Organized protests baffle Barnevernet

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After yet another wave of organized international demonstrations over the weekend against Norway’s child welfare agency Barnevernet, both agency officials and top politicians appear baffled and frustrated over how to respond. “We take the criticism seriously, but so much of it is simply not rooted in reality,” a state secretary for the conservative Progress Party told news bureau NTB.

Kai-Morten Terning, part of the political leadership of the Norwegian ministry responsible for issues involving children and equality, suggested that it was difficult for the state to defend itself against claims being made around the world that are blatantly false. “It’s important for us to try to correct what’s being claimed,” Terning told NTB. “But some of the criticism coming from abroad has no basis, such as claims that Barnevernet kidnaps children, and other harsh and unsubstantiated accusations.”

Well-coordinated but ‘secret’ campaign
It’s also challenging to get to the source of such claims, which state officials are left to fend off and even many critics of Barnevernet within Norway admit are outlandish. The demonstrations appear well-coordinated and supplemented by an active promotional and media campaign, which has included sending photos to media outlets from around the world. Organizers, believed to be conservative religious groups that have mobilized their followers, clearly seek as much publicity as possible for the roughly 60 demonstrations held during the weekend in around 20 countries.

Alf Magne Henriksen, one of the local demonstrators in Oslo, told NTB that “we have gathered people through social media” and that he was part of a group that hoped to do away with Barnevernet. He wouldn’t identify, however, the other groups with which his own was alligned. “That’s a secret,” he told NTB. “But it won’t stop here. We won’t stop demonstrating until Barnevernet is put down.”

The demonstrations thus look set to continue, from Sydney to Bucharest to Oslo itself. They began last fall after child protection authorities from Barnevernet removed five children from a home in the county of Sogn og Fjordane, after their Romanian-Norwegian parents were charged with domestic violence. It’s illegal to physically punish children in Norway, and there have been other cases where children have been removed from homes where they’ve been beaten or worse.

Culture clash
In many cases involving immigrant parents, the cases have resembled culture clashes. Physical punishment that’s accepted in other countries is not accepted in Norway, and Barnevernet is charged with upholding the law.

State politicians will thus continue to defend Barnevernet, while Barnevernet officials have little choice but to continue doing their jobs, and face criticism that more often is hurled at them in Norway when they fail to remove children from abusive parents or other sources of violence.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund