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Just the suspicion of spanking can lead to a police raid and seizure of children by social workers in at least one Western nation.
A couple in Norway had four children and a baby taken away because they spanked the older ones.
“They didn’t find any physical marks or anything like that when they had medical examination. … They were, are, all fine,” the mother, Ruth, told the BBC. “But the law … is very clear until the smallest detail, it’s not allowed of any physical correction, and we have never been aware that it was this strict.”
Corporal punishment is illegal in Norway.
Ruth’s ordeal began last year when social workers and police seized her two daughters from school without her knowledge and then drove to her house and took two sons. The next day four police officers returned and seized her three-month-old baby, too.
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The children are still in foster care, and Ruth and her husband, Marius, are in family counseling. The parents can only see their children through eight-hour visiting sessions. Even worse, the children have been separated and live in different parts of the country, hours from one another.
The baby has been returned, although the parents don’t know what will become of the others.
The couple accused Norway’s children protection service — which is known as Barnevernet — of lying to them at a meeting.
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“We had already engaged ourselves in family counselling, to be prepared to fix whatever needs to be fixed,” Marius told the BBC. “But at that meeting they didn’t even want to look at our plan. Actually, they said they set up the meeting to inform us that they would file a case for permanently removing the kids.”
Some critics charge that Barnevernet might have been motivated by something other than the children’s welfare. They say the children were taken because their parents are Pentecostals; Norway is a Lutheran country. Others think the action was motivated by the fact that Marius is an immigrant from Romania who married a Norwegian woman.
Asked by the BBC if children can be seized for mild spanking, Norway official Kai-Morten Terning – the undersecretary at the Ministry for Children and Equality – responded, “parents have to know the law and live by it in Norway, regardless of background.”
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The seizing of children has soared in recent years in Norway, particularly after an 8-year-old boy was beaten to death in 2005. The most common reason for taking kids is “lack of parenting skills,” the BBC reported.
In another case, Barnevernet may have taken a baby from her parents because her grandmother was looking after her. Social workers accused the baby’s father of being simple and his wife of lacking parent skills, the BBC reported.
Health professions never examined the baby.
The grandfather, Yngve, has a government-appointed position and has changed his opinion about the country’s child welfare system. He has been unable to get Barnevernet to allow even him to take care of the baby.
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“I grew up believing that Norway was the best system in the world, best for children, the UN are saying this all the time, and then I discovered that this cannot be the case,” he told the BBC.
“At first I thought that this case that we had experienced must be one in a million. There just can’t be more madness than this. And when I showed my face on TV in connection with this, a lot of people have contacted me, and they have showed me other stories that are even worse than the one that I have experienced.
“I am a senior civil servant, and I should really be a defender of Norway, and normally I am, but here it is something extremely wrong.”
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Norway’s child protection system has been called a role model for other nations. It was the first country to allow an independent ombudsman to represent children.
Around 170 Norwegian experts on child protection, including social workers, lawyers and psychologists, signed a letter to Norway’s children’s minister, expressing concern.
“There is a lack of what I’d call the human factor,” psychologist Einar Salvesen, a critic of Barnevernet, told the BBC. He helped organize the letter. “A lack of empathy, really providing an atmosphere so people can learn… It’s more like police interventions, more like we have to find out what’s wrong with you.”
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