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Grave Breaches of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Though Norway savvily projects internationally the image of a rational, peaceful, and polished system, it is far from it. Its ugly side, as here, never makes the news. Barnevernet has gravely violated the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child which Norway has signed and ratified. Here’s how.
Article 5 of the Convention imposes an obligation on Norway and on all signatories to uphold parental rights. („State Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents…”) This obligation is restated in Article 14. Article 7 grants children „the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents,” and Article 8 the right to „preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.”
Article 9, however, is less straight forward and allows for subjective interpretation. It states, in relevant part, that „State Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents …” Even where the child is separated, however, the child still has the right „to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.”
One of the most flagrant violations of the Convention is the very set up of Barnevernet. It is a governmental agency or, more properly stated, an administrative body run amuck. It is not subject to meaningful judicial reviewor accountability. It can take children from their parents without court order. Its decisions are final as in an arbitration. It lacks a supervisory board. Due process is not followed. Even the most elementary aspects of due process are lacking. Testimony is not allowed. Sworn affidavit s or declarations are not taken. The rules of evidence do not apply. The accused is not allowed to cross-examine her accusers, for instance the case workers or the persons who investigated the alleged wrong-doing or proposed the abduction of the children. Immunity prevents prosecution of the agents who abduct the children. No judge is involved and no judge presides over the proceedings. No impartiality is guaranteed or pursued. Many times decisions are taken by a local council which consists of individuals not even trained in the law. The deliberations consist of debates among the council members and the attorneys. There is no set procedure to follow. If parents have complaints , theycan be lodged with the County Governor, but no meaningful judicial review is available.
This flies in the face of the Convention’s Article 9 which requires that decisions be made by „competent authorities subject to judicial review.” In Norway, the seizure of children from their parents is not supervised by the courts and it operates outside of the court system. Probably the most egregious aspect here is that suspension of parental rights is also within the powers of Barnevernet and is not subject to judicial review. Imagine that, being deprived of parental rights without a court order. Unimaginable in the United States and in most countries around the world, this is a frequent reality in Norway.
Parental rights are fundamental human rights. Human rights are the province of the courts, yet in Norway parents are barred from accessing the courts to vindicate abuses of parental rights. This means that, should the Bodnariu parents lose their rights to the children before a non-judicial, Barnevernet panel, they will not be able to appeal the deprivation of the most important rights a parent can have. In the rest of the world only courts or legislative bodies, not administrative bodies , can deprive people of the exercise of their human rights.
The complaints filed with the Governor go nowhere. The main reason is the system’s rigid structure which is not subject to judicial review, as well as the culture entrenched in the practices of Barnevernet and the parenting ideology Norway follows. The Norwegian government finances Barnevernet and each foster family where Barnevernet places children it receives tens of thousands of Euros annually for each child. There are vested interests at work which preclude the system’s reformation. The inevitable consequence is that the children and their parents are the victims. Everyone seems to benefit from this scheme, except them.
Another violation is that of the children’s right to be cared for and raised by their biological parents. Norway seems to abide by a parenting ideology which disregards biological ties and emphasizes social and psychological parenting. Likely, the now five (5) month old baby is irreversibly estranged from his biological mother. No rational argument can be made in support of this atrocious act. It evidences the viciousness and arbitrariness of Barnevernet’s action, backed up by Norway’s radical ideology which experiments with ethnic children. The mother’s right to nurse her infant has been trampled on. What, one legitimately asks, can be more cruel than that? More heart wrenching? More barbaric? More despicable?
Once the Bodnariu children were severed from their parents, more violations cascaded. They were separated from one another. The boys and the girls have been placed with different families and are also geographically separated by long distances, not only among themselves, but also from their parents. The boys and the girls are not allowed to communicate with one another. Contacts between the girls and any of the parents have been cut off entirely, and contacts with the boys are only allowed to the mother.
Three (3) of the Bodnariu children were born in January. Barnevernet deprived the family of three (3) birthday celebrations in January of this year. Three family celebrations have been replaced by a nightmare, by unending and unimaginable pain and anguish for the parents and the children alike. How can this happen in a country which claims to be civilized? Did Barnevernet’s zealots think that the world would never hear about this? That people of good faith would be too timid to speak or write about these atrocities? That the rest of the world would stand idly by and not say anything? Fortunately for the children and the parents, the truth is out and is being told from the rooftops.
The harshness of the rulings applied to the Bodnarius conveys a systemic problem and how dysfunctional Barnevernet is. This harshness did not mushroom overnight but likely evolved over time with everyone turning a blind eye to the problem. Probably in the beginning citizens put up with it, felt helpless or isolated living in a foreign land, and this likely encouraged Barnevernet to become more aggressive, evolving into the monster organization that it is today.
What about the father’s parental rights? After all, the Convention’s Article 9 states that „both parents,” not the mother or the father alone or separately, have the right to maintain „personal relations” and „direct contact … on a regular basis” with the five (5) children. With all children, not some of them only. Unlike the mother, the father is not allowed any contact whatsoever with the boys. Moreover, the contact is not direct, but by phone in the case of the girls, not „regular” and not „personal.” The harshness of Barnevernet’s rulings evidences that the decision was intended to be punitive not curative. The mother is forced to drive no less than four (4) hours, one way, once a week to see her two boys.She likewise must travel four (4) hours, one way, to see the five (5) month old baby to spend two hours with him, nurse him, and attempt to resuscitate the maternal bonds. The cruelty of this decision can only lead one to conclude that Barnevernet commits crimes against humanity and should be banned. International law has long labeled pirates hostis humani generis, or enemies of mankind. Barnevernet certainly fits this description. It is an organization which operate s outside the bounds of the law, and a danger to the ethnic children and families living in Norway.The children’s seizure further is a violation of the Convention’s Article 8 which gives children the right to preserve their identity. This is a straightforward, objective standard. It is a sure bet that Barnevernet is violating this right. Identity is defined, among others, by religion and language. Propaganda material posted on Barnevernet’s website boasts that it does all it can to „safeguard a child’s religion and cultural background.” Perhaps, it would be useful to know whether Barnevernet is taking the Bodnariu children to a Pentecostal Church every Sunday. Do the children attend Sunday School? Have the children been placed with foster families which share the family’s religious and ethnic heritage? Are the children taught or allowed to sing „Jesus loves the little children of the world?”
Furthermore, the girls speak Romanian at home. Do they speak Romanian daily with their foster parents? Faith is a major defining trait for the entire family. Not only the parents are strong believers, but so is the grandmother. It is doubtful Barnevernet is doing anything to preserve the children’s identity, especially considering the girl ‘s conversation with the schoolmaster that the family believes that „God punishes sin.” One would be naive to believe that secular Norway would expend public funds to enroll the girls in Bible classes which teach, consist ent with the parent’s view and theology, that „God punishes sin.”
Let’s now tackle the Convention’s Article 9 head on . First of all, w as there neglect? No. All witnesses concurred the parents are ”resourceful” and have the resources to provide for the children.
Were the children subjected to abuse? Definitely not, though here opinions might differ, depending on one’s understanding of what constitutes abuse. „Abuse”, however, is the start, not the end of the conversation, because, according to Norway’s Child Welfare Act, children can be separated from their parents only if there is „danger that children would be significantly harmed if remaining at home.” The operative words here are „significantly harmed.” This is a very high threshold to overcome. Barnevernet arbitrarily labeled the circumstances „significantly harmful” conveniently select ing evidence it found useful to its decision, and discarding the evidence to the contrary. The evidence which Barnevernet used to indict the parents came exclusively from the girls whose credibility even the teachers questioned at times. The grownups, namely the parents, the schoolmaster and the doctors, provided different impressions and opinions which, however, Barnevernet conveniently chose to ignore. One can then conclude that the opinion was deliberately written to yield the impression that the children were abused by being spanked. The opinion was outcome oriented. An intellectually honest opinion is one where the decision maker takes the facts as they are and allows them to take him or her where they may. The opinion reads like a script from Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s, or a narrative full of accusations pulled from the dusty archives of Romania’s Securitate after 65 years. It is surreal and sinister. No wonder the verdicts were so off mark.
If what the Bodnariu parents did to their children is „abuse,” then no less than between 17% and 55% of all American parents abuse their children , and, according to Norway’s standards, their kids should be hauled far away to different states and separated from their parents. According to a December 17, 2015 study of the Pew Research Center, 17% of all American parents „spank their children at least some of the time as a way to discipline them,” and another 28% „rarely” spank the m , while 53% say they never do.
More Barnevernet violations of the Convention come to the fore when considering that the children’s express wish to be reunited with their parents is ignored; when the letters they write to their parents only reach the parents two months later; when the children ask t o see their parents and their wish is denied; or when the children state they want to stay together or see one another and they are told no. This hard-headedness is hardly in the best interest of the children.
Peter Costea is a civil rights attorney practicing in Houston, Texas. He also holds a PhD in diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, Massachusetts.