Norway, where she applied for asylum. Once she was granted refugee status, the mother asked for support to care for her son and was admitted to a mother and baby home.

The home grew concerned about Ms. Ibrahim’s parenting, and notified children’s services, who then forcibly removed her son and placed him in foster care in 2010.

The County Social Welfare Board applied for a care order, which the mother opposed. She then lodged another claim asking for her son to be placed with her cousin in Norway, or in a Somali or Muslim foster home. The mother’s claim was ignored, and the Board issued the care order and granted her contact rights of two hours, four times a year. Her son was placed in care with a Christian family.

In 2013, children’s services applied to revoke Ms. Ibrahim’s parental responsibility so that her son could be adopted by the foster carers.

A claim to cease all contact between Ms. Ibrahim and her son was also lodged with the court at the request of the foster carers.

The claims were allowed, and the mother appealed twice, arguing that while she accepted her son had settled into life with the foster carers, it would not be in his best interests to have no contact at all with his birth mother and sole connection to his cultural and religious roots.

Claims and appeals raised by the mother and allowed by various courts continued for several years, and looked at the levels of contact the mother had been allowed prior to the adoption and whether the High Court had, for instance, placed more importance on the foster parents’ opposition to an “open adoption” than to the applicant’s interest in continued family life with her child.

In December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights found that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention (right to respect for private and family life), and allowed the mother’s appeal.

Speaking to Norwegian state broadcaster TV2 in 2019, Ms. Ibrahim said, “Norway steals children when they do it the way they have done it to me. It’s been so painful. I was only 16 years old and completely alone when I came to Norway. They should help mothers and fathers who are struggling, instead of taking the children.”

Norway, much like the UK, has been heavily criticised for the sharp rise in the number of children in state care. Campaigners say the large numbers of children in care in the two countries stem from a lack of understanding about the differences between neglect and poverty, and financial pressures and incentives to place children in foster homes and with adoptive parents.