21 June 2015

Jan Simonsen:
Shame on Norway

The original version of this article in Norwegian was published under the title Skam over Norge on Frie Ytringer, Jan Simonsens blogg, on 21 June 2015.
This English version is published with the kind consent of the author.
Translation: Marianne Haslev Skånland

"Shame on Norway" was the cry from 500 demonstrators outside the Norwegian embassy in Prague recently. The case of a Czech mother in a Norwegian child protection case has been prominent in Czech media for months, has been taken up in the Czech parliament and led to debate about Norwegian child protection in the Council of Europe and in the European Parliament. So, what is the reaction of the Norwegian government Minister of Children, Solveig Horne: In a reply to district university lecturer Jan Storø in the newspaper Aftenposten, she complains that Norway is misunderstood abroad. But are we misunderstood?

"Norwegian authorities have on several occasions cooperated with foreign media in order to give information about Norwegian child protection. We refute groundless allegations, but the effect of this is limited. It has happened that interviews are crosscut and convey the wrong impression", whimpers Solveig Horne – instead of dealing with a few misunderstandings in the media and a pointed statement from the Czech president, and then actually thinking through whether elements in the criticism might be right.

Is it really taken out of the blue when a nation of culture, one of the most humane nations in Europe, criticises Norway for violations of human rights and brutality against children and their families, when the child protection service (CPS) with poor justification takes children away from their biological parents?

I have followed the debate in the Czech Republic via Czech friends, through acting as advisor for Czech media, and having myself been interviewed about Norwegian child protection several times by Czech tv. The Czechs have been extremely upset at the way a mother does not get her children back, children who were taken from her and their father on the basis of allegations against the father, children who are not returned although the suspicion against the father has been dispelled and the mother has, to be on the absolutely safe side, even divorced him. It particularly offends the Czechs that the sons have been placed in two different families, that the mother is only allowed to see them a couple of times a year, and not least that she is forbidden to speak their mother tongue, Czech, with her own Czech children.

The case has resulted in Czech politicians discovering that Norway is maybe not after all the humanistic, model society they had thought, and has led both politicians and the media to investigate how Norwegian child protection works. The issue has been raised from the single case up to a general level and into a European debate concerning human rights. In this debate Norway stands accused.

I can assure Solveig Horne that the criticism, minus a few peripheral overstatements – and nothing but these overstatements has been taken up by the Norwegian press –, has been exceptionally unbiased and matter-of-fact. There is no need for our Foreign Ministry to explain away anything. What is needed is for Norwegians to understand that the alarm which our system meets with internationally is justified, and the system should be changed. As minister for children, Solveig Horne has this task on her table.

The criticism voiced in the Czech Republic against Norwegian CPS is near identical to the criticism which earlier, all through the 1990s, came from the great humanistic parliamentary politician of Fremskrittspartiet (The Progress Party), John Alvheim. His heart bled for the weak and vulnerable and he fought against injustice. He wanted to strengthen and protect families, instead of tearing them apart by depriving children of their parents just because the CPS – often with incredible arguments – held parents with few resources to "lack in ability to care". In such cases, society should take action with real help, not with destructive "transfers of care". Taking the children away from their parents must be limited to cases in which no real help is possible and where very serious failure to care has taken place.

If Solveig Horne – contrary to what John Alvheim did – chooses to defend the system instead of taking the international criticism seriously and changing the system, then
she is the one who fails in care, fails families with few resources, both the parents and their children, who need her helping hand and not her wrath.