Norway accused of unfairly taking away immigrant children
by Mark Lewis
26 August 2015
STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — One August day, Airida Pettersen received the news many immigrant mothers have come to dread: School representatives told the Lithuanian that child welfare officials removed her two children from the classroom and placed them in a foster home.
She pleaded to know why — but she said nobody would give her a straight answer.
Pettersen, who moved to Norway in 2008 after marrying a Norwegian, is one of hundreds of immigrant parents whose children were taken away by Norway’s Child Protection Service, or Barnevernet, ostensibly to protect them from mistreatment.
After a series of highly charged custody disputes, the oil-rich Scandinavian country now faces accusations of cultural insensitivity at best and child theft at worst, as increasing numbers of immigrant children are being seized by officials and handed over to Norwegian foster families. Of 6,737 children taken in 2012 — the latest available data — some 1,049 were immigrants or born to immigrant parents. That compares to 744 children of immigrants taken away, of a total of 5,846, in 2009.
The authorities insist they’re acting in the best interests of the children. But their perceived heavy-handedness has stirred diplomatic disputes with several eastern European countries and India.
All Western European countries assert the right to place children, both of nationals and foreigners, in foster care when there is evidence of abuse. And complaints of unfair seizures, allegedly for cultural reasons, are known to arise. But Norway is the only country where it has become as major issue — both due to the scale of the phenomenon and the fierce criticism of the government.
Official guidelines also make a point of ensuring that the special needs of a sick or handicapped child are adequately met and that parents have to be able to take sufficient responsibility so that a child’s health or development is in no way “seriously injured.”
Pettersen believes officials took her children partly because of her 10-year-old daughter’s clothes, which she alleges authorities found too provocative for a pre-teen.
The child welfare agency insists children would never be removed from their families unless they were considered to be in danger, but Moerkved said that if children were attending class badly dressed or in smelly clothes it would be a factor in considering a child’s welfare.
“There are some culture differences between families coming to Norway,” said Solveig Horne, Norwegian Minister for Children and Families. “All children who come to Norway have the same rights as Norwegian children ... If they are neglected or abused or if there is violence in the family the (child protection) agency should protect the children first of all.”
Statistics show that children born abroad are more than three times as likely to be removed from their homes as native Norwegians, with nearly 3 percent of foreign-born children in foster care.