Authorities are concerned a growing number of Somali-Norwegians are taking their children out of Norwegian schools and sending them to study in Somalia, Kenya, Egypt and the United Kingdom. A new report by the Institute for Social Research (Institutt for samfunnsforskning, ISF) found hundreds of children have been pulled out of the Norwegian school system because their dissatisfied parents said they were not learning enough.
The practice is most common in families with a Somalian background, but is also prevalent among Pakistani and Iraqi Norwegians, reported newspaper Aftenposten. The ISF‘s Hilde Lidén presented her Transnational adolescence report this week, which found almost 1,900 or 13 percent of Somali-Norwegian children emigrated in 2012. While some were part of families leaving Norway, an estimated 60 percent were children moving alone. Nearly 200 Somali-Norwegian children were registered as living in Somalia.
“There is a recurring theme among everyone we talked to,” said Lidén. “Parents often experience that their children are seen as weak pupils, often because they speak poorer Norwegian than their peers. The parents are concerned their children aren’t challenged enough in Norway.”
Lidén said it’s not unusual for children from Norway to be put down several grades in foreign schools because they lack necessary knowledge. The children get good education at private schools with a comparatively high standard. They often live with relatives, or one of their parents will accompany them. She said there are also cultural and religious motivations for sending children abroad.
“In addition, often families with one Norwegian income will have a better standard of living in another country, compared with renting a little apartment in a suburb where you feel like you’re at the bottom of the ladder,” Lidén explained. “Also to escape child welfare and the authorities’ control can be a motivation for some.” She said many of the children told researchers they’d benefited from their stay abroad as it strengthened their cultural identity and made them appreciate their privileged situation.
“The school system in Somalia isn’t actually better than the Norwegian,” said Bashe Musse, an Oslo city Labour party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) politician and leader of the Somalian network. “But many Somalian parents feel a little alienated by Norwegian schools. They’re used to putting their children in a school with strong discipline which takes complete responsibility for the learning. The understanding of Norwegian pedagogy and the way the education system works is probably limited among many.”
“To send the kids to Somalia to get them back on track is very naive,” Musse told Aftenposten. “I think it can be a method to feel you’re taking hold of the upbringing. But there is no special long-term and strategic solution if the goal is to function in Norway.” Previous research has found that Somalians feel most excluded and have the worst integration of any immigrant group in Norway.
Concerns children are sent against their will
The report also noted some children were taken from Norway after their parents divorced, and left overseas without passports. Others were sent away because they’d become “too Norwegian.” It concluded Norway had a growing duty to take responsibility for children who are abroad involuntarily, but it was currently unclear how much scope child welfare authorities had to investigate.
The Minister for Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, Solveig Horne of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP) said she would investigate giving child welfare the ability to take responsibility for children who are Norwegian citizens, but are overseas against their will.
“We know that the danger of forced marriage and female genital mutilation may be present,” Horne said. “I will now look at whether we should change the child welfare law, and with the Minister of Justice, I will consider the need for amendments to the Passport Act, as the report recommends.”
Proposal to fine parents
The Oslo School Commissioner, Anniken Hauglie of the Conservative Party (Høyre), told Aftenposten on Tuesday that schools should be able to levy fines for long-term, unapproved absences. In March this year, 81 children in the Oslo district were reported to be abroad without the school getting notice of the absence or approving the leave.
Contributions from school principles in the Transnational adolescence report included that “the parents want to go to their homeland, but forget it’s Norway that is the children’s homeland,” and “they’re just sent. Often in association with holidays. We seldom know anything in advance.”
“As a starting point, I have faith in the dialogue between parents and schools, where they explain the disadvantages of a long stay abroad,” said Hauglie. “But it should also be considered whether economic sanctions can be introduced. That could be in the form of fines, or halting child support for unauthorized absence earlier than the rules allow for today.”