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Norway once again violates parental rights, including those of a Polish woman – ruling of the European Court of Human Rights

Published: 18.02.2020

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The European Court of Human Rights found the Norwegian child protection services to have violated parental rights in another in a series of rulings on the subject issued in the past several months. The right to respect for family life was once again infringed upon by the Barnevernet. One of the cases involved a Polish woman whose son was taken away. The Pole was allowed only two visits per year, before being completely prohibited from seeing him despite positive opinions by doctors, psychologists, and kindergarten authorities.

The two-year-old was separated from his mother by the Barnevernet in 2012, the reason being an alleged "lack of interaction" between the two. The woman was allowed a total of two two-hour visits per year, all under the supervision of a social worker. In 2014, the mother applied to have her parental rights restored, and her son to be returned home, or at least to have the number of visits increased. The Barnevernet not only rejected her application, but also completely prohibited her from seeing the child. The woman challenged the decision in court. She presented five expert opinions (from two doctors and three psychologists), certifications confirming that she had completed parental skills courses, as well as references from a kindergarten proving her qualifications to work with children. However, the court agreed with the Barnevernet – while it was acknowledged that the mother loved her son, she allegedly "was incapable of understanding his perspective".

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Norway violated the Pole's right to respect for family life, thus violating Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The ECHR noted that the Norwegian court's decision was based on nebulous grounds and did not sufficiently respect the rights of the mother. After the son was taken away, the authorities did nothing to reunite the family, and the Convention requires that permanent separation only be used when the re-establishment of parental bonds is impossible.

The second case involved a Somali woman who claimed refugee status in Norway. In 2010, the Barnevernet took her one-year-old son away on the grounds of alleged neglect. Her contact with the child was limited to six one-hour visits per year. In 2013, the Barnevernet decided that the child should be given up for permanent adoption, and completely prohibited his biological mother from seeing him. Standing before the court, the woman admitted that she did not feel ready to take care of her son, but requested that she be able to maintain her bond with him via regular visitations. This request was rejected by the Norwegian court, however.

Similar to the previous case, the ECHR found the decision to be in violation of Article 8 of the Convention. The European Court stressed the fact that states have an obligation to make efforts to reunite children with their biological parents. Even though the boy spent more than 4 years in foster care, the authorities took no concrete actions to enable the son to eventually reunite with his biological mother.

"The latest Norway rulings of the European Court of Human Rights continue a trend which began with the ECHR Grand Chamber ruling in the Strand Lobben case of 2019. The Court confirmed that taking a child away and putting it in foster care is the last resort, and should only be done in special circumstances. Still, even in such circumstances, the biological parents have the right to a second chance. State authorities should make mutual contact possible, and attempt to rebuild weakened bonds. The Norwegian child protection services have a completely different approach – a child can be taken away for trivial reasons, and the purpose of foster care is not to reunite families, but to gradually erode relationships between children and their biological parents. The ECHR once again confirmed that this practice is incompatible with human rights", says Karolina Pawłowska, Director of the Ordo Iuris Centre for International Law.

A.S v. Norway and Abdi Ibrahim v. Norway, ECHR rulings of 17 December 2019.

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