A child welfare court in Norway has awarded custody of three American children who were removed from their parents’ home this year to the state child services agency even though the criminal case against their parents was dropped, the mother told The Christian Post.
American citizen Natalya Shutakova, who along with her three children moved from Atlanta to just outside of Oslo last year so they could live with their Lithuanian father and husband, said she is heartbroken after a judge in Skien ruled this month in favor of Barnevernet.
Barnevernet is Norway’s controversial child protective services agency, which has received international criticism for removing children from parental custody and placing them up for adoption for arbitrary reasons. This month, the agency lost a high profile child removal case at the European Court of Human Rights.
For Shutakova and her husband, Zigintas Aleksandravicius, troubles began in May when their three children — 11-year-old Brigita, 9-year-old Nikita, and 7-year-old Elizabeth — were removed from the home after the oldest daughter claimed at school that she was being abused at home in retaliation for her parents taking her cellphone away.
The children were removed from the home less than a year after the family moved to Norway. The kids have since been placed in foster care.
For a court hearing this month, the daughter made a video for the judge saying that she lied and desired to return home.
Seven witnesses testified at the court hearing in Skien that the oldest daughter has a tendency to lie, according to Shutakova.
Additionally, authorities dropped criminal “child mistreatment” charges against the parents in August.
Despite Brigita’s video and authorities dropping all criminal charges, Shutakova said the judge ruled that the children could remain in Barnevernet custody “permanently.”
“They disregarded my children's will to go home to mom and dad,” Shutakova told CP. “They disregarded my daughter's plea to the president where she explains that she has made up this story.”
A copy of the video testimony made by Brigita for the judge was shared with The Christian Post.
“I am right now lost. I want to go back home,” Brigita says in the video. “I want to go back home to my mom and dad and have fun there.”
“I made a huge mistake and I regret it for what has happened and the drama that I lied about,” she added. “I lied about it in school because I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Shutakova described what is happening to her family at the hands of the state as a “hostage situation” because her children are being held against their will.
“A spokesperson in court has said the children's will was to go home, but this was ignored by the judge in Skien,” she explained.
Shutakova said that the family will have to wait another two months for their case to be taken up by the next level of the court system called Tingrett. The hope is that the family has more of a chance at winning in Tingrett because it is the first level of the Norwegian general court system and not a child welfare court.
Data suggests that county child welfare tribunals tend to rubber-stamp removal requests made by Barnevernet.
“And if we don’t win there then the next level waiting time will be a year,” Shutakova told CP. “We cannot lose this time in a country where the court system is corrupt. The country got convicted in the European Court of Human Rights for violating children and family rights.”
Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Barnevernet violated the rights of mother Trude Lobben when the agency forcibly adopted her son to a foster family without doing the proper analysis to see if such an intervention was necessary. The child was taken away from Lobben at just 3 weeks old.
“[T]he authorities in the present case failed from the outset to pursue the aim of reuniting the child with his mother, but rather immediately envisaged that he would grow up in the foster home,” a concurring opinion from six judges reads. “This underlying assumption runs like a thread through all stages of the proceedings, starting with the care order.”
Another American mother, Amy Jakobsen Bjørnevåg, also faces the risk of having her son, Tyler, forcibly adopted. Bjørnevåg, who moved to Norway from New Jersey when she was 12, has not seen her son since he was removed from her custody in 2013 at 19 months old over health concerns.
Shutakova told CP that she had a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo on Tuesday with Deputy Consular Chief Richard Phillips. Shutakova said she is upset with the embassy’s apparent delay in taking action on her case.
“I just cannot and will not believe that America, being the most powerful nation on Earth, will not help its citizens,” Shutakova told CP. “Mr. Phillips said once he will receive the documents from our last court he will review them,” she explained. “In the meantime, we are sending an appeal to Tingrett [the next level of court].”
Her son’s birthday is on Oct. 8, but Shutakova said she and her husband won't be allowed to see him or even send him a present.
A protest was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Saturday to call on Barnevernet to return the three children to Aleksandravicius and Shutakova and to return Tyler to Bjørnevåg. Chants of “Give Them Back!” rang in the streets.
"There is something severely wrong going on in Norway that you are taking children out of the well-working families,” human rights lawyer Marius Reikeras, who attended the protest, told CBN News. “We're not talking about child abuse and we are not talking about alcoholism or drug abuse. We are talking about, in general, about normal families that have all the capabilities to provide good care for their children."