International outcry over Barnevernet's removal practices reached its peak in 2015 and 2016 after the agency removed five children from the home of a Romanian Christian couple on grounds that they discipline their children with spankings (something that is outlawed in Norway).
With tens of thousands attending protests held at Norwegian embassies all over the world calling for the return of the Bodnariu children, the international pressure was successful in the fact that the five children were eventually returned to Ruth and Marius Bodnariu several months after they were separated.
But as the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gears up to hear a case against Norway's child protection service for the first time ever this October, human rights lawyer Marius Reikeras told CP that the agency has taken steps to intimidate parents and advocates, to scare them away from spreading international awareness of their cases through social media.
Unfortunately, for Bjørnevåg and other parents fighting to get their children returned, the waning of international pressure over the last few years has only emboldened the Barnevernet and left the parents "chanceless" in their attempts to win in court, Reikeras asserted.
"Without the international pressure, without the pressure from the people, these families are chanceless. They have no chance at all," Reikeras, who has defended several parents in court against the agency, said. "You see all these cases that are successful but all these cases have to do with the fact that people have gathered and raised their voices together."
No choice but to flee
For one Christian immigrant family with mixed international heritage that spoke to CP under the condition of anonymity, their situation with Norway's Barnevernet was so hopeless that they felt it was better to pick up and flee the country before the agency could permanently remove their youngest daughter from their home just like they had done with their older daughter months before.
After living in Norway for many years, the family's troubles started in 2016 when a doctor made a complaint of "suspicion" that the father had sexually abused their oldest daughter, an allegation that the family has flatly denied and police have cleared him of.
The mother explained that the allegation was reported to Barnevernet a full eight days after her oldest daughter had visited the doctor.
Although the father was cleared of the allegations after a police investigation, it took more than a year-and-a-half for the father to finally be cleared of the charges. He was not cleared of the charges until after the oldest daughter had been removed from the home.
Barnevernet refused to return the older daughter to the family after the father was cleared and even removed the couple's younger daughter from the home for a month before she was returned after a local county board ordered her to be returned.
The wife said that Barnevernet continued the court process and to harass her family, and sought to remove their child.
Barnevernet also threatened to remove the younger daughter if the dad dared to return to his own home. The father felt forced to live in hotels and other places other than his home for a period of six months before the family decided that it was best to leave Norway and move to the United Arab Emirates before the Norwegian government could take their only remaining daughter away from them.
"My husband's police case is closed now and there has never been any evidence against him. Despite that, Barnevernet wants to remove our child from both parents," the mom said. "I am the mother, and they have not considered me to be suitable because I will not say that my husband is guilty concerning the 'suspicion' of abuse. Do I have to lie and say my husband is guilty in order to save my child from their clutches?"
Through the whole ordeal, the mother said that Barnevernet agents only visited their home once and asserted that they have not done any investigation.
"Barnevernet demanded mine and my children's passports to be handed to them immediately," she added. "They had already threatened to take also our younger daughter, if my husband moved back home after he was free from police interrogation. My lawyer also advised me to hand all the passports immediately, stating that if I did not, Barnevernet would remove my child immediately."
The mother and Reikeras told CP that after the father was cleared of the sexual abuse allegation and the county board ordered the younger daughter to be returned, the Barnevernet specified other reasons that it would be justified in removing the younger daughter.
Ethnic and religious reasons for removal?
Reikeras said that a document issued by the county board that authorizes Barnevernet removal orders and was later seconded by a district court states that there were also ethnic and religious concerns held by the government.
"[The board said] it was still not too late to transform this daughter into Norwegian culture," Reikeras explained. "That was truly shocking to me to see that. That is the first time I have seen judges writing this on a piece of paper."
Reikeras assured that the family is "perfectly normal" and there is no reason to be concerned.
"I visited them a little over a month ago. They are no reasons for these atrocities committed by the Norwegian government," Reikeras said. "It's obvious that the main reason for taking this younger child was because they wanted to make sure that she had the so-called Norwegian identity without the parents' religious or cultural interference."
The mother told CP that she and her husband did everything to cooperate with authorities and that they had nothing to hide.
"They just wrote in the verdict that one of the main reasons for removing the child is that she is still young and that she can still adapt to the Norwegian standard and one of the main reasons for taking the child is the family's religion and ethnicity background," the mother said of the government document. "When we saw in the court that they weren't stopping and now they are throwing out religion and ethnicity, we said that we can't [stay]."
"Once the daughter was taken away for a month, there was no point living for us," she added. "When you lose your child like this, there is nothing in the life left to live for."
The mother said she was not allowed to be in contact with her oldest daughter who was permanently removed from their home and was not allowed to have contact with her youngest daughter when she was taken for a month.