India on Friday urged Germany to send back a 2-year-old Indian girl who has been in its foster case system for more than 20 months, saying it infringed on "her social, cultural and linguistic rights."
Ariha Shah was taken from her Indian parents by German authorities in Berlin in September 2021 when she was seven months old. Her father was working in Germany at the time, but the parents have since returned to India.
Shah's parents, according to Indian media reports, said she was accidentally injured by her grandmother, who was visiting from India, and authorities placed the girl in the custody of Germany’s Youth Welfare Office when they took her to hospital.
Her custody has since become a diplomatic issue, with New Delhi taking it up with Germany’s foreign minister during a visit to India in December.
"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," Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told reporters on Friday.
"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," he said.
Bagchi said the child's best interests can be fully realised when she is in her home country where her socio-cultural rights can be safeguarded.
He 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 if necessary.
Germany's Foreign office said it was in contact with the Indian authorities, that it could not comment on ongoing proceedings at youth welfare offices and family courts and it has no influence over them.
"The decision as to whether and, if so, under what conditions it will be possible to transfer the child Ariha Shah to India is up to the legal assessment by the responsible court in the course of the ongoing proceedings."
During a visit to India in December, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the child was well and her "wellbeing is the first priority".
She said Germany was "bearing in mind the cultural identity of each child that is taken care of by the youth offices in Germany".