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Norway puzzle: 10 questions in custody row

The case of Norwegian authorities taking away two Indian children for "safe custody" has had several twists and turns. The media may have gone overboard and the government may have spoken on the matter too soon. But were the Norwegians justified in taking away the children? Namita Bhandare asks in 10 questions.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2012 12:17 IST
Namita Bhandare
A-file-photo-of-Sagarika-Bhattacharya-and-her-child
A-file-photo-of-Sagarika-Bhattacharya-and-her-child

If you've been following the twists and turns in the hairpin saga known as the Norway kids custody case, then you're probably as dizzy I am.



It's been quite a ride. Yes, Anurup Bhattacharya concealed facts about his troubled marriage. Yes, revelations about his wife's so-called psychological issues seem belated. Yes, he has lost sympathy and credibility by his constant flip-flops (in the latest version he has denied any marital rift though his wife, Sagarika says he has been 'torturing' her).

There's been an incredible level of blame-gaming: Media for going 'overboard' and the ministry of external affairs for not exercising due diligence. But leave aside the flagellation for a minute and just consider the following:

1. Was removal of the children, including a breast-fed baby, justified even if one of the parents had psychological issues? Would not treatment, counselling or a similar remedial step have been a more judicious course of action? Many mothers suffer from postpartum depression, for instance. Should their babies be taken away from them?

2. Assuming there was marital discord, what prevented one of the parents from assuming guardianship? Surely there are enough successful single parents in India and Norway who are bringing up stable children.

3. It is now being said that the elder child, a three-year-old boy, had started showing 'characteristics of autism'. In that case, Child Protection Services (CPS) should have organised medical, social and psychological support to the struggling family. How does taking the child away from his parents and placing him in foster care help?

4. Taking away the children until they turn 18 is extreme under any circumstances. If CPS was so concerned about their welfare they could have taken the children into temporary care and provided the family with support until things improved.

5. Much of the confusion could have been avoided had CPS been more transparent in providing reasons for removing the children. Even now, CPS has not bothered to provide a reason and Gunnar Toresen, its head, has only said that the children 'needed more' than they were getting.

6. Criticism of CPS' motives, including its lack of cultural sensitivity, remain valid. An English welfare worker investigating the case lists various 'faults' including the fact that the father spent too much time commuting to and from work because he did not have a car.

7. Interestingly, CPS lost the first round of court hearings when a local court ruled that there was no situation that warranted placing the children in an emergency shelter and they could continue living at home. CPS then appealed against that decision and won in a subsequent round of court hearings.

8. CPS faces the severest criticism from Norwegian citizens themselves. CPS "in order to have work, want children and they attack anybody who is vulnerable," says Marianne Haslev Skanland, a professor emeritus in Bergen, Norway on her website. She talks of the child protection 'industry' where foster 'parents' are paid handsomely to look after the children placed in their care. According to Norway's Statistics Bureau, last year 'placement services' were provided to 12,492 children, an inordinately high number for a country with a population of five million. Between 2004 and 2009, 19 of 1,000 children placed in foster care were the children of immigrants.

9. Despite the ugliness of the Bhattacharya family brawl and a family spat that is a personal matter, the children remain Indian citizens. Nothing has changed that. What then is the obligation of the Indian government to ensure that its citizens return home?

10. The Norway kids case has been marked by high emotion and drama ever since the story broke in India three months ago. Then, the story was marked by ear-splitting nationalism. Now, tinged with embarrassment, both government and media seem to have washed its hands off on the grounds that this is a personal, family problem. We've let the pendulum swing to the other extreme.

Norway has cancelled a court hearing to decide whether the children should be handed over to their paternal uncle, a dentist who lives in Kolkata and is presently in Stavenger. The parents and uncle are now reported to have drawn up a fresh agreement for the possible hand over of the children. But CWS is not likely to reach an early decision soon.

Tragically, behind the melodrama and the chest-beating, there is only one concern: the fate of two young Indian children caught up in the sort of ugly tangle that only adults could weave.

How Indian media covered the case

:

The iron hand that rocks the cradle



It's a child's play for us



Norway is guilty of violating law which has global sanctity



Norway can learn from Oprah’s visit to India