Almost 1,000 people protested in Bucharest (photo) on Saturday, expressing their solidarity with the Bodnarius, the family that lost custody of their children following a decision taken by Norwegian authorities. The protesters called on authorities to do more in order for the children to be returned to the custody of their parents.
The Bodnarius lost custody of their five children last autumn. Last week, the youngest child was reunited with his parents.
Protests took place in other Romanian cities too, in order to show support for the Bodnarius and to draw attention to the abuses of the Norwegian state.
The case of the parents whose children were taken away by Barnevernet (Norway’s Child Protection Service), has generated a wave of emotion all over the world. A global protest was announced on Facebook by a support group called “Norway Return the children to Bodnariu Family,” with events planned in 21 countries on all continents: Romania, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, United Kingdom, U.S., Canada, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand. People protested against the way the Norwegian state acted, thus expressing their support for the family so that the other four children would be reunited with their parents.
“So I can tell you there are 20 countries in which such demos are taking place, in 65 cities. There are many cities in Romania: in Constanta, Suceava, Arad, Timisoara,” Daniel Bodnariu, Marius Bodnariu’s brother, stated for Digi24.
“Even though there are publicly telling us that we are doing this for naught, we nevertheless have signals that this bothers them a lot because Norway’s image is affected and an ever growing number of people end up getting to know what is happening there, these obvious abuses,” Daniel Bodnariu says.
The protesters believe that the Romanian state should get more involved in this case. “The necessary measures for the amplitude of the case were not taken,” a protester said.
“I believe that with this first protests we will give the whole of Europe a message, to realise that family comes first,” protesters believe.
“The boys are living with a lady that seems out of her depth, she cannot take care of them. The parents saw that the boys have bruises and scrapes. The same goes for the girls, [they are living] with a lady that worked for Barnevernet and who is trying to give them a different upbringing, meaning that while the girls were getting piano lessons, were learning to play musical instruments, now they are getting karate lessons, playing football, are enrolled in other activities,” Daniel Bodnariu says.
Protests took place in other cities too. In Suceava almost 4,000 people took to the streets.
“They took the first step, we are waiting for them to take the other step, to realise that they made a mistake,” Gheorghe Bodnariu, Marius Bodnariu’s uncle, said.
3,000 people gathered in downtown Cluj-Napoca.
“The fact that a child has already been reunited with the family is an answer to all the prayers and to all these protests and we hope that the other children will be able to return to the Bodnarius too,” one protester said.
People took to the streets in Galati, Constanta and Timisoara too. “I am protesting especially for fair policies,” one protester said. “I find it to be an injustice! Children should have been left with the family!” another one stated.
“Our message to Norway: we want the Norwegian legislation, the Romanian legislation, the legislation anywhere, to really protect the child!” the protesters added.
BBC broadcast documentary about Bodnariu family’s drama
The Romanian press was not the only one that covered the topic that has generated long televised debates and large protests all over the country. The most recent reaction came from Britain’s BBC, which broadcast on its website, on April 14, a sweeping documentary about the case.
In the introduction, the BBC notes the global effects that the Bodnariu family’s drama has had.
“The case of a young Norwegian couple whose children were taken away by the Norwegian state has fuelled growing concerns, both domestically and internationally, about child protection practices.”
BBC notes that it was unable to find out more information from Ruth and Marius, since the two are still under investigation, according to their lawyer, who did not allow the British journalists to find out more details.
“It was impossible to find out the authorities’ point of view because Norway’s Child Protection Service does not discuss individual cases in order to protect the children’s confidentiality,” the BBC points out.
On the other hand, those who support Ruth and Marius Bodnariu are concerned not only with the fact that the children were taken away from their parents but also with what followed next for the children after the Norwegian authorities’ intervention.
“The children were assigned to three surrogate families,” the BBC emphasises.
According to the BBC, the campaign started in the name of the Bodnarius was followed by other actions in support of the immigrant families whose children were taken away by Norwegian authorities.
“The whole campaign in support of the two parents was particularly strong in Romania, Marius’s home country, but also among Evangelical Christians worldwide, because the Bodnarius are Pentecostals. Most of their supporters believe that the Bodnarius are the victims of discrimination based on religion and nationality. Likewise, other campaigns started on behalf of immigrant families who are experiencing the same drama in Norway,” the BBC adds.
Similar case led to major diplomatic spat between Norway and Czech Republic
In this context, the BBC mentions a similar case, which concerned a Czech family living in Norway and led to a major diplomatic spat between the two countries. Czech President Milos Zeman accused the social workers of behaving like Nazis. Moreover, social militants presented other situations in which Norwegian families lost custody of their children for irrelevant reasons, with no intention to find alternative solutions for them, the BBC adds.
“In an open protest letter to the Child Protection Ministry, 170 Norwegian child protection specialists – lawyers, psychologists, social welfare experts – claim that “Barnevernet is a dysfunctional organisation is making errors of judgment that result in serious consequences,” BBC points out.
Two ministers from Norway: Bodnariu case, campaign against our country
The latest reaction on behalf of the Norwegian authorities came on Thursday, April 14, when two Norwegian ministers said in a letter, that what happens in Bodnariu case is “an international campaign against Norway.”
“A child welfare case concerning a Norwegian-Romanian family has been at the heart of a growing international campaign against Norway. The rhetoric has included allegations of child kidnapping, genetic programming and religious persecution, as well as accusations that the Norwegian Child Welfare Services is somehow above the law. Nothing could be further from the truth,” shows the letter signed by Solveig Horne, Norwegian Minister of Children and Equality (Progress Party) and Elisabeth Aspaker, Norwegian Minister of EEA and EU Affairs (Conservative Party).
The two ministers explain in their letter what the Norwegian child welfare services consists of:
“In accordance with international law and national legislation, the best interest of the child is always the primary concern of the Norwegian child welfare services. The rights, responsibilities and obligations of parents are also considered. Family ties and continuity in the child’s upbringing are very important principles. The underlying assumption is that children should grow up with their parents.
The main objective of the child welfare services is therefore to assist children and families that are struggling. In fact, the majority of the cases are voluntarily assistive measures for children and families in the home, for example, advice and guidance on parental practices, kindergarten, counselling, financial aid, etc”.
However, the two Norwegian officials admit that there are some exceptions.
“Sometimes a child may have to be placed outside the home, either as an emergency measure or through a care order. Only a County Social Welfare Board or the Court may issue a care order, not the child welfare service. These are independent and impartial decision-making authorities led by judges. A care order can only be issued if a child has been subject to serious neglect, maltreatment or abuse. The care order must also be necessary and in the child’s best interest. A family’s religious beliefs are never valid reason for removing a child from its parents, but violence could be. Corporal punishment is against the law in Norway,” the Norwegian ministers show in their letter.
“Placing a child outside the home without the parents’ consent is always a measure of last resort. It is worth noting that a recent Council of Europe report shows that Norway is in the low range of countries with respect to the number of children in alternative care”.
Of course, shows the letter, no system is perfect. “That is why the Norwegian child welfare system has built in checks and balances to make sure allegations of wrongdoing are investigated. If the allegations are found to be correct, sanctions will be implemented. In care order cases parents are entitled to a due process, including a lawyer paid for by the government, the right to be heard and the right to appeal the decision of the County Social Welfare Board to the Courts. Parents can once a year file for a revocation of the care order”.