By John Dyer
Norwegian officials have kicked up an international controversy by taking custody of the children of an evangelical Christian family, whose defenders say they are being targeted for their religion.
The scandal involving Ruth and Marius Bodnariu and their five kids isn’t the first to hit Norway’s child protection system, the Barnevernet. Others have also charged Barnevernet bureaucrats with wrongly seizing children and discriminating against foreigners.
But the Bodnarius’ case, which involves five children, is especially striking.
Last November, Barnevernet officials came to their house in Naustdal, a remote Norwegian valley, twice without notice, according to the BBC. First, the officials took the couple’s eight and ten-year-old daughters and two sons, aged two and five, and ordered the mother to come to their office for interrogation. The next day, they returned and took the couple’s then-three-month old baby boy.
While Ruth is a native Norwegian, Marius is Romanian. The two met when Ruth was on a religious mission to Romania, said Cristian Ionescu, a family friend who is a reverend at the Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Chicago.
“You can imagine how tragic this is for them,” Ionescu told VICE News. “They are crying all the time. They have lost weight. They have been desperate at times. God and family and friends all over the world give them prayers and encouragement.”
Ionescu and others have planned demonstrations in front of the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, DC and other locations around the world on Saturday. In the US alone, they’ve garnered more than 60,000 signatures for a petition calling on Norway to return to the kids to their parents.
Norwegian officials said that they couldn’t discuss the details of the case because of privacy rules. But reports said that a school principal first raised concerns about the family, and Ruth admitted to the Barnevernet officials that that she would spank the children, which is illegal under Norwegian law.
“Not every time when they do something bad, more occasionally,” she told the BBC, referring to how often she resorted to spanking. Officials, she added, “didn’t find any physical marks or anything like that when they had medical examination on them, they were, are, all fine.”
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