Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner criticizes Norway for taking Romani children into care
Half of the children from Norwegian Romani families in Oslo are in foster care or at risk of being removed from their birth families by the courts. Nils Muižnieks, the Human Rights Commissioner at the Council of Europe, has included that information in his current report on Norway.
Online news server The Local has reported that the document is remarkably critical of Oslo. The Norwegian Government has neither confirmed nor refuted the data.
According to the report, which is based on Muižniek's January visit to the Scandinavian country, more than 60 Norwegian Romani children from Oslo are estimated to be in foster care and another 60 are at risk of being removed from their birth families. This number constitutes half of the children from the homegrown Romani population in the capital; children from the families of Romani immigrants are not included in these numbers.
"According to the Commissioner's intermediary, many expectant Romani mothers avoid giving birth in Norwegian maternity hospitals out of fear that social services will immediately take their newborns away," the report says. The document also expressed serious concerns over the unusually frequent cases of authorities taking Romani children into care.
"What usually happens is that teachers misinterpret something they hear the children talking about, they don't understand how Romani culture works, and instead of making an effort to discover what the explanation actually is, they immediately begin contacting child welfare authorities. I was involved in a case, for example, where a teacher overheard children discussing the arranging of marriages, so she called the authorities and the children were removed from their family for several weeks. Ultimately it turned out that there were no marriages being arranged, that it was just the children's fantasy, they were just telling each other stories. They were then returned to their family and the only thing achieved was to have put the children under enormous stress by separating them from their parents," Romani mediator Robert Lorentsen, who works for the City of Oslo, told news server Romea.cz previously.
"The Ministry for Children, Equality and Social Inclusion has no access to statistics on the ethnic origins of children and therefore cannot comment on the data in this report," The Local quoted the Norwegian ministry as saying. The ministry also stated that of the more than 53 000 children with whom the Barnevernet child social services are in contact, only roughly 9 000 have been put into foster care.
"Our laws consider the continuity of child-rearing and family relationships to be as important as the child's right to care and protection from all forms of abuse, mental violence, neglect, and physical violence," the ministry said. There are three different groups of Roma now living in Norway.
The first group has been living throughout Scandinavia since the 16th century and are the so-called "Taters" or Travellers, whose number is estimated at 10 000. There is also a group of "indigenous" Norwegian Roma, Vlah Roma who have been living in Norway for almost 150 years and who are said to number between 500 and 700 people.
The last group is the community of present-day Roma immigrants from the Balkans, primarily from Bulgaria, Romania and the former Yugoslavia. They are estimated to number as many as 2 000 and began arriving in the country roughly eight years ago.
The Roma were not recognized as one of Norway's five official national minorities until 1999. In 2008 the name "Roma" for them was officially recognized, replacing the previous term, "Gypsies".
Today some Norwegian Roma are considered integrated, while others are grappling with considerable problems. Norwegian social services have also recently faced extensive foreign criticism for allegedly removing the children of foreigners living in Norway from their families without adequate evidence.
Such is the case of the Michalákový brothers from a Czech family, which has attracted enormous media attention in the Czech Republic. The authorities removed the brothers from their family in May 2011 on suspicion of neglect and violence.
The social services' decision was upheld by the courts, but the police have shelved the case and no charges were ever filed against the parents. The boys are now growing up separated from one another in two different foster families.
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