By Bob Unruh
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has issued a scathing ruling that scolds Norwegian authorities for essentially stealing children.
The ruling came in the case of a mother, T. Strand Lobben, who experienced “difficulties” during pregnancy. After her son was born in 2008, she asked social-services agencies for help.
Three weeks later, when she decided to move out of a care center and live on her own, the state agency kept her baby. The government terminated her parental rights, put the boy in foster care and allowed him to be adopted.
ADF International, which has defended other Norwegian families in similar situations, praised the ruling, because “removing children from their families should always be considered a last resort.”
“This is one of a number of cases in which the Norwegian authorities failed to prioritize the reunification of families. We are pleased to see a judgment from the court that protects parental rights.”
Laurence Wilkinson, legal counsel for ADF International, said it hopes “it will be a wake-up call for the Norwegian authorities.”
The court found that Norway violated the fundamental right to family life through its child welfare services programs.
A concurring opinion from the court said “the authorities in the present case failed from the outset to pursue the aim of reuniting the child with his mother, but rather immediately envisaged that he would grow up in the foster home. This underlying assumption runs like a thread through all stages of the proceedings, starting with the care order.”
Lobben’s lawyer, Gregory Thuan Dit Dieudonne, said human rights advocates have been “highlighting the destructive practices” of the Norwegian child protective services agency, Barnevernet, for years.
“This ruling is a step in the right direction for parental rights in Norway and beyond. Even a positive judgment cannot make up the precious 10 years this family has lost at the hands of the Norwegian state.”
The government agencies were ordered to pay the mother some $35,000 in damages.
ADF International explained: “Prompted by the case of the Bodnariu family, a 2018 report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe into the practices of the Norwegian child welfare agency, Barnevernet, revealed troubling insights. 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 the authorities usually granted.”
Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International, said the “primary purpose of child welfare agencies is to support families.”
“The investigation into Norway showed that without effective safeguards, child welfare agencies can cause long-term damage to families and undermine the prior right that parents have to raise their children,” he said. “Norway must respect the right of parents to raise their children and intervene only when there is evidence of a serious breach of the parents’ duties. We hope this judgment will ensure that Norway fully respects its obligation to uphold parental rights under international law.”
The court found that the government’s decisions “unequivocally interfered with the applicants’ right to respect for their family life.”
“In the process leading to the withdrawal of parental responsibility and to the consent to adoption, the domestic authorities had not attempted to carry out a genuine balancing exercise between the interests of the child and his biological family and had never seriously contemplated their being reunited,” the court said.
WND reported in July the European Court of Human Rights also has agreed to review the case of the family of Marius and Ruth Bodnariu family. Five children were seized from their parents by the Norwegian government in 2015 when school officials secretly decided they were “radical Christians.”
As WND reported, officials at first refused to explain their actions. But the couple’s representatives later discovered documentation showing school officials had accused the couple, without discussing the issue with them, of being “radical Christians who were indoctrinating their children.”
Operatives of the state social services agency had grabbed the family’s two oldest children from school without telling their parents and hid them in an undisclosed location.
Then the agents and officers went to the family’s home, ADF said, “where, apparently without any documentation, they seized their two sons and arrested Ruth – who they took to the police station along with baby Ezekiel. Marius was arrested while he was at work and also taken into custody.”
Weeks passed, and the authorities told the parents only that the children were “integrated well into their separate foster homes and didn’t miss their parents.”
Eventually, the children were returned to their parents, but the lawsuit was accepted by the human rights tribunal.
At least seven other cases are at the human rights court challenging the actions of the Norwegian child-welfare agency.
The Bodnariu family, once reunited under intense pressure from the international community, then left Norway.