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Vulnerable child was denied a full adoption because her new mother was single

Wagner and J.M.W.L. v. Luxembourg  | 2007

Vulnerable child was denied a full adoption because her new mother was single

… the best interests of the child are paramount in such a case…

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, June 2007

Background

J.M.W.L. was born in Peru in 1993. She was a baby when her biological mother died. She was taken in by the rest of her family, but they ill-treated her. The child was eventually declared abandoned and put into an orphanage.

Jeanne Wagner is the mother of four children, living in Luxembourg. When J.M.W.L was three years old, Jeanne decided to adopt her. Jeanne spent several weeks in Peru carrying out all of the national legal requirements, working with an international agency. The adoption was approved by the Peruvian courts in November 1996.

J.M.W.L. and her new mother then travelled back to live in Luxembourg.

However, the Luxembourg courts refused to register the full adoption, saying that this was not available to a single woman under Luxembourg law at the time.

This left J.M.W.L. with her links to her Peruvian family cut, but without being replaced with full links to her adoptive mother in Luxembourg. This created serious problems – in particular because the child was denied Luxembourg citizenship and could not enjoy the legal protection which would enable her to fully integrate with her adoptive family.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the child’s best interests had to take precedence in a case like this.

The decision by the Luxembourg courts had not taken account of the reality of the situation, which was that a child had been left in a legal vacuum after being unexpectedly denied a full adoption. In the circumstances, the decision had been discriminatory and the right to family life had been violated.

Follow-up

In December 2007 the Luxembourg courts recognised Jeanne Wagner’s full adoption of J.M.W.L.

The Luxembourg Court of Appeal then established a precedent for subsequent cases. It stated that a person would not be barred from fully adopting a child simply because they are single.