Adoption, culture, religious background and Article 8 ECHR: Abdi Ibrahim

In Abdi Ibrahim v Norway 15379/16 [2019] ECHR 914 [which, I confess, I missed at the time], the Court found in December 2019 that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention (respect for family life) in a case involving religious and cultural differences between a mother and the adoptive parents of her son.

The applicant, a Somali national, had obtained refugee status in Norway in 2010, accompanied by her child born a few months earlier in Kenya. In December 2010, the child was the subject of emergency care by social services. He was then placed in a Christian family, in spite of the fact that the applicant had asked that he be placed with her cousins or in a Somali or Muslim family. Social services later asked that the foster family be allowed to adopt him, which involved the mother’s loss of parental rights and the prohibition of contact with her son.

The applicant appealed. She did not ask for the return of her son because he had already spent a lot of time with his foster parents and had become attached to them; instead, she requested access so that the child could maintain a link with his cultural and religious roots. In 2015, the domestic Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal and authorised the adoption, after having examined in particular the questions raised on the ethnic, cultural and religious grounds.

In its judgment of 17 December 2019, the Second Section ECtHR decided that the complaints should be examined from the perspective of family life only (the applicant having also invoked Article 9) and concluded unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention. It was of the view that:

“regardless of the applicant’s stand on continued foster care in the course of the adoption proceedings – and of whether the domestic authorities at that time might have been justified in concluding that the foster care placement, if X were not adopted, would be long-term – she and her son still had the right to respect for their family life. Accordingly, although the applicant did not apply for family reunification to the domestic authorities, those authorities were nonetheless under the positive duty to take measures to facilitate the applicant’s and X’s continued enjoyment of a family life, at the minimum by maintaining a relationship by means of regular contact in so far as reasonably feasible and compatible the X’s best interests” [57].


“Viewing the case a whole and adding to the other particular reasons that in the instant case militated in favour of maintaining the possibility of some contact between X and the applicant, notably relating to their cultural and religious background … insufficient weight was attached to the aim that the applicant and X enjoy family life” [64].

On 11 May 2020, the case was referred to the Grand Chamber, at the request of the applicant.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Adoption, culture, religious background and Article 8 ECHR: Abdi Ibrahim" in Law & Religion UK, 15 May 2020,

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