Swahili Interpreter Services in Parental Rights Cases

Swahili Interpreters for Litigants from Congo, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Other African Countries

The Swahili language, also known as Kiswahili, is spoken in Congo, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and some parts of Somalia and Mozambique. Today there is a growing need for Swahili legal interpreters along with the legal interpreters and translators fluent in Anuak, Dinka, Tigrinya, Oromo, Haitian Creole, Somali, Amharic, and other exotic and common foreign languages spoken in various African countries for parental rights cases. The importance of understanding a person’s culture and background in litigation cannot be understated. When dealing with a person that is not native to the U.S., legal interpreters and translators who speak rare and common African languages play a large role. These types of legal translation and interpreting services are often key in family law matters, particularly those involving the potential termination of parental rights, which determine what course of action is in the best interest of children and ultimately decide the future of families.

Parental Rights Case Involving Litigants from Africa

In re A.U. (Iowa App. 2022) in a recent case before the Court of Appeals of Iowa two parents challenged a lower court’s decision to terminate their parental rights with respect to their two youngest children. They had five children in total. The parents had immigrated from Africa separately. It is important to note that Africa has great linguistic diversity. Some African countries have an official language, e.g., French, Arabic, English or Portuguese. There also exists a plethora of spoken languages as well as dialects on the continent, e.g., Swahili or Kiswahili, Afrikaans, Somali, Tigre, and Zulu, among many others. The native languages of the parents in this case were Swahili and French.

Should Parental Rights Be Terminated Based on Cultural and Language Barriers?

On appeal, the parents argued that the juvenile court’s decision was based on cultural differences and that language barriers contributed to the termination. The parents also argued that the State had not proven a ground for termination, i.e., that the children could not be returned to their care, as required by Iowa Code Section 232.116(1)(h). The father also argued he should have been provided additional time so that he could attempt to reunite with his family.

The father took issue with reports made by caseworkers at the Iowa Department of Human Services. He claimed that while he was not a traditional American parent, he could provide adequate housing and appropriate care for his children. The mother argued that she had provided a safe environment for the children, remedied food safety concerns noted by the caseworkers during their visits, provided proper supervision, and was an active parent.

Three-Step Analysis When Reviewing Termination of Rights Cases

When reviewing these types of parental rights cases, the appellate court asks three questions: (1) was there a statutory ground for termination; (2) are the children’s best interests served by the termination; and (3) was there no exception in the statute that would have precluded termination? If all of these questions are answered in the affirmative, the appellate court looks to other issues the parents might raise that might influence the termination decision, e.g., whether or not additional time should be provided.

Ground for Termination of Parental Rights

The appellate court found that that the termination should be upheld. It ruled that the case may have been riddled with cultural differences, but those differences were not the basis for the decision to terminate the parents’ rights. The Court found that there had been grounds for termination. The children could not be returned to their parents’ care at the time of the termination hearing. The appellate court cited the fact that while the father worked, he sent most of his earnings to family back in Africa, he allowed the family home to fall in disrepair and he did not intervene when the mother physically disciplined the children. The Court also noted the father’s general absence. Turning to the mother, the court cited the uninhabitable state she kept the family home (pest infestations, foul odors, feces on the floor, etc.), feeding her children food that had not been properly stored, her general inattention to the children, her abuse of the children by beating them with telephone charger cords on various occasions and locking them out of the home. The court emphasized that Swahili and French interpreter services had been provided to the parents throughout the proceedings in court, during visits, family team meetings and medical appointments. Rather than not understanding the caseworkers’ expectations due to a language barrier, the appellate court instead held that the mother had not made enough effort at improving conditions in the home.

Best Interests of the Children

Additionally, the court found that remaining with their parents would not be in the best interests of the children. On this issue, the court placed more importance on safety and a permanent home and less on the risks of sibling separation and losing their cultural heritage/identity as argued by the mother. The appellate court noted that the children were “thriving in their foster home” and that risks existed in the parents’ home that outweighed the factors advanced by the mother.

Statutory Exception Precluding Termination

With respect to an exception precluding termination, the appellate court highlighted the fact that while Iowa Code allows the Court to forgo termination when a close bond between the parents and child exists, such a bond and closeness did not exist in this case. The father was rarely around, and the mother did not seem to make the effort to properly care for her children.

Additional Time and Request for ‘Culturally and Linguistically Fluent Visitation Supervisor’

Finally, the appellate court denied the father additional time citing his misuse of the three years already provided to him by the Department following the removal decision and the misuse of support services. His request for a “culturally and linguistically fluent visitation supervisor” was held to have been improperly raised on appeal. The appellate court held that complaints about services should have been raised at an earlier stage, i.e., at removal, when the case permanency plan was entered or at later review hearings.

Get in touch with the legal translation, interpreting, expert witness service All Language Alliance, Inc. to obtain Swahili to English certified legal document translation; transcription and translation of an audio recording from Swahili to English; and to retain a Swahili deposition interpreter for a Zoom deposition, or a Swahili deposition interpreter for an on-site deposition.

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