Norway defends its child welfare laws

Norway’s state child welfare agency Barnevernet has once again become a target of international protests, over its attempts to enforce national laws aimed at protecting children. Both the Norwegian agency and top politicians claim they’re listening to the new wave of protests, but are largely fending them off in what they claim are the best interests of the children involved.

Solveig Horne, the Norwegian government minister in charge of famiily issues and equality, hails from Norway's most conservative party but is under fire from conservative Christian organizations over Norway's law that forbids physical punishment of children in any form. PHOTO: Barne- og likestillingsdepartementet

Solveig Horne, the Norwegian government minister in charge of famiily issues and equality, hails from Norway’s most conservative party but is under fire from conservative Christian organizations over Norway’s law that forbids physical punishment of children in any form. PHOTO: Barne- og likestillingsdepartementet

The latest protests are being staged mostly outside Norwegian embassies and consulates in Europe and the US. Nearly 20 demonstrations tied to a contested child protection case in Norway are being mounted this month, from Bucharest to Washington DC, largely organized by Romanian and Christian organizations including Assemblies of God International, the Union of Romanian Pentecostal Churches of the US and Canada and several others.

The protesters claim that five children in a Norwegian-Romanian family living in Norway were “abducted” from their parents, who are members of an international Christian organization themselves. Media outlets in Norway, including newsinenglish.no, have received dozens of email from protesters in recent weeks, in what appears to be an organized campaign aimed at drumming up publicity for the demonstrations and support for the children’s parents.

Barnevernet, which operates under strict confidentiality laws, is unable to comment specifically on the case in question. Email demonstrators claim it’s rooted in “baseless allegations” against the children’s Romanian father and Norwegian mother. Norwegian newspaper Dagen has reported that Barnevernet got involved after receiving complaints that the children were being subjected to radical “Christian indoctrination,” later construed as violence and abuse. The parents, charged under a law covering physical abuse in close relationships, reportedly have admitted on Romanian TV to physically punishing their children, knowing it is illegal in Norway, but they claimed their punishments were no worse than what’s allowed in many countries other than Norway. It remains unusual for Barnevernet to remove children from a home, but when it happens, it’s usually because the children are determined to be victims of neglect or physical abuse. The parents and the protesters vigorously deny that’s true in this case.

No violence allowed
In an interview with Solveig Horne, the government minister from the conservative Progress Party who’s responsible for family issues, Norwegian newspaper Dagen reported how she stressed that religious freedom is strong in Norway, but that doesn’t allow violence against children.

“We take criticism seriously,” Horne told Dagen. “I am most concerned that we have a good discussion, though, instead of going down into the trenches.”

While it’s accepted in many countries and religions to physicially punish children into compliance, the practice is not accepted in Norway and Barnevernet is charged with upholding Norwegian law. Now it’s being accused of “kidnapping” children and otherwise tearing families apart. The angry emails being sent to media organizations broadly condemn Barnevernet’s work and demand that both the government and the media “wake up” and pressure the agency into returning the children to their parents.

The emails started arriving in December, many of them phrased in the same way, while another campaign is being carried out on social media. Photos from demonstrations staged in several cities, for example Dublin and Madrid, are also being widely distributed and show similar banners and signs in support of the family, many of them featuring the Norwegian flag. Media outlets in Norway are usually quick to pick up on protests against Norway abroad but have been restrained in this case, perhaps because of the broad consensus in Norway against hitting children. Few if anyone would expect Horne or other state officials to condone it or cave in to the demands until a court has heard the case.

Same refrain
It’s not the first time Norwegian embassies have been used as the target of demonstrations in child custody cases, and Horne has defended Barnevernet before. She also, however, is anxious for Barnevernet to have public confidence and the agency is under near constant scrutiny: “There’s a lot of good work carried out within Norwegian child protective services, but there are also cases where the work is not good enough. We do want to look at where the challenges lie.”

Norwegian officials have also stepped in to protect children in Muslim families where violence has been a problem. Now the Christian community is banding together to defend parents’ rights to discipline their children as they see fit. In one comment sent to newsinenglish.no, a man defended his own father’s “use of the belt” and clearly felt it was within parents’ rights to beat their children when they felt it was necessary. “Nobody has forced us to protest,” another man wrote to Oslo-based newspaper VG. In his opinion, he wrote, Barnevernet is carrying out an assault on the family itself.

Horne stressed that she couldn’t address individual cases, but added that children enjoy widespread rights in Norway, have a right to protection and must be taken care of under terms of Norway’s child welfare law. “There’s nothing in the law to take over care based on religion, but it is forbidden to hit children,” Horne told Dagen. “What happens in the family is no longer a private matter.” Barnevernet has also, she has noted, often been criticized for failing to intervene.

“Religious freedom is strong in Norway,” she added. “At the same time, we must stress that hitting a child, and violence or assaults on children, is forbidden by law in Norway. No one can say that ‘according to my religion, it’s allowed to beat children.’ Under Norwegian law, that’s not allowed.” She has also stressed that efforts to communicate the ban on physical punishment of children to families with immigrant parents are being stepped up.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The name of the family involved in this story has been omitted intentionally, in accordance with Norwegian press policy also aimed at protecting children. We ask that any readers wishing to comment on the story also respect that policy.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • vlad

    I don’t understand how one can expect a system lacking any checks to ever work. It never did for some thousands of years. Doubt Norway just invented hot water…

    From what I gathered, you can go to trial with the agency for the charges they bring you. And even if you’re not found guilty, you can lose the child. Because a child protection case requires less burden of proof(wth?). This is mind boggling… Basically, this agency acts as investigator and judge and executor regarding the child’s fate.

    The amount of children taken is way out of whack compared to other countries. The agency almost never reverses it’s decision.

    How’s this thing supposed to ever work and not generate abuses and corruption?

  • John Palmer

    Whether or not the agency is fair is something I am not in a position to judge. However, I strongly support Norwegian aversion to violence against children, and against anyone for that matter

  • paul popescu

    To take few months old babies still taking milk from the mothers… to me this is madness… To take children from christian families, out of concern about indoctrination… this is not religious freedom, it is another way of persecution…

  • Gabriela

    Very good said!

  • Viorel Predatorul

    They put children in different families and are not allowed to speak they mother tongue because they want to destroy their native roots.

  • Robert Sandøy

    From the article:

    “The parents, charged under a law covering physical abuse in close relationships, reportedly have admitted on Romanian TV to physically punishing their children, knowing it is illegal in Norway, but they claimed their punishments were no worse than what’s allowed in many countries other than Norway.”

    They are charged with physical abuse of their children, not indoctrinating or anything else of the sort. Physical abuse of children of any kind is illegal in Norway. Yes, if you are not willing to conform to Norwegian laws, you are indeed not welcome in Norway.This is a matter deeply important to the Norwegian people, and something we are not willing to compromise on.

  • Robert Sandøy

    When abuse of children is suspected, the children are always removed from their caregivers before an investigation starts. This is normal procedure in all civilized countries. If there is abuse, it must be stopped immediately and the caregivers must not be give the chance to instruct their children on what to say to the authorities.

    This case is quite clear cut, as the parents have admitted to physically abusing their children.

    • Linda

      So they isolate children from families because ir is easier to prove their case. And it does not matter ir they beat their kids bloody or lightly slap childs’ butt once or have been heard yelling at them? Still sounds traumatic and family breaking. I don’t believe those investigations are swift and fast.

    • KathiMR

      Wow. I’m against child abuse, but spanking a child is not considered child abuse in most places.

      What about the trauma & abuse of ripping the children from their family? I guess nobody considers what abuse that is!

      I think that is a lot harder on children than if they are spanked. So wisdom would say to weigh the potential harm of leaving them w the parents vs removing them!

      Removing children from parents does not just have a neutral effect on children! & also separating the siblings from each other?

      & removing a 3 mo old who was likely still being nursed from her Mother w out evidence of harm? What harm did that do to the child?

  • Robert Sandøy

    In this case, on the of the parents and the children are Norwegian citizens.

    And what kind of country would we be if we simply ejected children who are abused by their parents with no care for what happens when they get back to their home country? Are you saying we have no moral obligation to stop child abuse if it happens to non-Norwegians?

  • Robert Sandøy

    The parents have admitted that they use physical violence as part of bringing up their children. As a Norwegian, I’m quite happy with them being removed from such an environment.

  • Robert Sandøy

    It’s quite common for Norwegian media to omit names, especially when children are involved. This is both to protect the people involved, as they are still only being investigated and not convicted of anything, and to protect the children.

    • Julian Manole

      I don’t think you are capable to differentiate between propaganda and facts. Or you are purposefully embracing the Norwegian propaganda. What the heck investigation are you talking about? How long has it been already since they have taken the children and they still haven’t done an investigation, something they were supposed to do in the beginning prior to taking the children away or immediately after. It is so pathetic when people do not look at facts and simply embrace propaganda, as this is how you allow abuse to continue.

      • Robert Sandøy

        I was speaking in general terms, and not being specific to this case. I was telling you why the media doesn’t use their names.

  • Robert Sandøy

    Only if your caregivers use physical violence on you.

  • Robert Sandøy

    “The parents admitted to the Norwegian authorities that happened small physical punishment very rarely on very low intensity (slapp on buttocks).”

    Illegal in Norway. If you’re not willing to conform to Norwegian law, you should not come here. Is your country any different in this regard? Can I come to your country and break any law I don’t agree with, and don’t fit with my religious views?

  • Robert Sandøy

    How can you smack someone without using violence?

    I’m sorry, but religious belief is not above the law in Norway. If that’s the kind of society you want, go live in Saudi Arabia or with IS.

    I am curious, though, how you can follow your proverbs, beating a child with a rod without him dying, without using violence?

    • KathiMR

      While I would not use the term “smack” a small smack or a spanking can be an act of love to teach a child to obey for their own good–things like not running out in the street where they might get hit by a car & killed or other harmful things.

      Yes, people can abuse that, but loving disciple including physical punishment done in love will not hurt the child. Some children need stronger correction than others.

      So, while I can not say how this particular family did it, it can be done in love.

      & even if done in anger & somewhat excessive, as long as there is love in the home, I’m sure is a lot less damaging to the child than being uprooted from the security of a loving home, & even siblings being separated.

      I realize keeping siblings together could be harder to find a placement willing to take several children but it has been found to be healthier for the children. Or were they deliberately separating them to remove parental influence that might be reinforced if they were together? If so that seems to be more about indoctrination than about what is good for a child.

      Removing a child before investigation when there aren’t serious abuse allegations is using actual child abuse to supposedly correct child abuse!

  • ioana

    Is a child the property of a parent? Like the cattle or color TV? Wow!

  • Adam

    From what I read it seems to me that Norway has its own religion, where the government agency seems to be their god who is always right. The zeal of some people protecting child kidnapping practices, appears to me as another side of extremism opposite to religion phanatics. Normal countries treat their people beliefs with respect and if there is a problem there is a conversation first of how to deal with the problem, and then the action if the diplomatic solution cannot be found. If there is no room for conversation before the penalty goes then i see no difference between it and religious phanatics who enforce their beliefs without asking anyone for permission. You might have different source of what you think is right still youre lacking ability for finding diplomatic solution.

  • Brian

    And that is the right thing to do?

    I suppose you explain to the child that ‘this time the nice man”(!) is going to read you a bedtime story (n a language you don’t understand) is ‘just as good as mummy’.

    The Norwegians can be very sick indeed.

  • Brian

    Protect the child from the violent removal from the parental home? Of Course!
    I suggest that the violent trauma involved in removing a child from its home exceeds by far that which any parent chastising a child will do. How can this be acceptable in a country that claims to be civilised?
    It would seem that Norwegian society is utterly incapable of distinguishing between chastisement and physical violence.

  • Brian

    “The “God” you are fantasizing about is totally made up.”
    And your ‘human rights’ are not ‘totally made up’?
    What a joke!

    • Jorg37

      “Human rights” is a concept that has evolved naturally, – a concept more evolved in the more modern, progressive countries than in the backwards still infested with religion. Those rights are not something “given” by a fictitious, made-up character like ‘God’ or ‘Allah’.

      • Brian

        “Human rights” is a concept that has evolved naturally.
        !
        Utter rubbish. It is a political movement like any other. Who defines what makes ‘ progressive countries’? Why, people who propose progressive politics!
        Your reference to countries being ‘ still infested with religion’ illustrrates exactly what I am referring to.
        I am the first to admit that much that is wrong is done in the name of religion but I have never met anybody promoting ‘human right’ who can admit that evil can and is done in that name.
        Evil is evil.
        Yet my atheistic aquantances who, like you, deny the existence of God also deny the existence of evil or consign it to those who believe in God.
        Have you never noticed how close God is too good? Do neither of these exist?

  • Capricorn2022

    Hm, the factual recognition in this semi-official statement is strangely distorted. The public discussion concentrates on other cases which are not based on religious dissents. There is severe doubt if Norway understands the underlying problem and is conscious of its international role – which should not be matter of personal opinion of a few Barnevernet officers.

  • Brian

    Sorry, but I find removing a child from its parental control just about as an extreme form of “mental punishment” that has ever been made legal anywhere. I agree that it happens in Europe but, given the history of Europe I cannot see how this is any kind of reccommendation.

    Is this not a hangover from the days of burning witches? In this case you are punishing the child for the (alleged) sin of its parents. How low can you stoop?

    To me this child punishing is the essential failure of the ‘human rights’ argument, the need of a child to be with its mother exceeds by far any injustice perceived by the law.

  • richard albert

    What is right and what is wrong by the law, by the law
    What is right and what is wrong by the law
    What is right and what is wrong
    By short sword or by long
    A weak arm or a strong for to draw
    Robert Burns

  • Margaret hennum

    It is exacly what you say, this is how the CPS are acting, and it is illegeal. It is not possible to remove the children as a first, sudden reaction! Suspicion of slaps behind. Most countries do NOT act like this.

  • Brian

    Indeed. In cases you refer to there is a violent crime committed against the child which should be adjudicated in a court. Until this happens it may well be necessary to take the suspect into custody. Even so it should be possible to keep the family together because in it is not possible to explain to young children why they are being separated from their parents, particularlyif there is no evidence of harm.
    There isn’t a shred of evidence that chastisement damages children.

    I noted your reference to a child that “had a drug addicted mother that had let her drug supplier abuse her daughter sexually for payment in drugs” How does this compare with a child a wilful child smacked for stealing? We had neighbours, utterlly delightful people whose little boy used to jab two fingers in the eyes of other children. How do you deal with this, call the police and have him removed to a detention centre?

    The very idea that civil administration can produce better outcomes represents a total abdication of parental responsibility, the state trying to act far beond any possible social good.

  • c4070628

    Fine, if you want to live isolated and you want to take all decisions by yourself, without considering what your partners in Europe are saying, then shall be it. But a day will come when you will need allies, and there will be no one to turn to, and then, others will make the law as they please in that piece of land which is now called Norway.

  • arnebarnebuse

    This made me laugh, and I concider it a joke even if you claim the opposite. I have worked in a child care institution, and can promise you that we had no satanic rituals. We tried to make it as homely (as in a normal home) as possible for the children.

  • arnebarnebuse

    Definitions of words means nothing to children. To beat a person, child or adult, is painful and must be regarded as violence. If you’re not able to make your children behave without using violence, you’re not a suitable parent. You are teaching your child that violence is how to get it my way.

  • Puscasu Vlad

    Norway is dictatorship and terrorist. Thats all!

  • Solfrid Cristina Hammersmark K

    Striking a child with a slipper is not abuse in your book? Which country do you come from?