Norway’s Barnevernet and the future of parental rights

Nov 4, 2019 by

Families and communities keeping the state in check.

In recent weeks, it has been reported that the Norwegian authorities have taken permanent custody of three American children from their Christian parents. Natalya Shutakova, a US citizen, and her husband, Lithuanian citizen Zigintas Aleksandravicius, are now allowed to visit their children only three times per year. Sadly, this is not particularly shocking to those who have been working to protect parental rights in Europe.

It seems remarkable that this can be happening in a country that positions itself as a human rights champion. Through its Agency for Development Cooperation, Norway devotes more than $400 million per year to its priority areas, including the protection of human rights. It is therefore ironic that, despite its public efforts to protect human rights, a human rights violation it would have rather kept hidden has been exposed to the world.

The snatching of the Bodnariu children

In some ways, the story starts in 2015 with the very public removal of the five Bodnariu children—then aged nine to only three months—from their parents by the Barnevernet, Norway’s child welfare agency.

The first they knew of it was when two black cars approached their farm. A social worker told them that their daughters had been taken directly from school into emergency state care and that the parents should come to the police station to answer questions. At this point, their two older sons were also taken.

The very next day, the black cars appeared again. They were there for the baby. There was an allegation of corporal punishment (illegal in Norway) but, more concerningly, the parents’ crime seemed to be seeking to raise the children in line with their Christian faith.

There was, for example, a concern about the way the parents thought that God punishes sin—a willful mischaracterization of the Christian belief in forgiveness and salvation. According to the family, this formed part of the concerns initially raised with Barnevernet by the principal at the daughters’ school.

The idea that such a core Christian belief was even partial grounds for Barnevernet to swoop in and wrest children from the school gates prompted protests outside dozens of Norwegian embassies around the world from Barcelona to Washington.

This outcry also encouraged others to speak up. At ADF International, we were almost overwhelmed with the number of people who spoke to us of similar cases. After investigating, we became convinced that the Bodnariu case was symptomatic of serious issues with the way in which the Barnevernet was functioning.

Until this point, at the international level, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had routinely rejected cases against Norway relating to Barnevernet, and that route of challenge looked closed. We needed to dig deep into what was happening and to ask the tough questions. We provided information to a number of European parliamentarians who sit as part of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. The Assembly took up the issue and compiled a detailed report. The rapporteur travelled to Norway and met with senior officials and members of the Norwegian Parliament. In the end, the report was presented to the Parliamentary Assembly, which voted to adopt it.

Source: Norway’s Barnevernet and the future of parental rights

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