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Norwegian Child Protection Services: A Breach to Multiculturalism

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By P. V. Swati:

Barnevarne, a child care service of Norway, took custody of Indian children Abhigyan and Aishwarya from their natural parents Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya in May 2011 when they were two and-a-half years and six months old and lodged them in separate foster homes. It charged the mother Sagarika with “negligence and unable to bring up” the children.

The Norwegian court further ruled that the two children would stay in two different foster homes until the age of 18 and their natural parents would be allowed to meet them only for an hour once a year. Shockingly, the court added a precondition that only if the couple separated, could the custody of the children be given to the natural father, who has been employed as a geoscientist in Norway. After an international media outcry and a personal meeting of grandparents Monotosh and Shikha Chakravarty with President Pratibha Patil to seek her intervention in getting their two grandchildren back from foster care in Norway, headway is reported. Now Norway has agreed to hand over the children to their uncle in India. But, the visas of Bhattacharyas expiring in March, they dread leaving the country without their children.

Amid a false sense of euphoria as Norway has agreed to hand over the children to their uncle subject to a Norwegian district court accepting the arrangement, larger issues remain, raising disturbing questions. In upholding the applicability of Norwegian laws, Indian sovereignty cannot be subjugated to abdicate the majesty of Indian family laws. The precedent is, therefore, clearly wrong and this may not be a healthy trend for 30 million NRIs who live in 180 countries. In matters of local civil and criminal laws, Indians may have to follow the law of the foreign domicile, but in matters of personal laws in our homes, the exception of applicability of our family laws must prevail. The sanctity of the personal family laws of Indian communities is overriding.

Countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have stringent state welfare policies for their nationals which empower them to place children in foster homes to live with strangers. The Norwegian Child Protection Services, however, ought not to have exercised such right over Indian children whose religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic milieu was different and distinct.

In respect of Hindus, i.e. any person who is a Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (HMGA), 1956, has extra territorial application. It also applies to Hindus domiciled in territories outside India. Thus, the Bhattacharyas carry with them their personal law in their pockets when they live in Norway. Under HMGA, the natural guardian of a Hindu minor is his father and after him the mother. The custody of a minor child under five shall ordinarily be with the mother.

Applying European yardsticks of culture, habits and social mores to the Bhattacharya coouple who profess Hindu religion and cultural practices is not the correct application of the best interests for determining the welfare of the children. An overzealous Norwegian social set-up cannot change the personal law of the parties or usurp the interpretation of the principles of upbringing of Indian children and thrust in on foreign citizens domiciled temporarily in its territory.

The U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child has been brutally offended in the children being confiscated and put in foster care. The Right to Family Life guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights too has been violated. The dilemma is international and the Nordic viewpoint needs to be tested. Forcibly removing children and putting them in foster homes and adoption to foreign parents whilst their natural parents are living are not in the best interest or welfare of the child.

To understand and analyse the root cause of such dramatic measure by the Norwegian Child Protective Services, as claimed by them is that the couple were not bringing up the children properly. They fed the children with their hands and the infants slept in the same room as their parents.

The case clearly reflects Norway’s lack of respect for the possibility that many questions around child care and upbringing may not have definitive answers and therefore a moral basis for passing verdicts about the right and wrong of wide range of parenting practices. Further, CPS’s policing and enforcing strict parenting norms is at the expense of emotional support and empathy. This case also illustrate how, under the powerful mandate of the CPS, malign gossip can suffice to prompt the forcible removal of children from their parents.

In a similar case involving two Polish children, Tomasz and Maria were taken away from the parents and placed in Norwegian foster homes by the Child Protection Services in Stavanger.

The protests came after Russian media have recently run a series of issues about how more and more Russian women living in Norway are deprived of their children. Especially two cases on Russian media were strong enough to mobilize the protestors. One of these news stories featured a Russian citizen, who lives in Norway, whose name is Maya Kasayeva. Her shocking statements took many newspapers’ front pages: “During the court hearings, the judge told me: ‘We give you residence permit, and you give us your son.’ I refused, and then the repressions started.”

The claims in the second case were more outraging. Irina Bergseth Frolova, a Russian woman living in Norway, had found out that her ex-husband, a Norwegian citizen, as well as his friends and relatives, had been raping their four-year-old son. The reports also remind another foster father who was previously been found guilty for child pornography and child sexual abuse in Stavanger.

Berit Aarset, who heads Human Rights Alert, Norway, has called the incident “state kidnapping.” As she puts it, “this is not the first time such a thing is happening in Norway. The legal system favours the Child Welfare Services and they do what they want all the time. Quite often when a Norwegian is married to a non-Norwegian they also do the same thing; they also do this to asylum seekers and in almost every case they say one of the parents has a mental problem just to make their case strong and that is what has happened in the Bhattacharya case too”

In fact, the practices of Barnevern do not only worry Russians and Indians. There is a deep rooted scepticism among local groups towards an increased use of home based measures. The current practices in the Norwegian Child Protection system are not compatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Norway’s Child Protective Service is a powerful body charged with protecting the rights of children living in difficult family situations. But there are reports of too many excesses. There has been a UN report in 2005 which criticised CPS for taking too many children in public care. The number is a striking 12,500 in a small country like Norway.

The statistics show a large increase in the use of foster homes from 2009 to 2010, the use of national supported foster homes increased by 16 per cent. During this period, the total number of children registered in the national Child Welfare Service saw a rise of 7 per cent, and reached a total of 5 700 children in 2010. More children were in foster homes and fewer in children’s institutions at the end of 2010. Approximately 5,700 children were registered in the national Child Welfare Service. Since 2009, this figure has increased by more than 7 per cent. On average there are 4.6 children per thousand (age 0-19) registered in the Child Welfare Service in 2010; a climb of 15 per cent since 2006. Of the 5,700 children registered in the national Child Welfare Service, 59 per cent stayed in foster homes, 23 per cent stayed in children’s institutions and 19 per cent received assistance while living at home.

Thus, undoubtedly there is something deeply disturbing about the superiority and moral authority in the attitude of Norway’s Child Protection Services to child rearing practices of immigrants; it harks back to darker, less civil and long bygone times.

The larger question now is how will Norway come to term with and catches up with developing public institutions that cater not only for their nationals but have inbuilt checks and balances that allow for a better handling of multiculturalism and can help to prevent tragedies like these.

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  1. anystrangething

    It is difficult to knowm so much about a prticular case that one can judge well who is right or wrong, but generally the behavior of the Norwegian SPS gives a very disturbing picrure that can be summarized as follows:

    Also native Norwegians fear badly the SWF system in Norway. They use children as trade objects out of greed for money. If you deviate from some strict and unnatural normality scheme or culturally, your children are really in danger. This system snaps children to the full extent of their capacity. If you give them the double capacity, they will snap twice as many children as now.Generally I worn families with children moving to Norway or even visiting Norway as tourists.

    To kiss your child or give it a good embrace is enough in this country to be suspected of child sexual abuse and have your children taken away from you. They have a myriad other normality paragraphs too, or just invent some new case by case as they feel conveniant. If for example a child has a healthy weight and a healthy diet, they will state thaty the child is underfeeded. If the child is somewhat fatter they will call it overfeeding. In this way they twist the definitions of neglect and abuse so to suit any case.

    In a certain sense all children in Norway are registered or monitored intimately by this system, but not necessarily as official cases. Teachers, doctors, nurses, hospitals, health care workers, dentists, priests, police, kindergtarten employees and any public official that deal with children work as depudees of this system in addition to their official roles in the society, and they have regular meeting with this system where any child can be discussed and any child is discussed and monitored to the full extent of the capacity of this network. This stasi-like surveillance system makes it very difficult to find any official a parent can trust, but all parents are well adviced to be on guard and do their own counter-surveillance on this system.

    This system also is a part of a greater international ring of similar agencies in countries like UK, USA, Sweden and Denmark. They all measure the kids and the parents up against a very narrow normality standard which is far from natural or healthy and snap away children when this standard is not met.

    This system attacks both Norwegian and Foreign families. Generally Norwegian parents are afraid of these agencies and their helpers in the public services. These agencies work together and can anytime come and snap your children from you if there is something regarding the child or the family which is not politically correct. Because of these fears, Norwagians go around, behaving according to official norms, making false smiles and interchanging false positive comments regarding anything the authorities do or arrange, but you can see the fear and apathy in thir eyes and their face. Norway is no happy country.

    But of cource also these agencies have somewhat limited resources, and cannot take every child they see. They often choose children that have a good life, but somehow deviate from the common norm. It does not matter if the deviation is positive or negative, only that it is a deviation. Often they use the pretent of so called early intervention. Children that are grossly abused or neglected are seldome taken, because taking these children does not give personal gratification or profit for the agents or those they cooperate with.

    The best way a foreigners can help both themselves and Norwegian Citizens against this system is total and full boicott of all Norwegian companies and products, and by not settling in Norway or go to Norway as tourists.

    Regards Knut Holt

    1. Florence Najjemba

      I totally agree with you knut. Barnvern denied me the right to visit my daugther at 4 years and 9 months in 13 febuary 2014 at the barnehage Snåsa Vinjebakken barnehage based on allegations that I was sick and I was dangerous to my child. I am suprised that there are Norwagian parents with poor mental health that have a right to see and live with their children. But African Parents have no right to visit their children if they have health issues. In fact i was surprised that my cake that i had bought to eat with my girl was thrown in the bin by barnehage worker Gard based on orders from Barnevern Norway. After 3 hours of waiting to see that I could talk to my girl they told me to call the Håvard Høgsnes father of the girl to ask for permission to talk to my girl. I wonder which kind of discrimination is this, I impressed how the Norwagian system supports its Norwagians to mistreat they ex-partners. I really wonder if Norway is the best place to live in as UN says. I have not come a close an article in UNCRC that says that parents that have depresion or mental illness or any form of sickness can miss their natural right to see or talk to their children as long as they have never hurt their children. I pray that one day Jehovah will show mercy and justice to foreign parents in Norway who have lost their children to Barnvern Norway. Florence Najjemba

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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