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India asks Germany to return 2-year-old girl in foster care

Nik Martin
June 2, 2023

Ariha Shah was seven months old when she was removed from her parents' care by authorities in Berlin. The details of the case are sketchy but Indian media reported she was injured accidentally by her grandmother.

A little girl hidden behind the curtain
The fate of the girl has turned into a diplomatic issue between New Delhi and BerlinImage: Ute Grabowsky/photothek/picture alliance

India on Friday called on Germany to repatriate a 2-year-old Indian girl who has spent 20 months in the German social care system.

Ariha Shah was taken from her parents two years ago at the age of seven months after she suffered an injury and was later placed with foster parents.

Shah's custody battle has become a diplomatic issue between New Delhi and Berlin and was raised during a visit to India in December by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

What did India's government say?

Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was cited by the Hindustan Times on Friday as saying that the Indian embassy in Berlin has been "persistently advocating for the return of Ariha Shah to India."

"We would like to reiterate that Ariha Shah is an Indian national and her nationality and socio-cultural background is the most important determinant of where her foster care is to be provided. We urge German authorities to do all that is necessary to send Ariha to India at the earliest, which is also her inalienable right as an Indian national," Bagchi added.

Bagchi said Shah's best interests "can be fully realized only when she is in her home country where her socio-cultural rights can be safeguarded."

He added that New Delhi had repeatedly asked German authorities to ensure that "Ariha’s connection with her cultural, religious and linguistic background is not compromised."

Bagchi expressed India's dismay that Shah has been moved around the German social care system, adding that New Delhi believes the change "is not in the child’s best interest and could have far-reaching consequences for her emotional and mental development."

Indian MPs sign letter to German ambassador

Indian media reported Friday that 59 Indian lawmakers from 19 political parties have sent a letter to German ambassador Philipp Ackerman to express their concern over Shah's custody battle.

"As members of Parliament, we have a special responsibility for the welfare of our citizens. It is with this understanding that we appeal to you as representative of your country in India to convey to the authorities in Germany our deep concern in this matter. We also request you to do what is necessary in the case to help bring Ariha home," the politicians wrote in their letter.

Scholz pushes for stronger Germany-India ties on visit

What happened to Ariha Shah?

Authorities in Berlin removed Ariha Shah from her parents' care in September 2021.

Indian media reported that she was accidentally injured by her grandmother who was visiting the family in Germany..

According to those reports, the alert was raised after her parents took her to a hospital for treatment and Shah was then placed in the custody of Germany's Youth Welfare Office.

An investigation into alleged sexual assault was initially opened against the parents but was later dropped without charges.

However, Shah was not returned to her parents, who told Indian media that they were only permitted to visit her once every 15-20 days.

Although her father was working in Germany, Shah's parents have since returned to their home in Mumbai.

During a visit to India in December, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the child was well and its "wellbeing is the first priority".

She also said Germany was "bearing in mind the cultural identity of each child that is taken care of by the youth offices in Germany."

The Berlin Child Services have filed a civil custody case for the termination of parental rights.

Germany's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With material from Reuters news agency.

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