New Internationalist

Norway-India children plot thickens

I'm confused. Should I be saying ‘mea culpa’ and beating my breast in contrition? My ‘Norway snatches Indian children’ blog received the most comments of all the blogs I've written. More than fifty and still counting. Reports about the controversy keep coming in and The Hindu, a pretty reliable, non hysterical Indian daily, has given both versions without jumping into a blame game. But my reactions to the recent pronouncement by the children’s father that the mother may possibly be neurotic, are mixed. Let me explain.

To recap, for readers unfamiliar with the issue, there's a furore in India and abroad, fuelled by reports stating two Indian toddlers were taken away from their parents by the Norwegian Child Welfare Service (CWS). Allegations stated that, among the many reasons cited, the CWS objected because the little boy slept in his father's bed, common in all non-western cultures, was finger fed by his mother not spoon fed, a cultural difference normal in  Asia and Africa, and had very few toys. Average Indian kids have very few toys and the majority, no toys at all.

A few days ago, I read that the father of the children had claimed he was attacked by their mother. He was covered in scratches and bruises and has moved out to a separate flat. I still don’t agree with the ‘I told you so’ comments which infer the Norwegian government knew best. I feel if the kids have relatives who can help take custody, that’s better than an institution and better than foster parents.

I've been told by Indian friends in Norway that the Norwegians are friendly, not racist towards them, and it’s a beautiful country to live and work in. But in my experience, institutionalized care rarely compensates for the affection that comes from family. And the issue is clouded by the enormous cultural considerations.

I think it’s difficult to make sweeping generalizations from where I am, so I have based a lot of my conclusions on Norwegian experts’ opinions. The Hindu carried an interview by a Norwegian lawyer, Magne Brun, who expresses the view that the English social worker had a colonial bias that was unfair to the Indian parents.

He also points out that the CWS did not extend all the support to the parents that it should have done. It removed the children by deception, saying there was an emergency situation, which was a lie. The kids had neither bruises nor marks of violence, so they were not sexually or physically abused. The CWS rejected the verdict of the first County Committee and refused to hand back the children to the parents. Finally, Magne Brun points out, it aggravated the charges in order to get the verdict it desired. Brun also points out that the boy is possibly autistic, based on his behaviour.

And yet his visits to the hospital to investigate his condition were stopped. So the boy’s condition cannot be ascribed to his mother's lack of affection. And the fact that the father kept the child in his bed shows concern and caring, not the opposite. It’s much easier to dump a difficult child in another bedroom every night, especially when you have to report to work every morning.

Another cause for concern is the kind of case built up by Marianne Haslev Skanland, Professor Emeritus, from Bergen, Norway in which the author accuses Norway and Sweden’s Child protection agencies of snatching children from vulnerable parents for reasons other than the childrens’ welfare and well-being.

I know that the bureaucracy is capable of great damage. It is difficult for institutions to have compassion, sensitivity or a soul unless they are headed by exceptional human beings. And even institutions founded by charismatic people flounder when the leadership changes.

I worry about playing god as a writer. Or distorting facts, and having knee jerk reactions or conclusions to complicated problems, even in a blog. So whatever my opinions or conclusions, all I pray for is that those two children get the best possible deal for their personal well-being and emerge out of this sordid drama, unscarred and untraumatized.

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