European Court of Human Rights rejects Czech mother’s appeal over lost parental rights

Eva Michaláková

Czech mother Eva Michaláková has lost a case at the European Court of Human Rights over lost parental rights to her two sons. The court in Strasbourg ruled that Norway’s social and judicial services did not breach international law or conventions when removing her two sons from her care and stripping Mrs Michaláková of her parental rights in 2011.

The case of the Michalák brothers, who are now aged 17 and 14, has become a major media and political issue in the Czech Republic with past interventions by President Miloš Zeman as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The brothers David and Denis Michalák were taken into care by the Norwegian social service, known as Barnevernet, in May 2011, following suspicions voiced by their nursery school that they had been physically and sexually abused.

Although proof was not determined during a police investigation, her sons, who were then aged six and three, were put into foster care. The Norwegian authorities allowed Mrs Michaláková only minimal contact with the boys.

By late 2015, she was denied the right to have any contact with them, and the older boy has since been adopted by a different family.

Zdeněk Kapitán, head of the Office for Legal Protection of Children, which was also involved in the case, explained to Czech Radio what led the authorities to remove Mrs Michaláková’s children in the first place:

Zdeněk Kapitán | Photo: Jan Bartoněk,  Czech Radio

“When the Norwegian authorities first removed the boys from the family, they found that their care had been seriously neglected. The European Court of Human Rights considers that this has been proven by the Norwegian national authorities.

“There was suspicion of sexual abuse of the children. And even the European Court Human Rights emphasised in its reasoning that one of the grounds that the Norwegian courts applied and proved was that the mother had failed to protect the children.”

The Norwegian authorities also criticised the mother for disclosing sensitive information about the case, arguing that it contradicted the children's experience of the situation. The courts also took into account the children's refusal to have contact with their mother.

Despite that, Mr. Kapitán says he would have preferred a different solution to the problem:

“Speaking for myself, I would prefer a solution where the mother's contact with her children is safely restored for them so that she can take back custody of the children.

“That is a solution the Norwegian authorities did not opt for. They felt that the interference with the children's position was so severe that they preferred to restrict and gradually eliminate their contact altogether.”

Senator Jitka Chalánková, who has been involved in the case for many years, says Mrs Michaláková is considering appealing the verdict. But given the time that has passed since the boys were taken from their mother, the chances of their reuniting are very small, says Mr. Kapitán:

“I myself find the length of these proceedings very problematic, because the lives of the children change completely over such a long period of time. Very often, it diminishes the chances for such cases to be rehabilitated.”