30 April 2016
original of this article was published
on Verdidebatt as "Det
selvgode Norge" on 25 April 2016.
Jahn Otto Johansen is a
Norwegian journalist, editor, foreign correspondent and
The translation is published here by the author's generous
Translation: Marianne Haslev Skånland
politicians and bureaucrats have an exaggerated self-image.
Criticism from outside is usually rejected, because nobody
should tell "a Norwegian national from Norway" that he
could possibly do anything wrong. Anybody caught having
done something really reprehensible will immediately
respond, "I am completely devastated". And that was the end
of the matter.
We see this way of reacting in relation to the case in
which our child protection service Barnevernet has taken
the children away from a Romanian family because they have
apparently spanked them. We have seen demonstrations around
the world and they are sure to continue, to the great
irritation of Norwegian diplomatic service and bureaucracy.
Now we have also got the Council of Europe against us.
One matter is the fact that some of the accusations against
Norway are exaggerated, not to say clearly wrong. It is
quite a different matter, however, that even though there
are sure to be well-intentioned and good people in
Barnevernet, there is widespread authoritarianism. It has
not only affected foreign families with children but
Norwegian families as well.
Our legislation is clear in forbidding physical punishment
of children. The coming of this law was a good thing. I was
spanked on my bare bottom as a child, sometimes on mere
suspicion and not on account of evil deeds. It was
humiliating, something I did not wish my children and
grandchildren to experience.
We also know that families exist with a violent father or
mother who harms the children in a way which is potentially
life-threatening or will at least leave permanent damage.
In such cases the child protection unit and if necessary
the prosecuting authority must certainly intervene. I know
cases where this was not done, with fatal results for the
But in my opinion, matters should be very serious before
Barnevernet takes the children away from their parents. If
foreign parents are concerned, parents who are not familiar
with Norwegian law, they should be informed about it. It is
fully possible to enter into a dialogue and give advice
without taking the children. Among Pentecostalists, Smiths
Venner and the Rom people (gypsies), there has been a
tradition of punishing misbehaving children physically. Our
society cannot accept this. But taking the children from
their parents and siblings is a reaction that can be more
harmful than spanking on the bottom.
We know that children taken from their parents and placed
in children's homes or foster families have been abused. We
also know that serious abuse has taken place in
kindergartens and that it still occurs. Nor is abuse rare
in youth organisations and sports clubs for minors. I know
of many such cases; I also know that religious leaders and
local authorities have tried to cover it up. I can document
a long, frightening list of abuse, not least in Christian
communities and organisations.
Our problem with Barnevernet and other Norwegian
authorities is that they are so intensely convinced that
whatever they do is always right. You shouldn't come here
and criticise .... We Norwegians get our back up especially
if foreigners are the ones to criticise us.
Certainly our authorities should speak up and document it
if our child protection service is subject to unjust
accusations. But what often happens is that we immediately
The result is that demonstrations will then continue around
the world, demonstrations of the type we now have and which
may be getting even worse.