A 32-year-old man from Lithuania was ordered held in custody for at least four weeks on Wednesday, after police charged him Tuesday with the murder of an eight-year-old girl in western Norway three years ago. Critics complain the police badly botched their initial investigation of the child’s death, which they’d ruled a suicide, and the case has turned the spotlight once again on the rising incidence of child abuse and domestic violence in Norway.
The defendant reportedly was ill and unable to appear in court in Bergen, but he has claimed he had nothing to do with the death of the little girl known as “Monika.” She was found dead in her mother’s home in Sotra, Hordaland County, on November 14, 2011 with a leather belt wrapped tightly around her neck, amidst signs of a break-in.
Private investigators took over
The man now jailed, the first two weeks in full isolation, was her stepfather at the time and living with her Lithuanian mother. He was a suspect but police checked him out of the investigation and ended up suspending it, even though Monika’s mother accused her former partner and others raised suspicions about him as well.
After police ruled the child’s death as a suicide, her mother and private investigators kept probing the case themselves, refusing to believe the eight-year-old had killed herself. Police said Tuesday that they now had new DNA from the scene of the crime that implicates the stepfather.
Police fended off criticism Tuesday night but were more humble on Wednesday after the state police department’s internal affairs division announced it would examine the police investigation, which went on for nine months before being suspended in mid-2012.
Debate of failure to uncover child abuse
The case of the child’s death, along with allegedly sloppy investigation and follow-up by child protective authorities, set off a new torrent of debate in Norwegian media Wednesday over an alarming rise of child abuse and domestic violence cases in Norway. It is illegal to hit a child in Norway, yet hundreds if not thousands are believed to be victimized.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday that a majority of the cases under investigation involve immigrant families who come from cultures where physical punishment of children is common. Some of the worst cases in Norway, however, have involved native Norwegians, including the now-famous case of a little boy in Vestfold whose Norwegian stepfather beat him badly and consistently until he finally died, also at the age of eight. The Norwegian man is now serving a lengthy prison term, and the boy’s Norwegian mother was charged as an accessory in the case, because she failed to stop her partner’s abuse of her son.
On Sunday, a couple living in Hardanger in western Norway was arrested for badly abusing their six-week old baby. Both faced custody hearings this week.