Back of the line
Even worse than landing at the back of the line at Tusenfryd is growing up as an outsider because your family doesn’t have enough money
Director of Norway Program
Save the Children Norway
The attempt of Tusenfryd, Norway’s largest amusement park outside of Oslo, to introduce a payment program in which those with the most money can make their way to the front of line by paying for their children to go straight to the merry-go-round, was met by massive opposition from the Norwegian people. Tusenfryd listened and changed their mind. Fortunately.
It is a healthy sign that so many are protesting against this type of discrimination. Protesting against how some children are left at the back of the line, while others with wealthy parents are pushed up to the front.
In recent decades, the number of children growing up in poverty has tripled in Norway. And the way thousands of children systematically are left behind is deeply disturbing. Research shows that children who grow up in poverty in Norway have a risk of poorer health, more frequent symptoms of depression, are less motivated in school and higher education, and are less likely to take part in organized activities.
“You feel left out and excluded. You feel different than everyone else.”
“Outside, hungry, upset, and made fun of. You have old clothes, and people call you a nerd.”
“I feel worried. If you are rich, you can avoid feeling left out.”
This is how children and young people describe what it is like to grow up in poverty in an affluent Norway, where “everything costs money.”
To participate in a normal school day, children say that they need school supplies, such as a pencil case, backpack, pencils, paints, and erasers. They also need equipment for class trips, school camp, and ski days. The children say that there are things they have needed at school that they have not been able to buy, or there were activities they have not participated in because the price tag was too high.
This feels unfair. “Why do we have to pay to go to school?” one child asks, while another says, “School should be free, but it’s not. We should get what we need when we get to school: supplies, a backpack, and gym clothes. And everyone should get a school lunch and milk. Then everything would be equal. It’s expensive to go to school, but at least you should have the things you need to keep up.”
The children say that it is embarrassing not to have what they need at school, and that it can have consequences, influencing whether they will be able to do well at school or not.
Money is also important for how children interact with friends and in their free time. They experience pressure to buy things and find it too expensive to go to birthday parties because of the high cost of gifts. Children are aware that it costs a lot of money to participate in sports or other activities, and several say that the high price tag means that they are not able to participate.
“My family doesn’t have much money. I do almost nothing in my free time because I can’t afford it.”
“Training for soccer costs money. It’s the same with training for swimming.”
“You almost have to have a lot of money if you are going to take part in an after-school activity. And if there are two of you, it just doesn’t work. We can’t take part. It’s way too expensive.”
So instead of creating even greater gaps, children and young people have good advice for us adults on how we can ensure equal rights and opportunities for all:
In their free time, they would like to have an after-school club and a library in the local community that does not cost money, places that also serve food. Because then you could hang out with friends for free. Free public transport to and from activities is also needed, along with cheaper or free activities or sports.
At school, the free principle must apply to real people, they say, with free food, milk, and fruit, and free school supplies. And school trips and social activities must be free of charge.
And for families, the children want courses in economics, employment, and education for their parents, more child benefits for all children, and that NAV, the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration, also asks the children what they need. They also want free kindergarten and after-school care, so that parents are able to work.
Introducing front-of-the-line pricing plans for those with the most money stands as a powerful symbol of the “Norway of difference” that is emerging, with a difference between the children who have and the children who don’t have. This is a development that most people do not want.
Because there are tens of thousands of children in Norway who today cannot even afford to enter through the gate of an amusement park, we cannot stand still and watch these children end up farther and farther back in the line.
Let’s listen to the children and young people who can show us the way to a societal development that will safeguard the rights of all, rather than provide better opportunities for those who have the money to go to the front of the line.
Translated by Lori Ann Reinhall
This article originally appeared in the July 8, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.