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Council of Europe: child protection agencies must respect parental rights

  • Council of Europe investigated Norway following reports of unjustified child removals
  • Stronger safeguards against forced family separations required

STRASBOURG (29.6.2018) – On 28 June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concluded its report into the practices of the Norwegian child protection agency, Barnevernet. The report highlighted a number of troubling discoveries from a fact-finding visit to Norway, and emphasized the need for impartial safeguards to be implemented in child protection agencies across Europe to prevent abusive practices.

“While child protection agencies often face difficult situations in keeping children safe from harm, removing children from the family without compelling reasons is contrary to international law,” said PACE rapporteur, Mr Valeriu Ghiletchi in the run-up to the presentation of the report.

The primary purpose of child protection agencies is to support families.

Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International and an expert in international law said: “The Council of Europe has affirmed the fundamental rights of parents and children. The primary purpose of child protection agencies is to support families. Removing children should always be the very last resort. Even when this is truly necessary, family reunification should be a central aim. The investigation into Norway has shown that without effective safeguards, child protection agencies can cause long-term damage to families and undermine the prior right that parents have to raise their children according to international law. It is very encouraging to see the Council of Europe highlight the importance of keeping families together.”

Norway’s interventions criticized

The report criticized the frequency and nature of “emergency” interventions in Norway. The reasons for separating parents from their children as well as the extremely short visitation times afforded to them were areas of particular concern. The resolution made a number of recommendations to minimize disruption for children where an intervention was necessary, such as keeping care within the wider family unit wherever possible. The Parliamentary Assembly is an international parliament made up of parliamentarians from 47 countries.

Cases still pending against Norway at the European Court of Human Rights

The Council of Europe report was prompted by the international outcry over the plight of a Christian couple. Ruth and Marius Bodnariu had all five of their children taken away by Barnevernet in late 2015. The five Bodnariu children (including a three-month-old baby) were taken away after an allegation was made about the parents using physical chastisement, which is not allowed in Norway. The taking of the children resulted in protests around the world. While the Bodnariu family was ultimately reunited and fled the country, many other families came forward with similar stories of unjustified intervention.

Norway is generally perceived to have an impeccable human rights record, and yet there are currently seven cases concerning Barnevernet pending at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Grand Chamber is due to hear the case of Lobben v. Norway later this year. It concerns a mother who had her one-month-old child taken away in 2008 due to concerns about her “parenting abilities”. She was allowed just eight hours of contact per year and then ultimately denied all visitation rights. She is claiming that Norway has violated her right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention. ADF International has been granted permission to intervene in this case.

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