OSLO, Norway, May 16, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – One hundred lawyers, law professors, and European parliamentarians have jointly petitioned the Norwegian government to reunite a family whose five children were seized in November by social services because of their Christian upbringing and allegations of physical abuse.
The five children of Marius and Ruth Bodnariu, including, briefly, their three-month old baby, were split up among three foster homes and, claims the petition, “no longer go to Church, are raised by individuals who do not share the Christian faith or the belief in God” and have even been “dismissive and derisive of the children’s religious feelings.”
The petitioners include Romanian parliamentarians, law professors from the U.S., China and South Korea, and expatriates in the U.S. and Australia supporting Marius Bodnariu, who met his Norwegian wife in Romania in 1999. The petitioners and supporters inside and outside Norway argue the country’s child protection service, the Barnevernet, is too zealous about protecting children and too insensitive to the family-oriented values of immigrants and refugees.
The petition, addressed to the country’s prime minister and organized by Houston lawyer and Romanian ex-pat Peter Costea, argues that the placement of the children in non-Christian homes violates Norway’s own law, which obliges the Barnevernet to “preserve the religious identity of the children,” and of the European Convention of the Rights of the Child.
The apprehension was triggered by the couple’s two daughters, who were interrogated by teachers after a fight on their school bus. They allegedly claimed their parents slapped them occasionally and they worried they could never live up to their parents’ strict Pentecostal Christian faith. The next day the family home was emptied of children by police and social workers with no attempt to explain Norway’s law against corporal punishment.
While the actions of social workers have been examined in several courts, the Barnevernet is reportedly determined to arrange for the children to be adopted. “We are also outraged,” states the petition, “by the severe pain and mental anguish” the Barnevernet has caused parents and children.
This is not the first international action to embarrass Norway: In April rallies were held in major cities around the world with significant Romanian populations, and several strongly-worded videos are circulating on YouTube accusing Norway of breaking up families.
The incident has encouraged critics within the country who see the Barnevernet as insensitive to families, especially those of immigrants. Christianity Today reported in 2015 that an estimated 3,000 children from immigrant families were in custody.
NRK, the state broadcaster, aired a panel discussion on the issue earlier this month in which family advocate Einar Salveson claimed that in a significant minority of cases the Barnevernet “took children on the wrong pretext.”
He said he had presented the government with a petition bearing the signatures of 170 professionals within Norway calling for a an appraisal of the agency’s practices or even a “dialogue” between its directors and those with complaints, but without response.
Salveson claimed that Norway undervalued the family, which social workers on the same program persisted in referring to as “the biological connection.”
On the same program, Vitke Lokkeberg, a filmmaker who chronicled governmental abuse of eastern European refugees and immigrants, said Norwegians “do not understand otherness.” She said in other countries she has worked, the culture holds that “children belong to the family. Here we get the feeling that children belong to the state.”
Lokkeberg speculated that in more densely populated countries families socialized more often and their behaviour towards their children was monitored informally. But in Norway, where families such as the Bodnarius lived in more “isolating” circumstances in remote, rural areas, the state has more of a social licence to intervene.
The discussion revealed both the country’s embarrassment at being a target of international criticism and its reluctance to challenge the Barnevernet over specific cases like the Bodnarius, ostensibly to protect the privacy of the families and children involved. The show’s host intervened several times to insist the details of the case not be discussed, even though it was the reason for the program.