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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  1. #1 Marianne Skanland 31 Mar 12

    Bergen, Norway:

    You have focused on quite a few relevant points here, Mari, this is one of the better articles I have read about this case. And yes, as a writer it is not for you to aspire to x-ray eyes and playing judge. So what can and should you or anyone do?

    You could do some more reading about the Child Protective Service (CPS). The more you read, the more likely you are to find convergence and some confirmation of information found elsewhere. This would be helpful for the assessment of the Bhattacharya case also and make you more independent of what just a few individuals (like me!) say.

    Here is something in English:

    ’Critical comments to Norway's fourth periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child - 2008’

    Some websites:

    ’BarnasRett (Children's Right) - English section’
    ’NKMR - English section’
    (Consult NKMR's links section for other sites about similar business in other countries.)
    ’Forum rbv - Section for English speakers’

    Three articles by the top human rights lawyer in the Nordic countries, Siv Westerberg, who has had 9 cases against Sweden admitted to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and won 7 of them, most of them CPS cases:

    ’Foster children as lucrative business’
    ’Child prisons? In Sweden?’
    ’The Folly of Sweden's State Controlled Families’

    Mrs Westerberg is very well up on the situation in Norway also. I recommended a reporter from NDTV, who wanted my help with interviews, to take half an hour and read a couple of these and then interview Mrs Westerberg but she wouldn't. Reporters are, in my experience, far too superficial and self-confident and this hinders their readers/viewers in understanding things like CPS cases, which require some background knowledge.

    A couple of my own, if I may be immodest:

    ’The assessments made by the Norwegian child protection service (CPS)’
    ’Human Rights in Norway - as Low as they can Go’

    Regarding my own background in this field: I have studied such cases for almost 20 years, have read case documents, read something of the relevant scientific literature, as well as some of the quack literature used by the CPS professions, talked to affected families, I know some the families well, have talked to politicians and collected expert opinions for two politicians' parliamentary proposal of reforms, given talks, collected documentation, published same, been in court as an expert witness half a dozen times. I can tell you the situation is getting alarming in more countries than Norway. Unless India takes a firm stand on psychobabble 'social work by experts', you will have the same trends spreading in your country too through the same ideology, cf:

    ’The attitude of social professions involved in the child protection sector’


  2. #2 Mohandas 31 Mar 12

    I fully agree with the author that the cultural difference that exists between the 2 nations , (or even the 'west' and the 'east'
    AND the role played by the institutions in not giving a full and fair picture to the case have been the bane of this incident. What we must consider here is the cultural difference and see if in the country of origin of the parents, is it normal what we see in their house? and if it is,... has resulted in damage to the child's growth/development.

  3. #3 Aloke Surin 31 Mar 12

    You have stepped onto some pretty sticky turf here, Mari. This issue is so loaded emotionally, culturally, and politically, that even to comment as a mere blog reader is presumptuous. All I can hope is that the consequences of this incident should not further damage the fragile psyche of those children. May some compassionate and enlightened people who are onsite take the right decisions.

  4. #4 Beulah Kaushik 02 Apr 12

    This is a dreadful case , cant be the judge and further complicated with the fathers comments on the mother being neurotic ... I would have gone crazy had this incident occured with me and my kids in a foreign land, no support from anyone,home so far awayand the cultures so different from ours!!!
    Hope the kids dont suffer everlasting problems after being seperated so cruelly from their parents.
    Thought provoking article Mari.

  5. #5 mari 02 Apr 12

    Thanks Marianne. Your comments, as an expert were helpful. As I mentioned, its really ridiculous for a mere writer to pontificate but obviously the issue turned really volatile. I hope the kids end up having the best care possible for them and I hope you and other experts battle the unhealthy institutionalizing of child care, taking kids away from their parents for trivial reasons, in yr country and Sweden.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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