Child abuse cases shake up minister

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A recent rash of child abuse cases in Norway, several resulting in the young victim’s death, has set off criticism that child abuse isn’t being taken seriously enough. That’s shaken the new government minister in charge of family and children’s issues, and prompted her to vow improvements.

Solveig Horne, the government minister in charge of family and children's issues, with the emergency telephone number for children and youth. More measures are needed, she says, to address child abuse in Norway. PHOTO: E Johansen/BLD

Solveig Horne, the government minister in charge of family and children’s issues, with the emergency telephone number for children and youth. More measures are needed, she says, to address child abuse in Norway. PHOTO: E Johansen/BLD

“It’s extremely serious that so many children who have been victims of violence haven’t been seen earlier,” Solveig Horne, a government minister from the Progress Party, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday.

Horne was responding to concerns from Norway’s main advocate for children, barneombud Anne Lindboe, and a leading pediatrician who deals with many cases of child abuse, Dr Torkild Aas at Oslo University Hospital, that child abuse issues can fall between several ministries including justice, health and Horne’s own, and thus end up being overlooked. “We can’t blame each other” when issues aren’t addressed, Horne said.

“We have to work together to reveal the violence that children can be victims of,” Horne told Dagsavisen. “I will take the initiative for the justice minister (Anders Anundsen), the health minister (Bent Høie) and I to sit down and work to close these gaps that Lindboe and Aas refer to.”

Lindboe, who told Dagsavisen earlier this week that she loses sleep over how many child abuse victims are ignored, claims it’s “fully possible” to rescue more children from violent homes but that child protective authorities (Barnevernet) often lack the will or are afraid to act. All too often, she said, children who have been removed from violent homes are returned to them.

Lindboe and Aas also complained that children are sent for medical treatment too late, or are questioned too late, and that the authorities often don’t respond to doctors’ evaluations that children have been beaten.

Alarming cases in the courts
The sheer number of cases landing in court is cause for alarm. In one case that’s received widespread coverage over the past few months, a 28-year-old mother is accused of drowning her 18-month-old daughter by sinking her head-first into a bucket of water. The child had on earlier occasions been beaten, bound up and placed in a corner, and forced to eat chile powder.

The woman, an alleged victim of abuse herself while growing up in the Pakistani community in Oslo, claims she was acting on instructions from her 35-year-old British-Pakistani boyfriend for how to discipline her daughter. He has denied the charges. The child died and her older brother, also subject to beatings, was not removed from the home.

“The authorities clearly don’t take violence against children seriously enough,” Lindboe told Dagsavisen on Thursday. Local authorities in Vestfold, southwest of Oslo, were also harshly criticized in the case of a young Norwegian boy whose stepfather also allegedly beat him to death over a lengthy period. The stepfather is now serving prison time.

Earlier this week, another couple in the northern county of Nordland was arrested and charged with beating their three-year-old son until he died as well. Both deny the charges. The father is being held in custody while police investigate the case, while the mother was released for health reasons.

Horne is now promising “concrete measures” to ensure that child protective authorities look for signs of violance and react when they’re found. Horne has dropped plans to conduct a study of domestic violence, which hasn’t been examined since 2007, saying it was more important to launch actual measures to help children this year. Funding already has been allocated for parental counseling and programs to help children who’ve been abused.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund