Europe court issues warning on Barnevernet

Eight cases in the last 15 months point to problems with Norway’s child welfare system

The Local

Eight Norwegian child welfare cases have been heard by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg over the past 15 months in what a long-time human rights lawyer has called “an extremely serious warning to Norway.”

The Norwegian Child Welfare Service (Barnevernet) has long been accused of overreach in its efforts to protect children from potentially abusive situations.

The agency faced worldwide protests last year that were largely spurred by the removal of five children from their Norwegian/Romanian parents. Although the Bodnariu family become a rallying point, their case hardly stands alone.

Anders Henriksen, the head of section at the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs (Bufdir), told The Local last year that a total of 1,664 children were taken into care in 2014. Of those, 424 had mothers who were born abroad, leading many to accuse the agency of “state kidnappings” over cultural differences.

Eight cases within 15 months
With eight separate cases having been taken up by the ECHR since December 2015, a long-time human rights lawyer has warned that Norway needs to take action.

Speaking to TV2 about a 2016 case in which a child was taken from his parents because his mother was diagnosed as having minor mental problems, Gro Hillestad Thune, who was a judge on the court in Strasbourg for 17 years, said there needs to be better oversight of Barnevernet.

“How in the world are we going to get control of this child welfare system in Norway? There are major indications that the requirements of Article 8 [of the European Convention on Human Rights] were not met,” she told TV2 about the case involving parents Aimee Hansen Løland and Arne Løland.

Although Aimee Løland’s diagnosis was refuted by two mental health experts, the Barnevernet decision to remove the couple’s child stood. Thune also said that the Norwegian authorities’ declaration that 69-year-old Arne Løland was “too old” to be a good father was probably a violation of his human rights.

“Serious warning”
Thune told TV2 that the high number of cases recently taken up by the ECHR sends a very strong signal.

Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský, a leading voice amongst Barnevernet’s critics, called the court’s actions “a breakthrough.”

“It is obvious that the ECHR has noticed that there is something very dangerous happening in Norway,” he told The Local.

He added that he hoped the attention will “expose the system flaws” in Barnevernet.

Complaints from numerous countries
TV2 previously reported that child removals are now increasingly happening immediately after birth. In 2008, Barne­vernet took over the care of 16 children immediately following their birth. By 2014, that number had tripled to 44.

With the increase in cases, there has also been a rise of voices critical of Norway’s child protection practices. In an open letter, 170 Norwegian child protection professionals including lawyers and psychologists called Barnevernet a “dysfunctional organization that makes far-reaching errors of judgment with serious consequences.”

And the criticism has extended far beyond Norway. Citizens of the Czech Republic, Russia, Lithuania, India, and Brazil, among other countries, have accused Norway of abusing its authority and ruining families. Even neighboring Sweden has expressed concern about Barnevernet.

This article was originally published on The Local.

It also appeared in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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