As many as 15,000 supporters rallied at protests held in eight cities around the globe on Saturday to continue putting pressure on the Norwegian government to release five Romanian Pentecostal children who were removed from their parents based on abuse allegations.
As previously reported by The Christian Post, the five children of Ruth and Marius Bodnariu were removed from their parents' custody last Nov. 16 after the principal from the school the Bodnarius' two daughters attended notified authorities of her concern that the children were being spanked by their parents at home as a form of discipline.
All five children, who range from age nine to four months, were placed into three separate foster homes by the Barnevernet (Norway's child protection services) and their parents have been given limited visitation rights.
As the Bodnarius are scheduled to have their next court hearing in March to determine whether the parents can be reconciled with their children, international supporters of the Bodnariu family held various protests, marches and rallies in Romania, Spain, Poland and Australia on Saturday to continue raising awareness for the family's situation. Five of the protests were held in Romanian cities.
According to a Facebook page set up to raise awareness for the family, an estimated 5,000 protesters gathered for a rally in Sibiu, while an estimated crowd of 4,000 gathered for the protest in Iasi. A combined estimate of over 5,500 gathered for rallies in Bistrita-Nasaud, Cluj-Napoca and Baia Mare.
According to the Facebook page, as many as 400 supporters showed up to the protest in Melbourne, Austrailia, while as many as 600 showed up to the rally in Castellon, Spain. Despite the large turnouts at other protests, only 20 protesters gathered for a rally held in Warsaw, Poland.
Since the children were removed from their parents' custody, supporters of the Bodnarius have held protests and rallies outside of Norwegian embassies in a number of different countries, including one protest held outside the embassy in Washington, D.C.
This Saturday, supporters in Texas are planning to host a protest rally in Houston, which is home to 10,000 Norwegian citizens, according to the president of the Alliance for Romania's Families, Peter Costea.
Although Costea previously told CP that the Bodnariu case seems to be part of a larger pattern of the Barnevernet targeting the children from migrant families, the national director of Norway's branch of Youth With a Mission Andreas Nordli told CP on Monday that cases like the Bodnarius could be a result of migrant families not being aware of Norway's strict parenting laws.
Norwegian law makes it illegal for parents to spank their children as a disciplinary measure, which some migrant families that move to Norway from other parts of Europe might not realize.
"I have [collaborated] with the child protection locally in Norway, when I served as a pastor. Having migrant families in our church, I can only refer to my personal experience [with the Barnevernet], which back then was very, very good," Nordli explained. "I hear both in this specific case with Romanian family and also cases with Russian [families] and also Lithuanian [families] and [families] from Czech Republic that there have been accusations toward child protective services in Norway but I haven't [seen] it myself."
"Because we have strict laws against physically disciplining your kids, I think a lot of non-Norwegians coming here, they are not aware of the law," Nordli added. "Because of that, that creates the problems, I think. Maybe even the child protection [agencies] in Norway are not good enough explaining to non-Norwegians how our laws are set up."
When the Bodnariu case first gained international attention, the family claimed that their children were seized by the Barnevernet after the principal voiced concern about the family's belief that "God punishes sin."
However, court records shared with Costea indicate that the children were seized because they admitted that they were being spanked by their parents.
Andreas Hegertun, the spokesman for the Norwegian Pentecostal Movement, told CP in a statement on Monday that religious and parental freedoms in Norway are not under attack and believers have the right to believe and do what they want as long as they are not harassing anybody.
"The state of religious liberty is very good in Norway. Every ethnic religious group may worship and raise their children according to their beliefs, as long as they don´t violate Norwegian law. In practice this means as long as they don´t use violence," Hegertun said. "I have never heard of anyone getting in trouble with the government for any other reason than violence, serious neglect or addictions. In this matter, we as churches strongly agree with our government that violence towards children is not accepted."
"In Norway spanking and other types of corporal punishment is illegal. But this does not mean that all parents that practice these models of parenting have their children removed," Hegertun continued. "A majority of the families that the Barnevernet are in contact with do not have their children removed, most families receive parental courses and advice on how to change their parenting style so that they parent without using corporal punishment or spanking. If the parents see no wrong in using violence or do not want to change, the Barnevernet considers making a case to move the child."