Hungary: Roma children arbitrarily separated from families

The case of a Roma woman whose children were taken away because of alleged ‘mental disabilities’ shows how social services are failing vulnerable families in Hungary.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has been representing a case that shows eloquently how the most vulnerable people can be abused and how authorities treat them arbitrarily, affecting the most important aspects of their lives.

A 20-year-old woman called LV was placed under guardianship because of alleged ‘learning disabilities’. She has two children, both of whom were taken away from her by the authorities who said that she is not able to take care of them. She has a partner, a 40-year-old man, who is her guardian and lives together with her in quite poor circumstances but they can make ends meet. This man is the father of the two children though he is not registered as such officially.

LV maintains the household and takes care of two of her sister-in-law’s children. According to a medical examination she has been diagnosed with a minor learning disability. Although we are not physicians, it seems obvious that she is a loveable and responsible woman who is able to take responsibility for her deeds and looks after children every day. Despite all these facts, both of her children were taken away by the child protection authority. They justified this decision stating that ‘she is disabled’ and her partner, who is also her guardian, has three other sons, so they are too poor to provide for the children.

She was given no information about where the first child went; she cannot even contact her and is not allowed to visit her. The second child was taken away soon after she arrived home from the hospital after giving birth. She could visit her little son only once a week. At first the boy was placed in an institute; later he was placed with foster parents. LV usually travelled many kilometres alone by bus to see her son; she knows the timetable and the fares of the line, which is more evidence that she is welloriented.

The most troubling aspect is that it is everyday practice to take children away from their parents in the area where this couple lives. The authority did the same thing in the case of LV’s mother and sister-in-law. This happened against the explicit request of the affected families.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union appealed in the child custody case, and sued the authority to end its guardianship of LV.

Due to the appeal the authority was obliged to repeat its procedure because of several substantive and procedural mistakes. Fortunately, the child protection authority decided to give back the little son to his mother.

The lawsuit referring to guardianship is still in progress. The approach of the judge clearly shows strong discrimination. At the first trial she spoke to LV and her family rather arrogantly; she asked irrelevant questions and tried to confuse them.

According to Hungarian law, people under guardianship can be deprived of the right to vote. This happened to LV too, and we want to help her to retrieve it. In this regard the judge asked extremely difficult questions, such as: ‘What is your opinion about the Fourth Amendment of the Fundamental Law?’ This question cannot be a measurement of the voting capacity, because plenty of average people cannot answer this.

We are hoping for the best outcome of the lawsuit. We are planning to appeal if necessary, as we want to hinder such discriminative and arbitrary procedures.

The fact that Roma people generally live in extreme poverty makes them more vulnerable, and they often do not know how to go about defending their rights. Authorities mostly abuse these situations through obscure administrative procedures that impair the innate human rights of Roma. The situation is very difficult for LV. She knows that the health and development of her children may be at risk if they are forced to grow up in care. 

Case study by Rita Bence, taken from the Europe chapter of MRG’s State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 report – focus on health

Photo: Roma girl in Hungary

Credit: Nashley Ruiz

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Date: 02/10/2013


State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013
Racism/Discrimination/Hate speech

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