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Child Law Specialist Duncan Ranton discusses Childrens Rights regarding Family Origin

Children have a fundamental right to information about their Family of origin. 

Hardly a shocking proposition, but it was one that was highlighted by a decision from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last week in an Italian case.The case related to “confidential” information about a child’s birth, and the inability of a person abandoned by their parents to access information about their heritage and background.Anita Godelli was born in Italy in 1943. She was abandoned by her mother, who did not want to be identified to her daughter or any new family she joined. Anita was placed in an orphanage and then Adopted by the Godelli family.Anita learned at age 10 that she had been adopted. She asked her adoptive parents for information about her origins, which they were unable to provide.

Anita’s complaint was that growing up ignorant about her birth family heritage had made her childhood difficult and unhappy.The ECHR agreed that Italy had breached Anita’s right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights). It found a fair balance had not been struck between Anita’s interests and those of her birth mother. There was no mechanism through which children like Anita could access non-identifying information about their origins.The ECHR held Italy liable to pay Anita €5,000 for damages and €10,000 in respect of costs and expenses. 

Closer to home, our modern Adoption and Surrogacy Law includes provisions that entitle children who join families through these methods to access information about their origins. But this embracing of openness and the affording of the highest respect to the rights of the children affected is a relatively new development. There are likely to many people who were adopted as children who find themselves in situations similar to Anita’s – unable to access proper information about where they came from and their birth families – who likewise have legitimate claims against the State.

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