Norway refuses to reunite mother with son despite victory at top European court

Gov't ministry says woman must go back to Norwegian court system 2nd time to get son back

Undated file photo shows the Norwegian flag.
Undated file photo shows the Norwegian flag. | (Photo: Reuters)

The Norwegian government is refusing to reunite a mother and her son despite Europe’s top human rights court ruling last month that the country’s child services agency violated the mother’s parental rights by allowing foster parents to adopt her son against her will.

According to human rights advocate Marius Reikeras, mother Trude Lobben has been issued a six-month restraining order by local police barring her from contacting her 11-year-old son to tell him that they were victorious before the Grand Chamber of European Court of Human Rights. 

Lobben’s son was taken into the custody of Norway’s controversial child services agency, Barnevernet, when he was just a few weeks old. 

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About a month after the child was born, he was taken into compulsory care over concerns about Lobben’s parenting skills and whether the child was getting enough food. The child was placed in foster care and was adopted by his foster parents years later in 2011.

The grand chamber’s Sept. 10 ruling states that authorities in Lobben’s case “failed from the outset to pursue the aim of reuniting the child with his mother” and “rather immediately envisaged that he would grow up in the foster home.” 

As a result, the court found that the Barnevernet violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing respect for the right to “private and family life.” 

The ruling marks the first time the grand chamber has found that Norway violated parental rights in a removal-and-adoption case although Barnevernet has long been criticized by international rights advocates for removing children from their parents over arbitrary concerns. 

The grand chamber ordered the Norwegian government to pay Lobben the equivalent of about $27,000 in damages and about $10,000 for costs and expenses.

However, there is disagreement between the family and government over whether the ruling requires the government to reunite the child with his biological mother. 

Reikeras told The Christian Post in an interview that the court’s ruling in favor of Lobben requires the state to give custody of the son to his birth mother.

But the Norwegian ministry of children and families indicated in a letter to the Norwegian Parliament late last month that it will pay the fine issued by the court but will not give Lobben custody of the child, Reikeras explained.

“That means that the minister has given a specific answer to the Parliament saying that the only consequence of the judgment is to pay out [$27,000],” Reikeras said. “By saying that, they say they have no intention to reunify the mother and the son.” 

“That means they are still continuing to violate their rights,” he continued. “The judgment is very clear. Violations have been found. Norway has violated even the most fundamental rights and it’s on Norway to start to abide with the judgment.”

The Norwegian Ministry of Children and Families told CP in a statement that it is taking the judgment "very seriously." The ministry stressed that the "essence of the judgment is that the Norwegian district court did not carry out a sufficiently broad assessment of the case."

"The biological mother has been awarded compensation, which will be paid," the ministry's statement reads. "These are the legal consequences of the judgment."

The ministry contends that that ECHR judgment "does not mean that the adoption order made by the Norwegian courts has been revoked, or that the child will now be returned to the care his biological mother."

"It is up to the child’s biological mother to decide if she will now try to have the adoption order amended through the courts in Norway," the statement explains. "If so, it will be up to the Norwegian courts to decide if there are grounds for granting a new hearing."

In response to the ministry's statement, Reikeras argues that the Grand Chamber "found Norway guilty of violating an 11-year-old boy, depriving him of his biological family, and doing nothing to return him to his family."

"The boy has been violated by the Norwegian authorities almost all his life, and the violations continue for each passing day," Reikeras said. "If the ECHR had considered it best for the boy to remain in his foster family, Norway would not have been convicted in relation to the boy. In other words, Norway is found guilty of kidnapping the boy from his biological family, and Norway continues the offenses."

According to Reikeras, what prompted the recent restraining order against Lobben was the fact that Lobben went to her son’s school one day after the ECHR ruling and presented documentation showing that the ECHR ruled in her favor. 

Reikeras is unsure if the child has even been made aware that he has a biological family that has been fighting in court for years to see him. 

“I think he is totally unaware that he has a biological family and he has won in the European court,” Reikeras said. 

Reikeras told CP that according to the Norwegian Constitution, the ECHR is essentially the top court in Norway and failure by the government to respect the court’s decision is a violation of Article 46 of the European Convention. 

“That rule is very clear. It says that the applicants that have been violated have to be put in a position to where the violations never happened,” he explained. “In Trude Lobben’s case, she and the son should be reunited as if these violations never happened. These violations in their case have been going on for eight years.” 

Reikeras fears that failure by the government to respect the court’s decision could cause a “constitutional crisis” in the Scandinavian country as there are at least 26 other child removal cases before the ECHR currently.  

Reikeras said that Lobben’s legal team is starting the process to appeal to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, which is comprised of all the foreign affairs ministers of the council’s member states. Because it was a grand chamber decision, Reikeras believes there will be more pressure on the Committee of Ministers to act more rapidly than normal.

Reikeras hopes that the Committee of Ministers will send “clear messages” to Norway. 

“Worst case scenario, we got to go back to the court to find Norway guilty again for not abiding by the judgment,” he said. “This is very serious actually because Norway is not only disrespecting human rights but they are also disrespecting the Norwegian Constitution.”

“The court as well as the European Parliament and other institutions in Europe are aware that Norway is still not respecting the judgment,” he added. “This creates a diplomatic issue between Norway and the rest of Europe as well.”

In 2018, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe released a report criticizing Barnevernet and calling for stronger safeguards against forced family separation.  

Last year, Poland provided asylum to protect a mother and her 2-year-old daughter who fled Norway after child services tried to remove the child from the mother’s care.

“Another worst-case scenario here as well is that Norway has to resign from the European Council because they don’t respect the international rule of law,” Reikeras stressed.

Although it is the first Norwegian child removal cases decided by the grand chamber, other Norwegian child removal cases have been settled by ECHR panels. 

On Sept. 6, 2018, Norway was unanimously convicted of violating Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Jansen v. Norway because it failed to take action to facilitate the reunion of a family. 

“Even though this case was ruled more than a year ago, Norway has yet to respect this one either,” Reikeras said. “We are starting to see a pattern here that no matter how many rulings we have, they will pay out the money and they will continue to violate human rights. They have no intention, at least not at this stage, to respect any judgments that disfavor Norway.”  

On Thursday, Reikeras visited Parliament to lobby for the legislative body to hold the ruling government accountable. Reikeras said that one way to send a message to the Norwegian government is for Parliament to call on the government to resign. 

In Norway, Parliament is constitutionally above the government ministers and has a “decisive influence on the formation and the dismissal governments.” Norway’s current ruling party is the social-democratic Labour Party. 

Reikeras said he is optimistic that the Parliament will take action.

“The Parliament can impeach the minister or call for the government to resign because they violated the Constitution of Norway. It is my hope that Parliament is aware that it has the highest legal responsibility in Norway and that our government will resign,” he said. “This can, of course, lead to a constitutional crisis in Norway. The opposition party can take advantage of the fact that we have a present government that is inconsistent with the constitution and human rights.” 

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