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Norway's child protection body takes heavy criticism over decisions on migrant families

Norway faces high number of child welfare cases at European Court of Human Rights over practices of Barnevernet

Saadet Firdevs Apari   | 24.05.2022
Norway's child protection body takes heavy criticism over decisions on migrant families


The Norwegian Child Welfare Services (Barnevernet) has long been criticized over controversial decisions, particularly against migrant families.

Since 2015, the Barnevernet's practices, mostly taking away children from their families by citing "abuse," have highly been criticized inside and outside of the country.

Lack of relevant evaluations and ignoring the cultural differences while deciding on cases of "child removal" are among the main reasons behind the criticisms.

On Sept. 10, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rules that Norway violated the right to respect for private and family life that is protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mariya Abdi Ibrahim case

The son of Mariya Abdi Ibrahim, a Muslim refugee who came from Somalia at the age of 16, was forcefully taken by Norwegian authorities in 2010 when he was just 10 months old over "neglect and abuse" and later adopted by a Christian family.

Anne Lutina, Ibrahim's lawyer, told Anadolu Agency that the Somali mother had taken her case against the decision to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

"The mother wanted her baby to be raised in line with her faith, but the ECHR decided against this desire. Our case sets a precedent for many others," said Lutina.

Underscoring that the main problem in this case was that a child with Muslim parents was given to a Christian family, whose beliefs are completely different from the biological family, Lutina stated: "Everything in our case was about Article 8 of the Convention of Human Rights," which refers to the protection of family rights.

"Religion is a part of private life and included in the protection of family rights," she added.

Before taking away Ibrahim's baby, the attorney argued, Norwegian authorities should have given the mother more support, considering the obstacles she faced while trying to provide her child with a better life in an entirely different country and culture.

"The result of the Somali mother coming to Norway, which must have already been hard for her at the time, resulted in her losing her beloved baby," she said, adding: "The needed support was not provided to her."

Having come from Somalia, the very young Ibrahim had not received an education "like every other Norwegian person." Instead, she had to "figure everything out all by herself," heaped together with all other Norwegian women "as if they all had the same opportunities even though Ibrahim was much younger than them when she started to take such responsibilities."

Barnevernet obliged to help family according to Norwegian laws

Touching on the issues related to the practices of the Barnevernet, Lutina said officials should first take all measures possible to support the parents so they do not lose their children.

According to Lutina, in such cases, authorities should ask: "Do they (parents) need any help? Are their conditions that harsh that the child can no longer stay with the biological family? Or should the family be helped?"

The Barnevernet is obliged to help families within Norwegian law, she added.

"As I've seen so far, the parents would difficulties to live by the regional standards as they come from utterly different cultures,” she said, mentioning: “It is a long process to teach them about our standards and work with them.”

"If the child was given to a foster family when she/he was very young, before the age of one, Barnevernet advises foster families to adopt the child. Thus, the child establishes family ties with this foster family," she said, noting that biological parents have a say in important issues when a child is placed in foster care in the country.

However, they lose this right when the child is adopted and only get to see their children once or twice per year -- a practice that has been criticized at the ECHR.

Turkiye’s support in case

Underscoring the support that the Ibrahim family has received from Turkiye throughout the case, Lutina said: "The Turkish government intervened in our case to support the claims of the mother as a third party before taking the case to the ECHR."

"I also have a little daughter. I was pregnant when I started working on the Ibrahim case. I gave birth during the process, she said, emphasizing that the case gained a "completely different dimension for me when I became a mother."

"This is too hard for me to handle, not only as a lawyer, but as a human," since the cases involve ripping children from their families, she lamented.

"I see mothers and fathers, who dearly love their children and desperately long for them, and this makes me feel helpless while also affecting me as a human being."

Many attorneys avoid taking Barnevernet-related cases, Lutina stressed. "What kept me going is that I always told myself that these families are in need of help, that they need someone who knows about the laws and fights for them."

"Most of my colleagues say that they find these cases too hard and harsh as to why they don't prefer working for them. Yes, these are brutal cases and most of them are saddening," she said.

Mariya Abdi Ibrahim is still unable to meet with her child, despite the ECHR ruling in her favor.

In 2019, the Strasbourg-based rights court found that Oslo had not done enough to keep the mother and son together and the decision also triggered some changes in Norway’s related regulations.

The court also ordered Norway to pay Ibrahim €30,000 ($32,000) in damages.

Over the "arbitrary attitude" of the Barnevernet, Norway has faced a high number of child welfare cases at the ECHR.

* Writing by Merve Berker

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