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La Nacion is a leading Costa Rican daily published in the capital, San José. Founded in 1946, it holds a conservative editorial view. The newspaper is owned by Grupo Nacion, which also owns several other newspapers in Central America.
How Courts Around The World Are Stripping No-Vaxxers Of Parental Rights
Irene Caselli

How Courts Around The World Are Stripping No-Vaxxers Of Parental Rights

The question of who gets to decide questions around a child's health when vaccines are at play is complicated, and keeps popping up from Italy to Costa Rica to France and the U.S.

It is a parent’s worst nightmare to find out their child needs heart surgery. When it happened to the parents of a two-year-old child in the central Italian city of Modena, there was something extra to worry about: The blood transfusion required for the operation could include traces of the COVID-19 vaccine, which they opposed for religious reasons.

The parents asked the Sant'Orsola clinic in Bologna if they could vet the blood for the transfusion to make sure it hadn’t come from vaccinated donors. When the hospital refused, the parents took it to court, putting their child’s surgery on hold.

The court objected to their decision and temporarily stripped the couple of their parental rights, allowing doctors to go ahead with the transfusion and with the surgery, which took place in early February and was successful.

The court motivated its decision by saying that a parent’s religious belief does not come before a child’s health, reports La Gazzetta di Modena daily. Moreover, there is no scientific proof that the donor’s vaccination status can affect the health of the person receiving the transfusion, added the judge.

Between private rights and public health

The case in Italy is the latest in a series of complicated court decisions regarding parents who are opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations. It is, in some ways, the most complicated anti-vax battle, involving questions over who gets to decide what is in the best interest of a child, who is bound by the law to a parent or legal guardian and cannot decide for themselves.

We’ve seen repeatedly how the pandemic has blurred the sphere between private and public, with courts and medical experts intervening to tell parents the state knows best about a child’s wellbeing. While it is not unprecedented for states and courts to scrutinize what parents do, polarized views about vaccines have been playing out in several court cases involving children.

Several cases have come up of divorced couples who disagreed about the vaccine and ended up in court to decide who should have the final say.

Parents are trying to do what they think is best for their kids

Last year, a judge in Illinois took away a mother’s custody rights because she was unvaccinated, but rescinded the ruling a few weeks later, according to The Chicago Tribune. A New York City judge suspended parental visits for an unvaccinated father unless he got vaccinated or got tested each time he wanted to spend time with his 3-year-old child. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a judge ordered a father to get vaccinated or provide a medical statement explaining why he couldn't.

Visiting rights for the unvaccinated

Attorney Patrick Baghdaserians, who represents the mother in the Los Angeles case, said he was surprised by how far the judge had gone. “I’ve never seen a judge take the next step, which is ... if one of the parents is not vaccinated, that potentially exposes the child to harm,” Baghdaserians told The Los Angeles Times.

In two different cases in Canada, unvaccinated fathers have lost their visitation rights or their custody altogether — in the latter case the child in question is immunocompromised and at risk. A court in British Columbia, Canada, asked an unvaccinated father not to discuss or share anti-vax social media posts with his 11-year-old child.

Family courts in Australia and in Spain are also siding with vaccinated parents in divorce cases — except for a couple of exceptions, including one in Tenerife, Canary Islands, where the judge agreed that the low COVID risk among the youngest family members did not outweigh the unknown long-term effects of the vaccines on children, as reports La Vanguardia.

Studies around the world have concluded that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe for children, with the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommending them for children ages 5 and older, while trials for children up until the age of five are still ongoing.

Protest against vaccine and mask mandates in Tucson, Arizona

Christopher Brown/ZUMA

A terrible position

"Parents are in this terrible position, trying to do what they think is best for their kids, and then fighting with their estranged spouse to try to do what's best for their kids," Ric Roane, a family law attorney in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told CNN.

In several other countries provisions have been put in place to avoid this kind of legal trouble to arise.

For example, in France, the authorization from one parent is enough for children to be vaccinated from the age of five onwards. Initially it was only possible for the age group 12 to 15, but then the parliament approved a law that covers every child, using the health emergency to ground the decision, as the Paris-based daily Libération explains.

Costa Rica became the first country in the world to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all minors

Moreover, France allows young people to go ahead and get the vaccine without parental approval from the age of 16 onwards. This is in stark contrast to countries like Italy, where several underage teenagers are trying to get their families to allow them to get the vaccine, and even contacting lawyers and medical personnel to get their help.

Bioethical questions

Italy’s state-run National Committee for Bioethics also addressed the issue, siding with adolescents. “If the minor's desire to be vaccinated were to conflict with that of the parents, the Committee believes that the adolescent should be heard by medical personnel with pediatric expertise and that his or her wishes should prevail, as they coincide with the best interests of his or her mental and physical health and public health,” it said in a statement.

Last November, Costa Rica became the first country in the world to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all minors from the age of five onwards, except in the case of medical exemptions. If parents refuse, health authorities have the right to allow the vaccination, reports La Nación newspaper. Earlier, in February, a conversation between a father and a doctor resulted in a heated argument and then a fist fight among several people, with the arrest of seven people, reports CNN.

While more than 90% of people between 12 and 19 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, the numbers are much lower for children aged 5-12. Some lawmakers in Costa Rica are calling the mandate a “health dictatorship,” but public health expert Roman Macaya Hayes, who heads the Costa Rican Social Security Institute, declared that "the collective good supersedes the rights of the individual.” For any parent, it’s the hardest pill to swallow.

Pope Francis in Vatican City on Feb. 6
Benjamin Witte

Vatican, Costa Rica, France: #MeToo And The Sound Of Broken Silence


The #MeToo movement was, above all, a collective "breaking of the silence" that shifted the longstanding balance of power on the question of sexual misconduct, particularly in the professional world.

Many have noted that what became a collective raising of (mostly female) voices may have required the accusations of a few Hollywood movie stars to launch the movement that, even just this week, continues to reverberate everywhere from the Vatican to France to Costa Rica.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis added his to the chorus of voices speaking out against sexual misconduct by acknowledging, for the first time, the sexual abuse (by members of the clergy) of women who are in many ways the epitome of silent servitude: Catholic nuns.

"It is true ... there have been priests and even bishops who have done this," Francis told an on-board reporter while flying from Abu Dhabi to Rome.

The remarks follow publication of a recent article in Women Church World, a Vatican magazine, alleging that Catholic clerics have sexually abused and even impregnated nuns, who in some cases were forced to have abortions. The abuse was hidden, again, by a wall of silence: Nuns kept quiet, reportedly, out of fear that they or their orders would face retaliation from the ruling male clergy.

That fear of exposure also took center stage Tuesday in Paris, where six women connected with France's Green political party EELV gathered in a courtroom to detail years of accusations against former EELV party leader Denis Baupin.

Back then there was less #MeToo.

Among those providing testimony was a former spokeswoman for the party, Sandrine Rousseau, who testified that in 2011, Baupin pinned her against a wall and touched her breasts. As French daily Le Mondereported, the other accusers shared similar stories of feeling too isolated and intimidated, in the past, to go public.

"Back then there was less #MeToo," said Rousseau, remembering the backlash faced by French writer Tristane Banon when she accused prominent politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her.

In Central America, in the meantime, a woman is speaking out against a particularly esteemed political figure: Nobel laureate and former Costa Rican leader Oscar Arias, who twice held the presidency (1986-1990, 2006-2010).

Activist and doctor Alexandra Arce von Herold told prosecutors on Monday that in December of 2014, Arias sexually assaulted her in his home, where she had gone to deliver some documents: "He grabbed me from behind and touched my breasts," the Costa Rican daily La Nación quoted the accuser as saying. "I told him no, and reminded him that he was married. That was my no. It was the only thing I could think to say." Arias, through a statement submitted by his lawyer, denies any wrongdoing, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Sexual violence did not begin or end with the accusations first launched 16 months ago against movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Centuries of forced silence are not over yet either. Still, the #MeToo movement has already changed the world in ways that no Hollywood movie ever has.

Migrants trying to make their way to Costa Rica

Haitian Migrants Flock To Costa Rica To Flee Brazil Crisis

LA CRUZ — Yet another migrant crisis for the world: the tiny Central American nation of Costa Rica is now faced with the arrival of thousands of Haitians, many by way of crisis-hit Brazil.

Over the past four months, some 8,500 Haitians have entered the tiny Central American nation, reports La Nación, based in the capital of San José. Approximately 4,500 of the new arrivals are staying in government camps. The others crowd the streets of the northern border crossing with Nicaragua, looking to go further northward.

This is the third refugee emergency to shake Costa Rica this year. In January, some 8,000 Cuban refugees arrived, overwhelming local authorities. And in June, the country experienced an influx of African migrants.

Thousands of Haitians fled their home country in 2010 after the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 150,000 people. Many moved to Brazil and other South American countries. But the ongoing economic and political crisis in Brazil, where more than 40,000 Haitian refugees received asylum, has caused an exodus of Haitian migrants seeking new lives further north — in Central America and, ultimately, the United States.

To improve their chances of gaining asylum, many Haitians use their basic command of French, similar to their native tongue, Haitian Creole, and the dark color of their skin to trick immigration officials into believing they are African. In early August, Costa Rican Foreign Affairs Minister Manuel González claimed that 95% of migrants claiming to be African were actually from Haiti.

La Nación was on hand as one Haitian man, Lima, tried to convince a Costa Rican immigration official that he's from Congo — to no avail: "My family — my wife, my son, and my dad — all are in Brazil," he said, switching to fluent Spanish. "I'm a construction worker. I left the country because there's no work."

Like many of his compatriots, Lima worked on construction sites for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, with Haitians providing cheap labor for massive infrastructure projects. Now that both events have passed and the Brazilian economy continues to nosedive, many Haitians find themselves out of work and in need of a way out.

Thousands of Haitian migrants remain stranded at the northern border, waiting to continue their journey. And Costa Rica, just as it did with the African and Cuban asylum seekers that preceded them, is struggling to find a solution.

In San Jose, Costa Rica

African Migrants' Transatlantic Route Floods Tiny Costa Rica

SAN JOSÉ — A troubling new sea-bound migration route has opened up, as some 20,000 migrants from African countries are believed to have flocked to Costa Rica, according to a recently released International Organization for Migration (IOM) report.

La Nación, a daily in the Costa Rican capital of San José, reports that the figure of 20,000 greatly exceeds the estimate of 9,000 made last month by the Organization of American States (OAS), and is set to expand further as people fleeing economic hardship and state repression in Africa seek an alternative to the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Europe.

The transatlantic trafficking routes tend to bring African migrants primarily to Brazil, before transiting through South and Central America to reach their final destination: the United States.

The migrants board ships from West African countries like Senegal, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast, or further north from Spain and Portugal, to reach the shores of Colombia and Brazil.

Trafficking routes then take them through Peru and the Andean coast to Panama and ultimately Costa Rica, where they follow the same paths trodden before by refugees from Cuba and violent Central American countries who also traveled north to the U.S.-Mexican border.

"Countries in the region aren't ready for such an influx," Gladys Jiménez, interim director of Costa Rica's Migration Department told La Nación. "Legislation exists to handle regular transit, but not something like this." Regional efforts at tackling an earlier Cuban migration crisis took a hit last November when Nicaragua shut its borders to migrants entering from Costa Rica, but the numbers of African asylum seekers far exceed the Cuban arrivals.

Unlike in its response to the influx of Cubans, when it opened shelters and requested towns and churches to take in some 8,000 refugees, the Costa Rican government now says it will only provide medical attention to African migrants in the country, who arrive by the dozens every day from the Panamanian border. With the small country of 4.8 million people struggling to handle the coming arrivals and with Nicaraguan soldiers shutting the land border to the north, African migrants will be forced to find other ways to make it northward, where the ultimate goal is typically refugee status in the United States.