Annually, in Norway, nearly 10,000 children are taken away from their parents on a whim by Barnevernet, Norway’s Child Protective Services. In mid-November 2015 it seized, unlawfully and without the court order, the five (5) minor children of Marius and Ruth Bodnariu, a Romanian-Norwegian Pentecostal family living in Naustdal, Norway. The smallest of the children was three (3) months old at that time and the oldest nine (9) years of age. Documents which surfaced since the children’s seizure reveal, scandalously, that the main motivation for the seizure of the children was the family’s religion. Fortunately, the Bodnarius, along with tens of thousands of their supporters around the world, have pushed back. [Details: www.bodnariufamily.org]
The five (5) innocent Bodnariu children were among the tens of thousands of children Barnevernet has snatched away from their parents on a whim in recent years. Norway has a long track record in this regard, but one dotted by shameless actions. For way too long. The seizure of the children is accomplished under color of law while Norway’s judicial system, politicians, and media look the other way, claiming that the world does not understand their country, and stubbornly digging in their heels. Statistics published earlier this year reflect the magnitude of this crisis which Norwegians ignore, believing and insisting through all media channels possible, including social, that their country is perfect and in no need to be lectured by the victims, their families, or the world. The statistics, however, send chills down one’s spine. It is impossible to argue with the numbers. And, after reading this piece, you will likely ask yourself, like many other rational people of good faith from around the world, how can anything of this nature and magnitude happen in Europe, or in 2016, or in a Norway which has signed multiple international covenants pledging to protect and respect human rights, including parental rights, and, ironically, is also a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights?
In 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Barnevernet took 9,611 children away from their parents. In 2013 it seized 9,078, and in 2012 8,995. The total for the three years is 27,684. The ages of the children start at birth and go up to 23 years. From birth even because, as you will read below, some children are not even given to their parents after birth. These numbers are no doubt staggering and mind-boggling. They leave you aghast. The complete report put out by the Norwegian government, is found here: https://www.ssb.no/en/sosiale-forho…. According to the same report, in 2014 Barnevernet launched 41,922 “investigations,” and completed 41,016. This would appear to indicate that almost 42,000 families were investigated by Barnevernet in one year alone. That is, investigated, not merely contacted or visited. The same report also informs that in 2014 Barnevernet received 59,996 complaints, or “notifications,” about children and youth. The number of investigations and of the children actually seized is staggering considering that Norway’s population stands at only 5.2 million people.
And it is not only portentous but also out of pace with similar statistics available from other advanced countries or states. For instance, in Texas, 17,378 children were removed from their parents in 2014 by its Child Protective Services. Yet, in 2014 Texas’ population stood at over 27 million, that is, more than five (5) times Norway’s population. [Details: http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/About_D…] The entire youth population of Texas, below the age of 17, stood at over 7 million in 2014. If Texas’ CPS were allowed to operate outside the bounds of the law, as Barnevernet does in Norway, and just as zealously, then more than 50,000 Texas children through the age of 17 would be removed from their parents annually in Texas as well.
Norway’s Child Welfare Act
In the statistical data provided by Norway, the children seized by Barnevernet are listed in the line-item called “care measure.” What is a “care measure?” The name is misleading and it is not what it suggests. To understand what it is, one needs to reference Norway’s Child Welfare Act (“Act”), improperly so titled because, among others, the Act institutionalizes the monster Norway has created in Barnevernet, an outlaw institution which operates against the best interests of the children and criminalizes parents who practice responsible parenting styles.
Adopted in 1992, the Act pretends that its main purpose is to ensure that children and young persons “who live in conditions that may be detrimental to their health and development receive the necessary assistance and care at the right time.” (Section 1-1) While this objective is no doubt laudatory, the legal terms and structures designed to address the problems children and youth face are themselves the problem and the source of the much pain Barnevernet has inflicted on families and children alike. The Act addresses not actual problems but what Barnevernet assesses, or “may” view, as the Act states, to be an actual problem when one does not in fact exist. The “may be detrimental” language is extremely subjective and inevitably opens the door to abuse and irrational actions on the part of the authorities. I would venture to say that the Act if enacted in the United States, would long have been struck down as unconstitutional for vagueness. In Norway, each municipality is tasked with “monitoring the conditions in which children live.” (Section 3-1) That is where the process of seizing children starts, on the basis of a very vague and subjective assessment of the status of the children. And, by the time the process ends in Oslo, Norway’s Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights, the road travelled will have been so extremely long, exhausting, costly, time-consuming, and designedly adversarial at every step of the way, that not a few parents will have given up by then.
The nomenclature “care measures” appears in Section 4-12 of the Act as “care orders.” They are the orders pursuant to which the 9,611 children identified in the 2014 Barnevernet statistical report were seized. Though they are called “care orders”‘ in reality no “orders” are issued. This terminology is misleading. No one in Norway signs “care orders.” There is no judge, court of law, or official document issued or shown to parents when Barnevernet’s officials show up at the doors of families requesting them to surrender their children.
So what happened to the 27,684 children seized by Barnevernet from their parents in 2012, 2013, and 2014 without the court order, and to the children that continue to be seized? The vast majority of them end up in foster care, others end up being adopted, and some are returned to their parents. The return usually happens after years of protracted and exhausting litigation, first within the Barnevernet system itself, and then outside of it in the regular judicial system. This is what, in fact, happend to the Bodnariu children. Initially, the five (5) children were separated into three (3) groups and placed with three (3) different foster homes, in three (3) different Norwegian towns, hundreds of kilometers away from their biological parents and from each other. The foster homes, however, can more properly be called mini kindergartens, because the children live there with other children under the care and supervision of a caretaker called “foster parent.” The youngest Bodnariu child was returned to his parents in April, but the remaining four (4) continue to live with their foster caretakers. The caretakers are paid by the state for taking care of the children. However, since the children live with a number of other children, the appellative “mini kindergarten” or “mini daycare center” would be a very accurate way to describe the reality of the living arrangements of the children. The children also vary in age.
But there are additional wrinkles, a paramount one being that the foster parents are not married. The women with whom the Bodnariu children live are not married to the men who live with them. They cohabit, and the Bodnariu children, along with the other children the women care for are, of course, not their biological children. Try, then, to make sense of the bizarre nature of these “families.” The adults are not married. So, there is no marriage. The adults have no children of their own. So, there is no natural or biological family to speak of. There are only “living arrangements” dictated by the state where the woman tasked by the state to care for a number of children lives with her boyfriend, and the children she cares for are not her biological children. Pretty complicated, isn’t it? Defiant of the nature’s norms? No doubt. Is this sort of “living arrangements” contemplated by Norway’s Child Welfare Act healthy for children in general, or, in this case, for the Bodnariu children? No rational person can say that it is.
Lately, I’ve been reading Isabel V. Sawhill’s Generation Unbound – Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage. Published in 2014, the book is an eye-opener. Its author is not a controversial person and cannot be labeled as an intellectual of the political right or left. She tries to stay in the middle and be nonjudgmental. She is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, a think tank with a liberal bent.
Some of the observations she makes in this book are astonishing and describe the horrible impact which cohabitation has on children. One particular section in her book discusses what she labels “musical partnerships,” by which she expresses the difficulties children face when their unmarried biological mothers drift in and out of relationships with various live-in boyfriends. The instability of the relationships and the constant changing of the boyfriends impacts not only the mother but particularly the children. The unstable and constantly changing family environment scars them. “This game of musical partners,” Sawhill writes, “affects children in various ways. In comparison with parents in stable relationships, cohabiting couples invest less time and money in their children. Mothers are likely to find the changes in their own relationships or household living arrangements stressful. This leads to harsher parenting and less time devoted to learning activities in the home. The children end up with lower scores and poorer physical and mental health than children in intact families, even after adjusting for other differences between the two groups.” (Pages 71-72) Notably, each sentence I reproduced here is heavily footnoted with supporting materials and studies published in credible scholarly journals and written by reputable scholars and psychologists.
But here is where Sawhill really hits the nail on the head: “In recent years, as musical parenthood or the family-go-round has become more common, the focus has been less on the absence of a father and more on how family instability affects children. In fact, a stable single-parent family in which a child does not experience the constant comings and goings of new boyfriends (or girlfriends) or the addition of new half-siblings has begun to look like a better environment than musical parenthood. When the adults involved end up with multiple children by different partners, they may have a larger number o children to support than if they had stuck with just one relationship. … Children need not just financial security but also a certain amount of stability in their lives and their relationships if they are to develop secure and trusting ties with others.” (Page 72) I take this to mean that in the foster parenting environments where the social parent is in a cohabiting relationship with diverse or successive live-in-boyfriends, this causes the children emotional turbulence. This, it seems, is a much worse outcome for a foster child than living with his or her biological parents even if the parents occasionally discipline her. [Note: I recommend a summary of Sawhill’s findings recently published by the Brookings Institution: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/soci…]
The new face of parenting in Norway (and elsewhere)
This precisely is the new face of parenting and parenthood in Norway which its Child Welfare Act institutionalizes and Barnevernet faithfully executes. Most of the seized children end up living with “musical partners” who practice “musical parenting,” and are dragged, against their will, into the new wave of “musical parenthood.” According to the Act, children can be removed from their parents by Barnevernet without court order or any order from a supervising government body. Barnevernet can even terminate the parent-child relationship without court order. Where children are not removed from their parents, Barnevernet can, nevertheless, appoint a “supervisor for the children” to monitor family life under the pretense of preventing harm to the children. (Section 4-4) Where children have lived with foster parents for “more than two years,” there is a presumption that they had become so attached to their foster parents, that it would be against their best interests to be returned to their biological parents. (Section 4-8) Under certain circumstances, even newborns can be removed by Barnevernet from their biological parents right after birth where the parents are entirely deprived of their rights to the children. (Section 4-8) Foster parents can object to the children being returned to their biological parents, but the Act does not provide for the birth parents to object to the foster parents Barnevernet selects. Likewise, the children cannot consent or object to being placed in foster care or to the foster parents. (Section 4-21) Foster parents also have priority in the adoption of the children they have fostered following the termination of the parental rights of the biological parents. (Section 4-20) They likewise can object to the attempts of biological parents to have “care orders” revoked and the children returned to them. (Section 4-21)
While Norway appears to be a trailblazer in the complete redefinition of parenting, the rise of social parenting in the Western World, and the promotion of the primacy of foster parenting over biological parenting, the trend extends to the United States as well. If not so much in practice, and not as extensively as in Norway, the writings of academics demand that it be so. In 2013 New York University Press published What Is Parenthood? Contemporary Debates about the Family, an extensive compilation of essays by a large number of legal scholars, sociologists, and activists. The book proposes, among others, “a diversity approach to parenthood in family life and family law,” the “uncoupling of marriage and parenting,” and demographic redistribution under the guise of “social policy and responsible parenthood.” A central theme of the book is a new definition of parenthood. It “defines parenthood more by reference to the quality of the relationship – or, to use a psychological concept, attachment – between adult and child than to whether a marital relationship exists between two opposite-sex adults or a biological tie between adult and child. It recognizes that adult-adult intimate relationships often produce and may be linked to parent-child bonds, as in marriage. However, it also recognizes that adult-adult intimate bonds are not always the anchor of parent-child bonds; some parent-child bonds form and flourish outside of marriage or other adult intimate relationship.”
Who are the foster parents?
Who are the foster parents to whom Barnevernet entrusts the seized children for care? Public statistical data on this subject is not available but one can fairly reasonably infer that most children end up being placed with unstable, cohabiting couples. What evidence is there pointing in this direction? Consider that in Norway only about 41% of the adult population between the ages of 21 and 79 is married, while about 28.5% of the people in the same age bracket cohabit. [Details: http://family-studies.org/cohabitat…] Chances are, therefore, that most of the children Barnevernet removes end up in unstable cohabiting environments. The married couples likely have children of their own and fostering children may not be a viable option for them. And, according to the Norwegian media, some of the children end up with same-sex foster parents. Recently, Norway’s press commented on Barnevernet’s plans to speed up the placement of the removed children with gay couples as foster parents and then for adoption. [Details: http://www.nrk.no/sognogfjordane/fo…] Forget the fact that the International Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to a mother and a father, to know their biological parents, and to be raised by them. (Article 7) Forget, also, the reality that each one of these children initially had a mother and a father.
Because of lack of statistical data the dimensions of this new social experiment, risky one might add, are not fully known in Norway. But comparative statistical data exists for Great Britain where in 2015 8% of all adopted children, or 450 of the total, were adopted by homosexual couples. [https://www.gov.uk/government/stati…] This is a disproportionately high percentage considering that, according to an article published on May 15, 2016 in The Spectator, Great Britain’s homosexuals comprise only about 1.5% of Britain’s population. [Details: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/0…]
Criminalizing children in foster care
The life of children in foster care is unenviable. The skies are not always blue in foster families. On the contrary, life in foster care can be very infelicitous. In foster care the children continue to misbehave as they did when they lived with their biological parents. In fact, their misbehaving worsens after their removal from parental authority. Foster parents are not allowed to exercise parental authority or discipline the children in their care. The increased misbehaving is attributed to the children living with non-siblings and to difficulties they experience in adjusting to the often shaky relationships of the foster parents. Frequently, the misbehaving consists of violence, breaking plates, the children thrashing their rooms, fighting with other children, breaking windows, sniffing glue. When aggressive acts of this nature occur, the foster parents do not discipline the children but call the police instead. The police intervenes and the children are treated as suspected criminals.
Believing that the children might do well in other foster homes, many of the misbehaving children are relocated by UK’s CPS with different foster homes. The constant hopping around, from place to place, from one foster family to another, is impacting the children negatively. They move in and out of family environments and schools and cannot grow social roots. Other misbehaving children are placed in special juvenile homes, are charged with breaking the law, are hauled before judges, and some are pronounced guilty of criminal misdeeds. In other words, they become criminals. By the time they reach the age of 18, they are convicted criminals, entering society and the labor market with criminal convictions. Some of them even end up with long wrap sheets by the time they turn 18. They are victimized by the very system which the law designed to protect them.
Data on this little-known aspect of life in foster homes in Norway is unknown. But fortunately it is published in the United Kingdom and the data there is scary. According to an article published in The Guardian on March 29, 2016, while only 1% or so of children who live with their biological parents end up with a criminal conviction by age 18, 6% of children raised in foster homes end up with one or more criminal convictions by age 18. [Details: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/…] Surveys on children raised in foster care also reveal that they prefer to live with their biological parents in spite of the occasional abuse or neglect to which their birth parents subjected them.
God giveth children and Barnevernet taketh them away
So, in Norway, as elsewhere in the world, God gives children. But only in Norway are they being taken away from their parents on a whim, and with an excess of zeal and ferociousness unmatched anywhere else in the world. One might ask why? What is really going on here? Is there something peculiar to Norway that compels it to act like this?
I have said it before, and I repeat it here. Since I have started to dedicate a lot of my time to study the Bodnariu matter, have familiarized myself with Norway’s laws on child welfare, read its statistics on the subject, and compared them with practices in other Western nations and Texas, I am inclined to believe that Norway is up to something extremely shameful. I am talking about an undeclared policy of demographic redistribution. Norway is aging. Norway is not producing children. It is importing them. The children of immigrants make up a disproportionately high percentage of Norway’s young population. Norway’s population below the age of 22 is about a million and a half. Some 200,000 of them, or a little over 13%, are children and youth born to immigrants. The overwhelming majority of the immigrants are non-Europeans attached to religions and traditional values alien to Norway’s increasingly secularized society. And these children and youth can be a problem for Norway’s future. In a few generations, if remaining steady, current demographic trends will change Norway so fundamentally that it will cease to be Norwegian or European. Barnevernet’s job, then, is to seize the children and place them in Norwegian homes where they will lose their ethnic and linguistic identity and become Norwegian.
And there is another piece of troubling evidence leading to the same conclusion. Though Norway has ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has not signed its Optional Protocols. For good reason. Under the Protocols, parents and children from Norway would have the option and the right to lodge complaints with United Nations treaty bodies against Norway and its insensitive child abduction policies and practices. There are no signs that Norway will sign the Protocols. At least not in the predictable future. Because, as long as the Protocols are not signed, secrecy is ensured for Barnevernet’s sordid practices and the world will not become aware of them. And until Norway signs the Protocols or changes its domestic legislation, Barnevernet’s victims will be left without recourse, at its mercy, and immigrant children will continue to undergo compulsory conversion to become Norwegian.
Peter Costea is a civil rights attorney practicing in Houston, Texas. He also holds a PhD in diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, Massachusetts.