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Norway under scrutiny for its child welfare policies

Summary

  • Mother seeks affirmation of her rights to family life
  • European Court of Human Rights to hear parental rights case

STRASBOURG/OSLO (17 October 2018) – On 17 October 2018, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg heard the case of Strand Lobben v. Norway. The case is one of a number of cases where the authorities have removed children from their parents without proper justification. For example, a three-week-old child was taken away from his mother in 2008 based on doubts about her “parenting abilities.” The child was placed in foster care and the mother was allowed only twelve hours of contact per year with her son. Ultimately, all visitation rights were denied, the mother’s parental rights were removed, and the child was put up for adoption.

Parental rights under International Law

“Removing children from their families should always be a last resort. This is one of a number of cases where the Norwegian authorities have failed to prioritize the reunification of families. Every parent has the fundamental right to raise their child in accordance with their convictions as protected by international law. Such separation can have long-lasting damaging effects on children and families. Putting a child up for adoption against the mother’s will, as in this case, is an irreversible and extreme measure, which was initiated without evidence of parental abuse or violence,” said Jennifer Lea, Legal Counsel for ADF International based in Strasbourg.

The Fifth Section had previously found no violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights which protects the right to family life. Now, the Grand Chamber has agreed to review the decision. ADF International was granted permission from the Court to intervene in the case.

Norway’s poor track record

A recent report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) into the practices of the Norwegian child protection agency, Barnevernet, revealed a number of troubling discoveries. For example, it showed a high frequency of “emergency” interventions by the agency. The reasoning behind these interventions were of particular concern as well as the exceptionally short visitation times which usually followed.

“The primary purpose of child protection agencies is to support families. Even when child removal 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,” said Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International and expert in international law.

“The case of Strand Lobben v. Norway reminds us of the Bodnariu case, which ultimately resulted in an international outcry and the family fleeing the country. We hope the Grand Chamber will affirm the right to family life as described in Article 8 of the European Convention. It is time for Norway to act on the recommendations made by the Council of Europe and respect the right of parents to raise their children unless there is evidence of a serious breach of the parents’ duties,” said Jennifer Lea.

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