Barnevernet, Norway’s child protection services, is notorious for its high-handed practices and its role in countless cases of child confiscation, serving as a brutal reminder of our history’s worst nightmares.
Like most Romanians around the world, I saw news of a young Romanian/Norwegian family, the Bodnarius, who were caught up in a surreal drama in Norway. Their five children, including a three-month-old suckling infant, had been removed.
There were various reasons given for the separation of the Bodnariu family, such as “Christian radicalism and indoctrination”. The family were practicing Romanian Pentecostal Christians, a religious minority in Norway.
None of the reasons given by Barnevernet justified the treatment of the family. One would think the immediate removal was a result of neglect, abuse, violence, or an unsafe environment, such as drugs or alcohol. However, not only did no such factors exist in this family, even Barnevernet made no such allegation.
The ease with which Barnevernet swooped in was also shocking. There was no forewarning, no court proceeding, no thorough investigation or assistance given to the family prior to the taking of the children. The entourage of police, staff and resources used to collect the children was heavy-handed and caused immediate and long-term trauma to
The silence and bureaucratic jungle which the parents faced in order to regain their children proved to be a living nightmare. It soon became evident that this family was being mindlessly destroyed.
Romanians around the world protested, taking to the streets in thousands. After months of demonstrations, the Bodnariu family was reunited, but the episode revealed, once again, the systemic dysfunction in Norway’s child protection system.
It raises the question: is this an acceptable trait for the most developed nation in the world?
It was an abuse of power and it was impossible for me to ignore the similarities between Norway’s Barnevernet and Australia’s own Stolen Generation.
Australia was “discovered” in 1770, and soon after was declared “Terra Nullius”, which means uninhabited or “no one’s land”. Captain James Cook took possession of the entire east coast, in the name of King George III. The boats moored into harbour and slowly the people began inhabiting the coast.
However, this ignorant claim led to multiple levels of abuse by the Europeans. They completely overlooked an established population with culture, beliefs, traditions, languages, law system and well-functioning family structures; they were the Aboriginal people.
Tragically, the “integration” of Europeans meant oppression with violence and forced labour towards the indigenous population.
One other such crime, and yet not the least, was the rape of many women. When they gave birth, the Europeans decided due to the part breed, that the children should receive some form of education, and thus began the “Stolen Generation”.
Children were taken out of the arms of their mothers, sent interstate or at a great distance from their family, and kept in “mission camps” where the education was actually “re-education”. Most of these children never saw their families again.
The children cried and screamed but were met with extreme force. Their wild outbursts were not viewed as trauma, but rather the part that was “Aboriginal”. This happened legally between 1910 to 1970.
Despite the different geography, nationality or belief system; no matter what Norway wants to call it, their child welfare system is fundamentally similar to the one deployed in Australia and, technically, Norway is creating a Stolen Generation right now.
Child Protection Services (CPS) claim to be guided by “the best interests of the child”, however it is a guise for inferior standards for assessing families. Among other judgements, the CPS tends to profile large or impoverished families as a risk.
While the Bodnariu family were being victimised in Norway, I considered my own family history. My parents married young, and had six daughters when they fled communist Romania for Australia. They struggled as immigrants, and as the family grew to 11 children, there were times of poverty. Despite all of that, my parents managed to raise us into caring, socially active and aware people that are responsible and grounded.
I shudder at the thought that Barnevernet could have easily targeted my family had they existed during my childhood. Looking back, I delight in the fact that my parents provided a safe environment for all of us children to prosper, and the CPS would have made a huge mistake had they intervened.
To be fair, every continent has some history of abuse towards children. Spain abducted up to 300,000 children during the Spanish Civil War and Francoist Spain during 1944-1954 and these are known as the “Lost Children of Francoism”. Argentina stole children from parents fighting the regime during 1976-1983 and unfortunately, up to 30,000 were killed. Part of the Generalplan Ost (GPO), Germany took Aryan-looking children from around Europe, an estimated 400,000 during 1939-1944, and moved them to Germany for “Germanisation”; a form of indoctrination into becoming culturally German. “Eugenics-Forced Sterilisation” occurred during 1934-1975 in Sweden, where approximately 21,000 people were either forced or coerced into sterilisation. Since the 1850s, and well into the 20th century, Swiss children were taken from their parents to work on farms and the era is known as “Contract Children” between 1850-1980.
The list goes on, and while these events are now in the past, they are stains that should not be ignored because without genuine reflection, history can repeat itself.
A society that can look back and acknowledge ancestral mistakes takes the first step towards proper healing.
In February 2008, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, publicly apologised to the Stolen Generation. But the emotional distress of lost families, lost culture, lost memories and lost choice can never be replaced or compensated. Unfortunately, the Aboriginal people are now considered to be a “Lost Generation”.
Another form of child removal in Australia was “Forced Adoptions”. This was legal from the 1950s to the 1970s. Young mothers from poor families were targeted. In 2013, the first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, officially apologised. She started her apology with, “Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering.”
The Opposition Leader at the time, Tony Abbott, added his own views on the issue, claiming “I cannot imagine a grief greater than that of a parent and a child parted from each other… This is a tragedy for them and for our nation and we must atone
This gives me hope that while a nation’s history may be dark, a future government can see the devastation and apologise.
If a “less” developed nation like Australia can recognise its shame, could Norway one day be as bold?
This is why I am committed to the cause of exposing the unjust confiscation of children from their families by CPS authorities. Because I would like to see a Norwegian government apologise, on behalf of itself and the nation, for the inhumane practices of today. My journey protesting CPS atrocities began with the Bodnariu family, but it did not end there.For me, it was just the beginning.
(Cristina Nicoli is a first generation Australian of Romanian descent. She is a Feedback Officer with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service and is active in the worldwide resistance against unjust confiscation of children by child protection agencies, sundayguardianlive)