In the last two short months tens of thousands of Romanians around the world have taken to the streets to protest the seizure, on November 16, 2015, by Norway’s Barnevernet, the equivalent of the Child Protective Services in the United States, of five (5) children, between 3 months and 9 years old, belonging to a Pentecostal Romanian-Norwegian family living in Norway. The parents are Marius and Ruth Bodnariu. The protests were held not only in Romania but also in Scandinavia, North America, and Australia. More are planned in the United States and Australia, as well as in India, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and elsewhere. The initial rallies gathered around 1.000 participants, mostly Evangelicals, but the numbers quickly swelled to 5,000 in Suceava, in northern Romania, and 10.000 in Oradea, western Romania, by the end of January. This time, the crowds did not emerge only from Romania’s Evangelical community but also from all of the country’s faiths and denominations. Seldom, if ever, has Romania experienced such a strong display of Christian unity stretching across all denominational and ethnic lines on any single issue.
Following an address I registered with the Norwegian Embassy in Bucharest in December, I received scores of phone calls and inquiries seeking updates and a more current commentary on the overall situation. Maybe it is time I write again, hopefully a more comprehensive commentary, especially after having been fortunate to access some of the official documents related to the case filed with or by the Norwegian authorities. What I read disturbed me deeply and caused me to believe that Norway’s Barnevernet has acted arbitrarily, has grossly violated the parental rights and parental autonomy of the Bodnariu family, and has not acted in the best interests of the children. All seven (7) members of the Bodnariu family have become tragic victims of Barnevernet’s irrational actions and prideful self-righteousness. Barnevernet falsely accused the Bodnariu parents of abusing their children. The children never were abused. The parents are responsible and practice a responsible parenting style. Unfortunately, Barnevernet has used strong-arm tactics to abduct the children. This commentary, then, is written in the defense of the victims, first and foremost the children and then their parents.
Let me also add, however, that this essay is not written to denigrate Norway. But the Norway of today is not the homogenous Norway of a hundred years ago with the unspoiled landscape and fiords which have long enchanted American imagination. Today’s Norway is a multicultural state where more than 10 percent of its population are immigrants. Xenophobia is strong in Norway. Norway experiences the pain of multiculturalism where diverse cultures often clash. Norway has difficulties navigating multiculturalism and, unfortunately, it has occasionally taken a rogue approach to deal with cultural differences and diverse traditions. Unfortunately, the Bodnarius were caught up in the travails of Norwegian multiculturalism, the Norwegian state’s inability to deal with it, and in the process became victims of it.
This commentary is based almost exclusively on the official documents related to the case which I have perused, although most of the facts are already in the public domain having been leaked sporadically. Hence, my narrative focuses primarily on Norway and Barnevernet violating the parental rights and parental autonomy of the Bodnariu family. I am aware that there is another, maybe wider, angle to explore, namely gross violations of the family’s religious rights. It is my understanding that individuals much closer to the case than I have obtained troubling evidence that Barnevernet may have also been motivated, in seizing the children, by an anti-religious animus toward the family. That may likely be the case. The family’s religion, however, is not discussed in the official documents, except briefly, but the violation of parental rights is obvious. I encourage those with personal knowledge of the religious aspects of this international incident to publish their impressions as well and share them with me.
Barnevernet’s Puny Ruling
On November 30, 2015 the local Barnevernet council of the Naustdal Municipality, called County Commission for Child Protection and Social Affairs, issued its decision on the matter which was at some point reduced to writing. It merits closer examination. It did not present a rationale for Barnevernet’s decision to seize the children, but for rejecting the parents’ petition to return them. In so framing the issues, Barnevernet stacked the cards against the parents from the outset.
The written ruling, however, also noted strong dissents. First was the school master. She refused to cooperate with Barnevernet to indict the parents. The ruling noted that „the headmaster … doesn’t think the parents are doing something to physically harm children …” The headmaster was also „opposed to taking the children away when she felt this was not in their best interest. The headmaster was also [one of the girls’] teacher for four years and she lives in the family’s neighborhood. She also knows the family in private.”
To the Bodnariu family’s defense also came the local government, identified in court records as the County Committee. It recommended the children not be separated from their parents, but, instead, counseling be provided, stressing that the parents are sufficiently „resourceful” to care for the children. The County Committee proposed that „the best interests of children are to go back to their home.” Norway’s Child Welfare Act, the Committee pointed out, imposed a high threshold for the children to be taken away from their parents. The proof required a showing that the children had been „significantly harmed” by the actions of the parents. Such evidence was absent, the Committee urged, concluding that „the parents are fully capable to properly exercise their care for the children,” and that „the situation can be correct[ed] by adopting measures at home.”
More backing for the Bodnarius came from the Naustdal Municipality. Its attorney portrayed the family as one where „family values have a central role in their lives,” adding that „this is a great thing to see by whom the children have been cared for.”
Nevertheless, Barnevernet remained unpersuaded, concluding that this is „a serious case of violence against 4 defenceless (sic!) children,” a case about „systematic violence.” Hence, Barnevernet reasoned, placing the children back with their parents „will be a new violation.” It also expressed concern about the massive adverse online publicity the case had already received by November 30, and in a rather bizarre uttering, it stated on the record a fear „that the children may be kidnapped.”
The ruling came down like a heavy hammer. The mother would be allowed to see the baby twice a week for two hours. The mother, but not the father, would be allowed to see the boys once a week for two hours. The parents would be allowed no face to face contact whatsoever with the two girls, except by phone, and the ten-minute phone conversations would be monitored by Barnevernet personnel. The children’s locations would not be disclosed to the parents.
What happened after November 30?
The girls wrote letters to their parents but Barnevernet only gave them to the parents two months later. They and the boys have continuously expressed a desire to be reunited with their biological parents, but to no avail. They cry and are depressed. The boys and the girls have been separated by long distances. The girls have been placed in a foster home some two hours and a half from the family farm, and the boys four hours away. The girls have asked to be allowed to see their brothers and their request was denied. As is self-evident, there is a pattern of denial after denial of the innocent children’s reasonable, natural, and affectional wishes.
The fate of the parents is no less painful and uncertain. In the upcoming months the matter is scheduled to escalate before a different Barnevernet panel to determine whether the parents’ parental rights should be severed. Should they be, all five (5) children will be put up for adoption. What could be a more egregious violation of parental or children’s rights than this? What more extreme a nightmare can a family face? Or Orwellian? Keep on reading for it gets even more bizarre.
Grave Breaches of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Though Norway savvily projects internationally the image of a rational, peaceful, and polished system, it is far from it. Its ugly side, as here, never makes the news. Barnevernet has gravely violated the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child which Norway has signed and ratified. Here’s how.
Article 5 of the Convention imposes an obligation on Norway and on all signatories to uphold parental rights. („State Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents…”) This obligation is restated in Article 14. Article 7 grants children „the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents,” and Article 8 the right to „preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.”
Article 9, however, is less straight forward and allows for subjective interpretation. It states, in relevant part, that „State Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents …” Even where the child is separated, however, the child still has the right „to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.”
One of the most flagrant violations of the Convention is the very set up of Barnevernet. It is a governmental agency or, more properly stated, an administrative body run amuck. It is not subject to meaningful judicial review or accountability. It can take children from their parents without court order. Its decisions are final as in an arbitration. It lacks a supervisory board. Due process is not followed. Even the most elementary aspects of due process are lacking. Testimony is not allowed. Sworn affidavits or declarations are not taken. The rules of evidence do not apply. The accused is not allowed to cross-examine her accusers, for instance the case workers or the persons who investigated the alleged wrong-doing or proposed the abduction of the children. Immunity prevents prosecution of the agents who abduct the children. No judge is involved and no judge presides over the proceedings. No impartiality is guaranteed or pursued. Many times decisions are taken by a local council which consists of individuals not even trained in the law. The deliberations consist of debates among the council members and the attorneys. There is no set procedure to follow. If parents have complaints, they can be lodged with the County Governor, but no meaningful judicial review is available.
This flies in the face of the Convention’s Article 9 which requires that decisions be made by „competent authorities subject to judicial review.” In Norway, the seizure of children from their parents is not supervised by the courts and it operates outside of the court system. Probably the most egregious aspect here is that suspension of parental rights is also within the powers of Barnevernet and is not subject to judicial review. Imagine that, being deprived of parental rights without a court order. Unimaginable in the United States and in most countries around the world, this is a frequent reality in Norway.
Parental rights are fundamental human rights. Human rights are the province of the courts, yet in Norway parents are barred from accessing the courts to vindicate abuses of parental rights. This means that, should the Bodnariu parents lose their rights to the children before a non-judicial, Barnevernet panel, they will not be able to appeal the deprivation of the most important rights a parent can have. In the rest of the world only courts or legislative bodies, not administrative bodies, can deprive people of the exercise of their human rights.
The complaints filed with the Governor go nowhere. The main reason is the system’s rigid structure which is not subject to judicial review, as well as the culture entrenched in the practices of Barnevernet and the parenting ideology Norway follows. The Norwegian government finances Barnevernet and each foster family where Barnevernet places children receives tens of thousands of Euros annually for each child. There are vested interests at work which preclude the system’s reformation. The inevitable consequence is that the children and their parents are the victims. Everyone seems to benefit from this scheme, except them.
Another violation is that of the children’s right to be cared for and raised by their biological parents. Norway seems to abide by a parenting ideology which disregards biological ties and emphasizes social and psychological parenting. Likely, the now five (5) month old baby is irreversibly estranged from his biological mother. No rational argument can be made in support of this atrocious act. It evidences the viciousness and arbitrariness of Barnevernet’s action, backed up by Norway’s radical ideology which experiments with ethnic children. The mother’s right to nurse her infant has been trampled on. What, one legitimately asks, can be more cruel than that? More heart wrenching? More barbaric? More despicable?
Once the Bodnariu children were severed from their parents, more violations cascaded. They were separated from one another. The boys and the girls have been placed with different families and are also geographically separated by long distances, not only among themselves, but also from their parents. The boys and the girls are not allowed to communicate with one another. Contacts between the girls and any of the parents have been cut off entirely, and contacts with the boys are only allowed to the mother.
Three (3) of the Bodnariu children were born in January. Barnevernet deprived the family of three (3) birthday celebrations in January of this year. Three family celebrations have been replaced by a nightmare, by unending and unimaginable pain and anguish for the parents and the children alike. How can this happen in a country which claims to be civilized? Did Barnevernet’s zealots think that the world would never hear about this? That people of good faith would be too timid to speak or write about these atrocities? That the rest of the world would stand idly by and not say anything? Fortunately for the children and the parents, the truth is out and is being told from the rooftops.
The harshness of the rulings applied to the Bodnarius conveys a systemic problem and how dysfunctional Barnevernet is. This harshness did not mushroom overnight but likely evolved over time with everyone turning a blind eye to the problem. Probably in the beginning citizens put up with it, felt helpless or isolated living in a foreign land, and this likely encouraged Barnevernet to become more aggressive, evolving into the monster organization that it is today.
What about the father’s parental rights? After all, the Convention’s Article 9 states that „both parents,” not the mother or the father alone or separately, have the right to maintain „personal relations” and „direct contact … on a regular basis” with the five (5) children. With all children, not some of them only. Unlike the mother, the father is not allowed any contact whatsoever with the boys. Moreover, the contact is not direct, but by phone in the case of the girls, not „regular” and not „personal.” The harshness of Barnevernet’s rulings evidences that the decision was intended to be punitive not curative. The mother is forced to drive no less than four (4) hours, one way, once a week to see her two boys. She likewise must travel four (4) hours, one way, to see the five (5) month old baby to spend two hours with him, nurse him, and attempt to resuscitate the maternal bonds. The cruelty of this decision can only lead one to conclude that Barnevernet commits crimes against humanity and should be banned. International law has long labeled pirates hostis humani generis, or enemies of mankind. Barnevernet certainly fits this description. It is an organization which operates outside the bounds of the law, and a danger to the ethnic children and families living in Norway.
The children’s seizure further is a violation of the Convention’s Article 8 which gives children the right to preserve their identity. This is a straightforward, objective standard. It is a sure bet that Barnevernet is violating this right. Identity is defined, among others, by religion and language. Propaganda material posted on Barnevernet’s website boasts that it does all it can to „safeguard a child’s religion and cultural background.” Perhaps, it would be useful to know whether Barnevernet is taking the Bodnariu children to a Pentecostal Church every Sunday. Do the children attend Sunday School? Have the children been placed with foster families which share the family’s religious and ethnic heritage? Are the children taught or allowed to sing „Jesus loves the little children of the world?”
Furthermore, the girls speak Romanian at home. Do they speak Romanian daily with their foster parents? Faith is a major defining trait for the entire family. Not only the parents are strong believers, but so is the grandmother. It is doubtful Barnevernet is doing anything to preserve the children’s identity, especially considering the girl’s conversation with the schoolmaster that the family believes that „God punishes sin.” One would be naive to believe that secular Norway would expend public funds to enroll the girls in Bible classes which teach, consistent with the parent’s view and theology, that „God punishes sin.”
Let’s now tackle the Convention’s Article 9 head on. First of all, was there neglect? No. All witnesses concurred the parents are „resourceful” and have the resources to provide for the children.
Were the children subjected to abuse? Definitely not, though here opinions might differ, depending on one’s understanding of what constitutes abuse. „Abuse,” however, is the start, not the end of the conversation, because, according to Norway’s Child Welfare Act, children can be separated from their parents only if there is „danger that children would be significantly harmed if remaining at home.” The operative words here are „significantly harmed.” This is a very high threshold to overcome. Barnevernet arbitrarily labeled the circumstances „significantly harmful” conveniently selecting evidence it found useful to its decision, and discarding the evidence to the contrary. The evidence which Barnevernet used to indict the parents came exclusively from the girls whose credibility even the teachers questioned at times. The grownups, namely the parents, the schoolmaster and the doctors, provided different impressions and opinions which, however, Barnevernet conveniently chose to ignore. One can then conclude that the opinion was deliberately written to yield the impression that the children were abused by being spanked. The opinion was outcome oriented. An intellectually honest opinion is one where the decisionmaker takes the facts as they are and allows them to take him or her where they may. The opinion reads like a script from Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s, or a narrative full of accusations pulled from the dusty archives of Romania’s Securitate after 65 years. It is surreal and sinister. No wonder the verdicts were so off mark.
Is reasonably spanking one’s children the equivalent of abuse? It depends on who asks the question, for what purpose, and who answers it. Richard Dawkins, for instance, is reputed for claiming that even teaching the Bible to children is a form of child abuse. However, an impartial, fair minded person would have to conclude, especially in light of the universal experience of humankind, that reasonably spanking a child is not abuse. It must have not been viewed as such in 1989 when the Convention was adopted because the Convention did not abolish spanking, nor did it allude to the corporal punishment of children. For millennia parents had the „right” or „privilege” to reasonably and even physically discipline their children. It was only in 1979 or so that Sweden broke ranks, abolish this standard, and became the first country in the world to entirely ban the physical discipline of children. Norway followed suit soon thereafter, along with more than twenty or so other countries. New Zealand, too, abolished spanking, but parents initiated a referendum which abrogated the anti-spanking legislation. It cannot be said, therefore, that international customary law does not still recognize a right or privilege to parents to reasonably discipline their children, as part of their right to parental autonomy.
Nevertheless, Norway has chosen to march to a different drum beat than the rest of the world. That is its prerogative as a sovereign state, of course, as is the prerogative to apply its laws equally to all of its inhabitants, Norwegians or not. After all, the proverbial „when in Rome do as the Romans do,” still applies. Or does it?
It applies when it is convenient to Norway. Norway has long prided itself on being a tolerant country. But tolerant of what? Westerners, like Norwegians, generally like to boast their creed in multiculturalism. Except when it comes to foreign residents. Norway expects nonNorwegians entering the Nordic state to leave their religion, ethnicity, culture, customs, and values at the border. It is intolerant of those who do not, and Norway’s stated policy of multiculturalism has its limits, severe one might add, as reflected in its treatment of the Bodnariu family.
If what the Bodnariu parents did to their children is „abuse,” then no less than between 17% and 55% of all American parents abuse their children, and, according to Norway’s standards, their kids should be hauled far away to different states and separated from their parents. According to a December 17, 2015 study of the Pew Research Center, 17% of all American parents „spank their children at least some of the time as a way to discipline them,” and another 28% „rarely” spank them, while 53% say they never do.
More Barnevernet violations of the Convention come to the fore when considering that the children’s express wish to be reunited with their parents is ignored; when the letters they write to their parents only reach the parents two months later; when the children ask to see their parents and their wish is denied; or when the children state they want to stay together or see one another and they are told no. This hard-headedness is hardly in the best interest of the children.
No Spanking or Reasonable Spanking?
Matters differ in the United States, where, for centuries, at common law parents were granted the privilege to reasonably discipline their children, including corporal punishment.
Most recently, in June 2015 the Massachusetts Supreme Court rendered a decision in Commonwealth v. Darvil, recognizing the parental privilege defense in a case where the father was alleged to have kicked a three year old girl in the back, „kind of like a football kick,” smacked the child on the buttocks, and yelled at her to „shut up.” The case articulated that „the use of moderate corporal punishment to discipline one’s child is viewed by many in [the United States] as an integral part of parental autonomy that furthers the welfare of the children.” It also established that: a parent or guardian may not be subjected to criminal liability for the use of force against a minor child … provided that (1) the force used against the minor child is reasonable; (2) the force is reasonably related to the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the minor, including the prevention or punishment of the minor’s misconduct; and (3) the force used neither causes, nor creates a substantial risk of causing, physical harm (beyond fleeting pain or minor, transient marks), gross degradation, or severe mental distress. By requiring that the force be reasonable and reasonably related to a legitimate purpose, this approach effectively balances respect for parental decisions regarding the care and upbringing of minor children with the Commonwealth’s compelling interest in protecting children against abuse. By additionally specifying certain types of force that are invariably unreasonable, this approach clarifies the meaning of the reasonableness standard and provides guidance to courts and parents.
Barnevernet harms children and parents
Barnevernet’s seizure of the Bodnariu children has inflicted on them and their parents unimaginable harm. Ironically, the children whom Barnevernet allegedly wanted to help are its first and foremost victims. Barnevernet has not acted in their best interest. A major article published in December in The Atlantic summarized a longitudinal study by reputed psychologist Nicholas Zill, which concluded that adopted children experience major difficulties growing up with their adopting, non-biological parents. The study revealed that at the start of kindergarten about one in four adopted children has a diagnosed disability, twice the rate of children being raised by their biological parents. Adopted children were significantly likelier than birth children to have behavior and learning problems. And the problems experienced by adopted children only escalate with time. Zill found that by eighth grade half of adopted children have diagnosed disabilities. They also perform significantly less in school than children raised by their biological parents.
The question of course is why? Zill proposed the „attachment theory” which holds that a strong bond with at least one biological parent is essential to a child thriving. In contrast, children who are separated from their biological parents are more psychologically vulnerable over time. Among Zill’s findings is that children separated from their biological parents have more problems managing their emotions and conflicts without resorting to hostility.
Barnevernet’s actions have placed the Bodnariu children in harm’s way. If Zill’s study is any guide, unfortunately for them, the Bodnariu children are likely to develop psychological problems unless they soon reconnect with their biological parents.
A Norway gone berserk
Norway marches to a different beat than the rest of the world. Here, it clearly went overboard. It threw the baby out with the bath water. Its secular parenting module is a radical departure from traditional types of parenting. Barnevernet is a monster created by Norway’s secular culture, a secularist experiment causing pain to countless families, an exemplar of the worst that secularism has to offer. It has only brought shame upon the country.
Consider this: a few years ago, Czech parliamentarians filed a complaint against Barnevernet in the European Parliament. It was signed by 38 parents from 13 European and Third World countries whose children had been seized by Barnevernet. The following paragraph from the complaint suffices to convey their agony and despair: „Children are being, literally, ripped out of their parents’ hands. Both social workers and the police are ruthless; crying and screaming children, begging for a chance to stay with their families, pose no obstacle to them whatsoever. They constantly prove that they are about to have it their way, no matter what.”
This is the ugly side of Norway which Western media ignores and dares not report. Dirt poor only half a century ago, today’s oil-rich Norway has been declared a Scandinavian Paradise and appears at the top of world charts in many categories, except in matters of the soul and the humane treatment of families. For the soul and families Norway is a vast prison, the wild, wild North on the edge of European civilization.
Clearly, something wrong is going on here, and the world should pay heed. The complaints that Barnevernet is targeting ethnic families are way too many to be ignored and have been lodged for far too long, without the Norwegian state doing anything about it. Concerned parents who escaped the Norwegian gulag of parental abuse, known as Barnevernet, have claimed, credibly, that Barnevernet is an arm of the Norwegian state entrusted with seizing ethnic children and placing them with Norwegian families to ensure the children grow up „Norwegian.” Barnevernet enforces a silent policy of demographic redistribution. Children from poor immigrant families are taken away and are placed for adoption with wealthier Norwegian families and same-sex couples. Norway’s demographic crisis is acute and worsening. Its natives have an appetite for sexual pleasure but have lost their will to procreate. At 5.2 million people, Norway’s population is considerably smaller than that of Houston’s metropolitan area. If ethnicity is an unwritten criteria for seizing children from their parents, and it appears to be, one can certainly say Norway is racist, has gone berserk and deserves to be stigmatized – worldwide.
There is some data to back this up. According to statistics posted on Barnevernet’s website, at the end of 2012 Norway had about one million and a half of young persons, aged 0 to 22. Almost 200,000 of them were children of immigrants. Transforming these children into Norwegians is a tall order, and here is where Barnevernet’s services come in handy. In 2013 it provided „help” to 53,000 children. For 17% of these children „help” came in the form of being taken away from their parents. Barnevernet refers to them as children „taken into care.” In raw numbers, this means that in 2013 alone Barnevernet abducted 12,467 children from their parents. In 2013 it issued 1,259 seizure orders, called, euphemistically, „care orders,” and in 2014, 1,504.
In the case of the Bodnariu family, Norway’s secular state scored at the expense of parental rights, parental autonomy, and the welfare of the children. For now. Because, in the long run and for generations to come, millions of Romanians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Turks, Russians, Ukrainians, Brazilians, Philippinos, Iraqis, Indians and many others from other nationalities will recount their horrific encounters with Norway’s Barnevernet. They all ask: does Norway deserve to be stigmatized for abusing us? From their perspective the inevitable answer is: absolutely!
Petre Costea, Presedinte AFR