- Norway’s child welfare programme faces scrutiny
- One of 8 cases at the European Court of Human Rights challenging child removals
STRASBOURG (5 July 2019) – Does a government have the right to take children away from their families without sufficient reason? On 4 July, ADF International filed an intervention in Bodnariu v. Norway at the European Court of Human Rights. In 2015, the five children of the Bodnariu family were taken away from their parents by Barnevernet, the Norwegian child-welfare agency. The Bodnariu case is one of eight cases at the European Court of Human Rights where Barnevernet is being investigated concerning decisions to take children away from their parents.
“Parents have the right to direct the upbringing of their children. Norway intervened in the family life of the Bodnariu family by taking the five children into state care without any compelling reason. Removing children from their families should always be a last resort. Recent years have seen an increasing number of cases of overreach by the Norwegian state into family life, with numerous cases coming before the European Court of Human Rights. The Bodnariu case resulted in an international outcry and the Bodnariu family fleeing Norway. No family should be put through such an ordeal, especially not at the hands of the state. We are encouraged by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to hear this case,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.
The Bodnariu family’s ordeal
In 2015, all five of the Bodnariu children were taken away from their parents by the child-welfare agency Barnevernet. The authorities even took the three-month-old baby. Initially, Barnevernet claimed that the children were taken into state care due to allegations of corporal punishment, which is illegal in Norway. However, upon further investigation, the real reason behind the removal of the Bodnariu children was revealed—officials in the community felt that the children were being ‘indoctrinated’ by their parents’ Christian beliefs. When the reason for their children’s removal came to light, intense pressure from the international community, including protests outside Norwegian embassies around the world, forced Barnevernet to return the children to their mother and father who then, together with the children, fled Norway.
In December 2016, the family filed their case before the European Court of Human Rights claiming a violation by Norway under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It protects the right to private and family life. ADF International was granted permission by the Court to intervene in the case.
Norway’s child-services under international scrutiny
A 2018 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. The report was prompted by the case of the Bodnariu family. 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.
“Removing children should always be the very last resort. Even when this is truly necessary, family reunification should remain a central aim. The investigation into Norway showed 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. 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 Clarke.