India on Friday urged Germany to send back at the earliest an Indian baby girl who has been living in a foster care in Berlin for over 20 months, asserting it is important for the child to be in her linguistic, religious, cultural and social environment.
The German authorities had taken custody of Ariha Shah on September 23, 2021, when she was seven months old, alleging that the parents harassed her.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Ariha's continued stay in the German foster care and "infringement" of her social, cultural and linguistic arights is of deep concern to the government of India and the parents.
On Thursday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde wrote a letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar seeking his assistance in bringing Ariha back home.
"We would like to reiterate that Ariha Shah is an Indian national and her nationality and socio-cultural background is the most important determinant of where her foster care is to be provided," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.
"We urge German authorities to do all that is necessary to send Ariha to India at the earliest, which is also her inalienable right as an Indian national. We remain committed to ensuring the return of Ariha Shah to India," he said.
Bagchi was replying to a question on the matter during his weekly media briefing.
"We are dismayed to learn that the child was abruptly shifted away from her current foster parent to a specialised foster care arrangement. The manner in which this shift was carried out is a matter of concern," he said.
"We and the parents believe that this rapid change is not in the child's best interest and could have far-reaching consequences for her emotional and mental development," he said.
Bagchi said the ministry of external affairs and the embassy of India in Berlin have been persistently advocating for the return of Ariha to India.
The spokesperson said India has a robust child welfare and protection system, and there are potential foster parents in India who are willing to bring up the child in her own socio-cultural milieu.
"The German authorities have been made aware of India's child protection system and the details of potential foster parents have also been shared with them," he said.
"Ariha's continued placement in German foster care and infringement of her social, cultural and linguistic rights is of deep concern to the Government of India and the parents.
In December last year, Jaishankar conveyed to his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock concerns over the baby girl.
"Our efforts have been guided by the best interests of the child, which we believe can be fully realised only when she is in her home country where her socio-cultural rights can be safeguarded," Bagchi said.
"Accordingly, we have been requesting Germany to return the child to India. The embassy has repeatedly requested German authorities to ensure that Ariha's connection with her cultural, religious and linguistic background is not compromised and sought consular access to the child," he added.
Bagchi said Baerbock, during her visit to India, had also conveyed that the German side was also bearing in mind the cultural identity of each child that is taken care of by the youth offices in Germany.
"Unfortunately our requests in this regard for safeguarding Ariha's national and cultural identity have not been met," he said.