Norway’s child welfare agency comes under fire

By Anadolu Agency

Norway’s child welfare agency Barnevernet has been the subject of controversy, with its decisions fueling growing concern among families, human rights lawyers and activists.

In some cases that families brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Norway has been convicted several times in connection with Article 8 of the convention which provides that everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life, human rights lawyer Stephanos Stavros told Anadolu Agency.

“In Norway, it is much easier for the child welfare authorities to take away children from their natural parents and put them in public care than to release them for adoption, to sever any contacts between the children and their natural parents,” Stavros added.

The ECHR was particularly critical of the decision to cut the ties between a child and their biological family, he said.

“Norway has been forced to take measures in order to comply with the judgments of the court, and now we are in the process of reviewing whether these measures have been adequate,” he added.

Since 2015, the Barnevernet’s practices, which have mostly involved taking away children from their families by citing “abuse,” have been highly criticized both inside and outside the country.

The lack of relevant evaluations and ignoring cultural differences while deciding on cases of “child removal” are among the main reasons behind the criticisms.

On Sept. 10, 2019, the ECHR ruled that Norway violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Authorities creating conditions leading to adoption

Conditions created by the authorities led to an interruption of the real bonds between natural parents and their children and the adoption of the children because of the limited contact, Stavros said.

“So there were contact visits, for example, two or three times per year, two hours each time, and then the conclusion three years later was that the child didn’t have any real bond with their natural parents. But it was precisely the decision of the authorities to limit the child’s contact with their natural parents that led to the non-existence of the natural bond,” he added.

Touching on the case of the son of Mariya Abdi Ibrahim, a Muslim refugee who came from Somalia at the age of 16 and was forcefully taken by Norwegian authorities in 2010, Stavros said the big problem in this case is that the child of a Muslim mother was taken and given to a family of “Christian religious fundamentalists.”

“If there is such a huge difference in the beliefs between the natural mother and the foster family and the child stays with the foster family for quite a while, the child will become estranged from the mother,” he said.

He went on to say that if you take this decision, inevitably it becomes immediately clear that the child will become estranged from the mother. Also, Mariya was clearly struggling with different identities, he said, adding she was trying to find a new identity in Norway. She said she did not want her child to become a Norwegian or a Christian. The authorities’ response was that in Europe, you cannot impose your identity on the child.

it is a “brutal response to somebody who’s struggling to find their place in Norway,” he said, adding from the point of integration, there was a clear failure.

Also, “there were 10 to 15 violations under all these cases still pending before the Committee of Ministers for execution. Norway has given compensation to most of these parents,” he said.

‘No system is perfect’

Occasionally, there are misunderstandings about the work of Norway’s child welfare agency, Kristin Ugstad Steinrem, director at the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, told Anadolu Agency.

“No system is perfect. There can be mistakes. That’s why we always strive to improve our work to ensure that children are raised safely in Norway, said Steinrem.

They welcome the ECHR’s review of the Norwegian child welfare system, as the majority of cases brought to the ECHR have concluded against Norway, she added.

“We can strive to do better. Some measures have already been taken to ensure compliance with ECHR decisions. The Norwegian Supreme Court has also decided to hear four new cases,” she said.