European Court of Human Rights rules States are under an obligation to keep families together

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In the case of Soares de Melo v Portugal, the European Court of Human Rights found that the adoption of the Portuguese children involved in the case was a breach of Article 8.

Article 8 gives the right to respect for private and family life to all EU citizens therefore, allowing an individual to challenge their government in the European Court of Human Rights, whereby every contracting member state of the EU is bound by the decisions.

The family involved consisted of ten children, a mother and an absent father. The Portuguese authorities first became involved in 2005 after fears of neglect due to poverty and the absence of the father. The mother was expected to undergo sterilisation in order to improve the position of the family however, in 2012 nothing had improved and the state took the youngest six children into care.

The mother argued the only justification for adoption was the poverty the family suffered and that there was no evidence of abuse or neglect. In addition to this, she claimed there was no adequate help for the family and that during the proceedings they had been prevented from having contact with the children and prevented from participating properly.

The court found a clear breach of Article 8 stating, ‘the rights of parents must be taken into account…The best interests of the child comes into play when the obligations inherent in parental rights are not observed by the parent or that it uses its rights abusively. The requirements of the Convention are not fulfilled if one ignores the importance of the need for parents and their children to “be together”.’

The Portuguese government was ordered to pay EUR 15,000 in damages and to reconsider the children’s situation and take the appropriate action.

To read a translated version of the judgement please visit Child Protection Resources website.

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