Norway kids row: Was it India that misunderstood Norway?

Did Indian authorities misunderstand the workings of the Norwegian child welfare system while accusing them of cultural bias in sending the children of an NRI couple to foster care?

India has been putting pressure on the Norwegian government seeking the return of the Bhattacharya children, three-year-old Abhigyan and one-year-old Aishwarya, to their parents since they were placed in foster care in May 2011

 Norway kids row: Was it India that misunderstood Norway?

The parents have been fighting for the custody of their children since May 2011.Screen grab from CNN-IBN of the Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya

In India it has been presumed that the family of the children were the best caretakers for the children and the parents were victims to a system which did not bother understanding their culture.

Politicians, media and social groups had rushed to the defence of the Bhattacharyas with India taking a diplomatic stand that the children needed to be returned to their parents or families.

However, the emergence of the marital discord between the parents, allegations of psychological ailments and physical violence have left the Indian government and media wondering if they jumped to their support too early without examining the details of the case.

Reidar Hjermann, an ombudsman for children in Norway, has defended the system of taking children out of their parents' care and said despite the numerous allegations of the system over-reaching itself, it was only acting in the best interests of the  children.

"The most serious misunderstanding is that hand feeding or having children sleeping in the parent's bed is sufficient grounds for the CWS to place a child in foster care. The Child Welfare Act sets out clearly that foster care may only be considered in cases where a child has been subject to serious neglect or violence," Hjermann writes in The Times of India.

He admits that the Norwegian authorities could have been proactive in this case and been more open about how the child welfare services operated in this case or other cases in which they had taken the custody of children of immigrants. However, he adds that presently in Norway authorities usually have a higher threshold before they take custody of children of immigrant families.

"Unfortunately, the CWS (child welfare service) has a poor track record in following up with parents after a decision to place children in an institution or foster care. The CWS should, as routine, inform foreign parents of the decision in a language they fully understand, and provide translations of important documents in order to avoid misunderstandings," he says.

"In our culture, the family is less a private matter, and if children experience neglect they are the responsibility of the whole community," Hjermann says.

The concept of government-run foster care for children in unimaginable in India, particularly for its middle class, where it is assumed that the best care for a child can only be provided by it's parents, no matter how bad they may be at it. But should the Indian government have taken some time to understand how the Norwegian system works before it threw its weight behind the parents in a diplomatic issue?

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2012 14:15:24 IST