20 March 2016
A little more humility, please!
By Jan Simonsen, former Member of Parliament
The article was published on 14 March 2016.
It is published here with the author's generous consent.
Translation: Marianne Haslev Skåland
I have followed the fight against Norwegian Barnevernet (the child protection service – CPS) at close range this last year, and have myself been interviewed by several Czech media which have wanted me to explain how it works.
In Bergens Tidende Magasinet on 11 February, we read that Romanians in Norway have sent their children back to their home country because they fear that Barnevernet will take the children. The background lies in the child protection case in Naustdal, in which a Norwegian-Romanian family had all their five children taken from them in November. The case has attracted enormous attention in Romania and has triggered protests the world over.
But who is responsible for that? The Romanian politicians and the thousands of idealistic individuals in countries all over Europe who have demonstrated against a Norwegian child protection which they hold to act inhumanely, or the Norwegian Barnevern which has developed into a system many find to behave unnecessarily brutally towards parents who could instead be helped through guidance and support?
The protests have also caused problems for Norwegian embassies. "We have tried to come out with factual information stating how Norwegian CPS functions and under which rules. That is no easy task, as long as the campaign is based on an argumentation twisting facts on purpose", says communications officer Frode Andersen in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the newspaper VG.
Maybe a more humble attitude on the part of Norwegian authorities would have been appropriate, rather than to accuse Romanian and Czech politicians and Christian leaders of "twisting facts on purpose". An allegation like that will hardly improve the strained relations between Norway and these countries, both of them fighting for their own citizens to have their children returned to them.
A month ago the Czech president suggested that the Czech ambassador should be pulled out from Norway in protest. Instead of thinking seriously about whether something might in fact be wrong with our system – when foreign politicians raise the question of Norwegian CPS practice both in the European Parliament and in the Council of Europe – Norwegian politicians and bureaucrats choose to insist that Norway is best.
Protests against Norway started to get serious in the Czech Republic in the autumn of 2014. The cause was media reports which spread quickly through the social media, about a Czech mother who lost her two children. The reason was a baseless suspicion by an employee in a kindergarten about the father having "messed" with his young boys. It led to a police investigation, which concluded that the allegation and rumour were unwarranted.
Here in Prague, where I stay a lot, it was impossible for people to understand that the mother, who divorced the father, did not get the children back after the police investigation having acquitted the parents. It also caused strong reactions that the mother was not allowed to speak Czech to her Czech children on the two visitations she was allowed to have with them. The grandfather came forward in Czech media and got a lot of sympathy.
Czech media tried to unravel the case, but the only answer they got when phoning Barnevernet was the statement that the CPS only takes children from their parents as an absolutely last resort and when the case involves violence, abuse or grave care failure. The Czech media remained sceptical about that, since the police investigation in this case had shown that the children were neither victims of violence nor had they been sexually abused.
Gradually, Czech media and politicians gained thorough insight into the whole Norwegian system, and they concluded that Norway has a system which destroys children and parents and violates human rights. Czech EU politicians from different parties have taken the case to the European Parliament, where they cooperate with politicians from other countries whose citizens have experienced the same problem.
The Naustdal case, which Bergens Tidende has written rather thoroughly about, has confirmed the problems in the practice of Norwegian Barnevern. It has added new fuel to the protests which today are on their way to becoming coordinated, not only through the world-wide Christian group which the the couple in Naustdal belongs to, but equally from politicians in the EU Parliament in Brussels.
In May of last year, six months before Barnevernet took the children in Naustdal, more than 500 people demonstrated against Norwegian CPS here in Prague. At that time, the Czech case in Norway had already been raised in the Czech Parliament. In January, 700 took part in a similar demonstration. In January and February over 70,000 people demonstrated against Barnevernet in close to 40 cities all over the world. And even if the demonstrations have two concrete cases as their starting points, they have by now come to be directed against the practice of Barnevernet as such.
Barnevernet has become an international term of abuse. Both Czechs and Romanians have ceased translating the word into their own languages or English. They simply use the word "Barnevernet" both in demonstrations and in newspaper articles.
If Norwegian Barnevern does not change its practice of tearing apart families and placing the children away on relatively feeble grounds, the protests will continue and Norway will be a despised laughing stock in international fora. The image of Norway as a humane nation is in the process of being torn down.