Norway returns children to Christian family after months of international protest
Child Welfare | Country’s child protective services took children last year after reports the parents spanked them
by Molly Hulsey
Posted 6/10/16, 11:45 am
A Christian couple in Norway will reunite with their children after six months of international protest over the government’s decision to put the children in protective care. But critics who fought against what they called Norway’s unjust interference in family life say the battle against legal kidnapping rages on.
“The situation in Norway is very horrible and very frightening,” said Tomáš Zdechovský, a member of the European Parliament from the Czech Republic.
Norway’s child protection services, known as Barnevernet, seized Marius and Ruth Bodnariu’s five children with little to no warning in November after daughters Eliana, 10, and Naomi, 8, faced an interrogation about their family life at school.
The girls didn’t return home on the school bus that afternoon, the family’s first clue something was wrong.
Barnevernet put the girls under Emergency State Care before alerting their parents, and police forced the family’s boys, Matthew, 5, and John, 2, away from the family later that afternoon. Officials accused Marius Bodnariu of child abuse but allowed the couple to return home from the police station with their baby, Ezekiel.
What sparked the official intervention? The Bodnariu family spanked their children on occasion—a felony in Norway. Emails from the school’s principal to Barnevernet also noted the couple’s “very strong faith and view that God punishes sin.”
The next day, after nightfall, Barnevernet returned to the family home and took away Ezekiel, too. Authorities dispersed the four older children among three foster families, where they will continue to live until mid-June, when they will return to their parents.
“We thank you all for your love, support, prayers, and active participation in the reunification of this family,” said Pastor Cristian Ionescu, who acted as the family’s spokesman. “May God richly bless you and repay you for all you have done to bring this family back together.”
International leverage seems to account for the family’s victory.
Uproar from thousands of Romanians, Christians, and other Barnevernet critics echoed at demonstrations from Budapest to Washington, D.C., and on social media, throughout the past year. According to The Washington Times and the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, the outcry rallied attorneys, U.S. lawmakers, and members of the European Parliament to plead for the children’s release.
Zdechovský helped spearhead international protests against the Bodnariu children’s seizure and told me there have been more than 1,000 similar cases in which Barnevernet has taken children using even flimsier evidence.
“They take the children without understanding their situation or psychology and sometimes they put them into foster families without any investigation or information from other experts,” he said.
Zdechovský referenced one case in 2011 in which Czech President Milos Zeman intervened to request the release of two Czech boys taken from their family in Oslo. Barnevernet prevented their mother, Eva Michalakova, from taking custody or visiting her two sons, even after she divorced her allegedly abusive husband and all charges had been dropped.
According to the BBC, Barnevernet seizes a disproportionate number of children with expatriate parents—bruising Norway’s relations with countries from the Czech Republic to India. Most of Norway’s emergency care orders also hinge not on physical or substance abuse but a “lack of parenting skills.”
Although the Norwegian authorities released the Bodnariu children, the outcry over the agency’s actions continues. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and 35 countries joined forces to lobby for reforms, Zdechovský said.
He hopes American Christians also will continue to pressure Norway to change Barnevernet’s procedures.
“Currently, we are supporting the Bodnariu family and of course many others,” Zdechovský said. “But tomorrow, it’ll be another family.”
Molly is a WORLD intern.