Single, Working Mother….Unfit Parent?

A Chinese national, living in Italy, has successfully brought a human rights case against Italian authorities for violating her right to respect for her private and family life. Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights forbids any interference by public authorities into one’s private and family life.

Jiaoqin Zhou moved to Padua, Italy in 2000 with her partner and one child. After the birth of her second child, Zhou sent the children to live in China with their grandparents. While pregnant with her third child, her partner left, leaving her alone to take care of her child while also trying to make a living for herself. When the child was 3 ½, Zhou left the child with her neighbors while she went to work. She did not, however, inform social services. Several months later, the Youth Court was informed by social services of the circumstances and determined that Zhou was unable to properly care for her child. An adoption procedure was thus called for and the child was placed in a foster family, giving Zhou no contact to her child for ten months.

While the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this was a violation of Article 8, do you think Italian authorities properly put the child up for adoption because a single-working mother had to provide babysitting services for her toddler provided by next-door neighbors? In Italy, only 4% of families are “headed” by single parents. However, 50% of unwed mothers live with their parents or other relatives. Do you think these statistics contribute to the way the Italian government views non-traditional families that lack familial support? While in America it may seem common to have neighbors and friends provide babysitting services to working parents, Italians may view that differently in that they have such strong familial ties. Because 4% is such a low statistic, it is likely there are inadequate social services that are tailored to single mothers, making impossible situations for mothers like Zhou.






  1. I think that this specific situation is a tough call. Zhou is in a predicament because she does not have family in Italy. The only other option, if not for paying a babysitter, is to leave the child with a trusted non-family member. I think that this would be a fact-based inquiry as to whether the neighbors were capable babysitters for the child. However, the remedy that the Italian authorities used was far too harsh. The fact that Zhou had no contact with her child for 10 months merely because she sought care for her child while she was at work is unjust. It may just be impossible in Italy for a single mother with no familial ties in Italy and a lack of social services to adequately raise her child. However, there should definitely be fairer procedure in place to evaluate her fitness, and examine what her alternatives are.

  2. I think what the Italian government did might be considered as reasonable given the low percentage of single parents in Italy, their social values, family ties, and traditions in general. However, keeping a child away from the mother for 10 months and not letting the mother see or spend time with her child seems like it has far gone. The Italian government could have still made sure that the child is safe and living in good conditions without separating the child from the mother for 10 months. Even though the idea of protecting the child is an appreciable step taken by the Italian government, the process used is too harsh. I believe the ECHR made the right decision by finding that there was an Article 8 violation because regardless of reasons raised by the Italian authorities, the Italian government had to respect the mother’s private and family life, and its interference should have been done within the mother’s knowledge and willingness to cooperate with the authorities.

  3. I give working, single parents a lot of credit. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to be able to support a child, but to support a child singlehandedly? That takes strength and perseverance. I know couples who are struggling to support their children and they have two incomes. I cannot imagine how a single parent can find the time to work and raise a family at the same time. I give Zhou a lot of credit to be able to make it on her own. I do not agree with how Italy handled the situation. A parent cannot bring his or her child everywhere. Zhou did not have easy access to the family support that she needed. Her parents live in China. Who can she contact to babysit her child that lives locally? If Zhou trusted her neighbors to watch her child then she should not lose her baby.

  4. The ‘fitness’ of the neighbors seems the relevant fact here.

    The government may find it objectionable for non-family to provide child care-giving, but the government’s own solution is also non-family provided care-giving… MINUS the mother provided care-giving when she is not working. We don’t even know if the neighbors the mother knew would be able to qualify for the Italian government’ standards of foster families, much less whether the care they were giving was somehow inadequate. Nothing suggests any inadequacy in the parenting relationship in the time the mother is with the child, a relationship also severed by the government’s remedy.

    Question: Are there no private day care centers for children in Italy? What of the practice of wealthy of hiring nannies to look after children for part of the day, not fundamentally different than this case? Or boarding schools, etc. If there was a problem with the adequacy of the chosen neighbors, that could be dealt with specifically, and at most would imply a change in care givers without interfering with the mother’s relationship and rights with her child. The reported info does not even suggest that such a problem with the neighbors’ caregiving ever was the motivator for the investigation which led to the government’s action: merely the general fact of a single mother having neighbors care for her child for part of the day seems to be the motivator.

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