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Abdi Ibrahim v. Norway, No. 15379/16, ECtHR (Grand Chamber), 10 December 2021

Abdi Ibrahim v. Norway, No. 15379/16, ECtHR (Grand Chamber), 10 December 2021

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled on the case of Abdi Ibrahim v. Norway, recognizing a violation of the mother's right to respect for her private and family life when the decision ordering the adoption of the child does not take into account the mother's wishes in relation to the adoptive family.


The case concerned the Norwegian authorities' decision to foster and then adopt a child without the consent of the child's mother, a Somali refugee. Although she did not contest the decision to place her son with another family, she requested that, when choosing the foster family, preference be given to a Muslim one, thus allowing the child to maintain the link with his cultural and religious background.

The child was placed in the care of and then adopted by a Christian family. The mother appealed against this decision to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming violation of Articles 8 and 9 of the ECHR and Article 2 of Protocol 1. The Court, in a judgment of 17 December 2019, unanimously upheld the grievance concerning the violation of the applicant's private and family life.

However, the applicant requested that the matter be referred to the Grand Chamber on the ground that the violation she had raised concerning Article 9 ECHR (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) had not been taken into account independently. In particular, the applicant stated that she had repeatedly expressed her wish that her son's religious identity be maintained and that this wish had not been taken into account in any way, since the child, after adoption, was baptized by his new family, without any possibility of maintaining a link with her and her culture.


The Grand Chamber reiterates the existence of a violation of Article 8, as interpreted and applied in relation to Article 9, and considers that it is not necessary to examine separately the alleged violation of Article 9.

In its reasoning, the Court reiterates that the best interest of the child requires that the child's ties with his family be maintained, except in cases where the family has proved to be particularly unsuitable since severing those ties means cutting the child off from his or her roots. Therefore, family ties can only be severed in very exceptional circumstances, and everything must be done to preserve personal relationships and, when appropriate, to 'rebuild' the family.

In the present case, the infringement of the applicant's respect for private and family life was identifiable in the decision-making process leading to the definitive severance of the ties between the applicant and the child, whereas there were no elements of exceptional gravity justifying the complete and definitive severance of the relationship between the mother and the child.


(Comment by Nadia Spadaro)