The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the role of the German Children and Youth Office (Jugendamt) in cross-border family disputes. This document is the first such decisive act of the EU institutions, condemning systemic discrimination of parents from other countries by the German state. At the same time, after the June resolution of the Council of Europe, it is another case of an international organization criticizing unjustified separation of children from their parents. The Ordo Iuris Institute has prepared an analysis of the EP document.
The resolution is a response to petitions received by Parliament for more than 10 years from non-German parents. They complain of systematic discrimination and arbitrary measures taken against them by the German Jugendamt in family disputes involving children, including parental responsibility and child custody. The most serious allegation against the Jugendamt in reported cases was the requirement to speak German with the child in the case of supervised parent-to-child contact. Speaking to the child in the mother tongue by the parent resulted in interruption of the conversation and a ban on contact with the child. The European Parliament condemned this practice, considering it obvious and clear discrimination on grounds of origin and language.
The resolution draws attention to the child's right to a stable, personal relationship and direct contact with parents, provided this is not contrary to the child's best interests. The principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality and the principle of mutual trust between the legal systems of the EU Member States are also recalled. Criticism has also been expressed at, for example, the failure of the German authorities to recognize judgments of courts in other Member States or the sending of documents to parents who are not Germans in a language they do not understand. The German institutions' interpretation of the concept of 'child's best interests' as the need to stay in Germany, even in cases where abuse and violence against a non-German parent has been reported, has also been assessed negatively.
In addition, MEPs were critical of the incomplete transparency of the Jugendamt's activities. The resolution draws attention to 'the lack of statistics on the number of cases in Germany where court rulings did not comply with the recommendations of the Jugendamt and the outcome of family disputes involving children of bipartite couples, despite repeated requests for collection and public access to this data over the years'.
In so doing, the European Parliament criticized the inaction of the European Commission, which has not yet taken any effective action to protect the welfare of the child and related rights. In this connection, the European Parliament called on the Commission to ensure that, among other things, thorough checks are carried out to detect discriminatory procedures and practices in the German family law system and to verify compliance with language requirements in proceedings before German courts. Furthermore, the European Parliament has addressed Germany directly, calling on the German state authorities to do more to ensure that parents can use a common mother tongue with their children during supervised visits and to fulfil their obligations under international agreements such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
‘The adoption in 2018 by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament of two documents criticizing unjustified deprivation of parental custody in European countries shows that important international bodies recognize the problem that European families have been facing for years and the serious violations of children's rights associated with it. However, the answer to the question as to whether the declarations will be followed by concrete actions that will prevent further family dramas remains open’, commented Magdalena Olek from the Ordo Iuris Center for International Law.
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