The story of an Indian couple’s children being taken away by Norwegian social services on objections of them being fed by hand and sleeping in their parents’ bed has attracted worldwide attention and the intervention of the Indian government.
In May, 2011, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya’s children three-year-old Abhigyan and one-year-old Aishwarya were taken under protective care by Norwegian Child Welfare Services and they have been in foster care since. Norwegian authorities equate being fed by hand as force feeding and deem it inappropriate for parents to sleep with their children.
However, the parents say this is a purely cultural issue. We never leave the children in another room and say goodnight to them,” the father was quoted as saying.
The parents, who are not residents of Norway but on a visa which is due to expire in March 2012, lost the case in the Scandinavian country’s lower court which ruled the children would stay in foster care until they turned 18 and could only be visited once or twice a year.
The father, Anurup Bhattacharya, is working as a geo-physicist for Halliburton in the city of Stavanger.
Norway’s Child Protective Service is reportedly a powerful organization which has been charged with being overzealous in its efforts to protect the rights of children. “There has been a report in U.N. in 2005 which criticized Norway for taking too many children in public care. The number was 12,500 children and Norway is a small country.
Indian authorities have been in touch with their Norwegian counterparts in a bid to reunite the family and the case has attracted much media attention in India.
The Indian embassy in Oslo issued a press release in early January 2012 strongly condemning the removal of the children. The children’s grandparents met with Indian President Pratibha Patel who assured them that all efforts are being made to solve the issue.
Indian authorities are trying to persuade the Norwegians to hand over the children to the maternal grandparents after signing an undertaking in which they will state taking full responsibility of the young children.
Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna met Norwegian officials in Delhi reportedly to discuss this option. After the meeting Krishna was quoted as saying he was confident that “a reasonable assessment of the situation” can be worked out “at the earliest.”
The parents are anxious as the date for their visa expiration nears.
“We’ve appealed to the government that we’ll leave everything and go back to India. This is a nightmare in our lives. We want to bring back our kids. We were normal parents. There could be several upbringing issues because the culture is different,” the father quoted.
The head of Child Welfare Services in Stavanger denies that cultural differences may be at the heart of the matter.
“It is not true that the basis of the case is how the children were fed or were they sleep. Child Welfare Services rejects that cultural difference is the reason for the children being removed from their parents.
Negotiations are taking place to ensure the children will be able to return to India with their parents in March 2012.
“If we don’t find a solution, Child Welfare Services may seek residency for the children on a humanitarian basis. If the Stavanger Child Welfare Services chose to do so, it would be considered as a great insult to India.
According to a 2011 report by the Norwegian Statistic Central Bureau, children from immigrant parents have a three-time greater likelihood of being removed from their homes than other children.
The report showed 19 of every 1000 children born to immigrant parents was taken away from their family homes between 2004 and 2010.
The Child Welfare Service of Norway is responsible for protecting the rights and interests of children with a difficult family situation. The service seeks to ensure that children receive adequate care and to prevent them from being subjected to extreme physical and psychological stress.
The underlying principle governing all child welfare efforts is devotion to the child’s best interests. As a general rule, it is assumed that children will grow up with their biological parents. This biological criterion forms the foundation for Norwegian legislation regulating the relationship between children and parents. A child’s affiliation with its parents is considered to be a resource in and of itself.
The Child Welfare Service works to ensure that families have the best possible conditions for taking care of their children. Activities are preventative. Efforts are aimed at ensuring that children and young people are not excluded from community life within their neighbourhood environments.
Support and assistance
The Child Welfare Service is responsible for implementing measures for children and their families in situations where there are special needs in relation to the home environment. Assistance may be provided as counselling, advisory services, and aid measures, including external support contacts, relief measures in the home and access to day care.
Children are entitled to participate in decisions involving their personal welfare, and have the right to state their views in accordance with their age and level of maturity. This applies especially in cases where there are administrative and legal proceedings that will strongly affect the children’s day-to-day lives.
The child welfare services are required to take action if measures implemented in the home environment are not sufficient to safeguard the child’s needs. In such cases, the Child Welfare Service in consultation with the parents may place children under foster care, in a child welfare institution, or introduce specific parent-child measures. Removing a child from the home without parental consent requires a decision from the County Committee for Social Affairs on the basis of a recommendation submitted by the municipal authorities. The county committee is a government body with an autonomous position in relation to the ministry and the Office of the County Governor. Decisions taken by the county committee may only be overturned by the courts. The county committees are administered under the auspices of the Ministry of Children and Equality.
The municipal child welfare services are charged with monitoring the development of children who have been placed in care outside their homes as well as their parents.
Child welfare service employees are privy to a large amount of personal client information, and must comply with strict rules of confidentiality. However, information may be provided to other administrative agencies when this is necessary to carrying out child welfare service tasks.
The responsibilities and tasks of the child welfare authorities are stipulated in the Act relating to child welfare services. The overall responsibility for child welfare lies with the state through the Ministry of Children and Equality, while the administration of child welfare services is primarily carried out at the municipal level and through the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs.
The Service has been severely criticized by the Government of India for taking away two children of an Indian couple who are working in Norway.
Berit Aarset, who heads Human Rights Alert, Norway, has called the incident “state kidnapping.” She said, “This is not the first time such a thing is happening in Norway …the legal system favours the Child Welfare Services and they do what they want all the time….quite often when a Norwegian is married to a non-Norwegian they also do the same thing; they also do this to asylum seekers and in almost every case they say one of the parents have a mental problem just to make their case strong …that is what has happened in the Bhattacharya case too.”
Many times in past Child Welfare Services have been accused on violation of human rights for taking away children from their parents.
The main dilemma is how to provide for and protect children without intruding on the parent’s rights of privacy and their right to a family life of their own choosing
Every Indian wishes that the children be united with their parents at the earliest.
Dream Dare Win