Latvia complains to UK parliament over forced adoptions

Letter to speaker centres on case of six-year-old in London removed from her Latvian mother after claims of neglect and says social services breached international law

Latvia’s parliament has formally complained to the House of Commons that children of Latvian descent are being illegally and forcibly adopted by British families.

The extraordinary intervention by foreign MPs in the way social services take children into care comes as the Baltic state has been granted permission to give evidence during an appeal over the case of a six-year-old girl who has been removed from her mother. It is due to be heard this month.

Other eastern European countries have also raised concerns about British adoption procedures, sometimes in cases where children have been born to mothers who have been trafficked into the country for the purposes of prostitution. In one case, Nigeria also expressed concern.

The child at the centre of Latvia’s intervention was first put into care in 2012 after being found at home alone, aged 21 months. Both her parents are Latvian; her father remains in their homeland.

The mother, according to an earlier judgment, had previously been found drunk, walking barefoot with her daughter in a buggy in the middle of a road in the south London borough of Merton.

The mother disputes the local authority’s assessments and the allegation that she was inebriated; she is now challenging the adoption of her child. Her lawyers have complained that the six-year-old was put in non-Russian speaking foster care which has delayed her language development.

The child’s mother wants to have the case transferred to Latvia, to have her daughter returned to her and to be allowed to maintain contact in the meantime. She argues that “forced adoptions” are not permitted in Latvia and that decisions about her have been made “behind closed doors”. Her supporters have argued that she deserves a second chance.

The Latvian parliamentary letter was sent last month to John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the Commons. It was signed by the chair of the human rights committee and the deputy chair of the the social and employment committee of the Saeima – Latvia’s national assembly.

There is “insufficient cross-border cooperation,” the letter states, “in relation to the UK’s national procedure of placing Latvian citizens up for adoption without parental consent”.

The Lavtians said they were aware of “several cases in which UK authorities have acknowledged that obligations [to inform other countries] … stipulated by international treaties and EU legislation have not been fulfilled”.

The Saeima representatives also complained of cases where British officials had “failed to examine the option of involving Latvian counterparts in order to ensure, wherever possible, placing a child in the custody of family members or relatives in Latvia”.

Failure to do so was a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, they said, which recommended preserving a child’s “belonging to his/her national identity and cultural background”.

In the case of the six-year-old, according to the Latvian politicians, social services had breached both international and EU law. It was “unacceptable that between 2010 and 2014, UK authorities failed to inform” Latvia about decisions in regard to this “underage Latvian citizen”.

The Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who campaigns on family law issues, met the Latvian justice minster last week. Hemming told the Guardian: “The Latvians are concerned because we are taking Latvian children and they are quite happy to look after them themselves.

“When a foreign national is taken under state control, the embassy are supposed to be notified straight away and that applies to children being taken into care.

“An application has been made to the court of appeal in this case and permission has been granted to appeal. The Latvian [government] has been allowed to be party to it. The Latvians are saying there’s a systematic problem in England and Wales. Other eastern European countries say so, too. It’s significant … that a foreign parliament has [alleged] that our parliament is not doing its job.”

The president of the family division, Sir James Munby, has commented on the sharp rise in care proceedings involving children from other European countries. He has called for transparency and openness between UK courts and foreign consular officials, with a presumption that they should be permitted to be present at private hearings.

Frances Orchover, a barrister specialising in family cases, said: “Given the increasing numbers of children from eastern Europe that come into the care system, it is unsurprising that the parents and family members will turn to their own governments and representatives when they run out of appeals here. If they do so during the currency of the proceedings they will usually be invited to speak or intervene to make representations.”

A spokesperson at the Department for Education, which is responsible for adoption policy, said: “The decision to remove a child from their family rests with the courts, who are independent and outside of government. UK law, which is compatible with EU law and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is crystal clear that this should only happen when they are sure children are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

“When considering placements for children in care, local authorities have a duty to first consider care by family and friends, including those living outside the UK.”

Alexandra Conroy Harris, legal consultant to British Association of Fostering and Adoption, said: “[These claims have] often involved families from eastern European countries. There have been cases where the local authorities have decided that the children’s interests require adoption, and the parents … have gone to the media in their country of origin to build up support for the family and campaign against the British system of adoption without parental consent.

“In some of those cases the overseas authorities have sought to intervene in the court cases in England. There is a European treaty, known as Brussels II, which governs the circumstances in which the courts in one state can act in respect of children from another state.

“In several of these cases the English courts have accepted jurisdiction over a child without objection from the child’s country of origin at the initial stages, but the country of origin has tried to intervene later when it becomes clear that adoption is a possibility and public opinion in that country, or a request from the parents, pushes them to act.”

Last year more than 5,000 children were adopted in England and Wales. 

Source : https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/09/latvia-complains-to-uk-parliament-over-forced-adoptions

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