Europe’s top human rights court has agreed to hear the case of a Christian family that fled Norway after their five children were seized for months by the Scandinavian country’s controversial child protective services agency.
“Parents have the right to direct the upbringing of their children," Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for Alliance Defending Freedom International, which is representing the family, said in a statement. "Norway intervened in the family life of the Bodnariu family by taking the five children into state care without any compelling reason.”
The Bodnariu family is a Romanian Pentecostal family whose five children were removed over allegations that parents spanked their children in November 2015. The nonprofit legal group ADF International contends that the family’s religion also played some role in the removal.
After the children were removed by the Barnevernet, Norway’s child services agency, several protests were held at Norwegian embassies worldwide to call for the children to be returned to parents Ruth and Marius Bodnariu.
The children were ultimately returned to the parents’ home in June 2016 after over six months of outcry.
The family then fled Norway, according to ADF International. The parents had lived in Norway for about a decade before they fled.
The European Court of Human Rights will hear the case.
“Removing children from their families should always be a last resort," said Clarke. "Recent years have seen an increasing number of cases of overreach by the Norwegian state into family life, with numerous cases coming before the European Court of Human Rights.”
Although it was initially believed that the children were removed over the parents’ use of corporal punishment (which is illegal in Norway), ADF International asserts that a further investigation revealed that “officials in the community felt that the children were being ‘indoctrinated’ by their parents’ Christian beliefs.”
However, critics had previously pushed back against the claim of religious motivation for the children’s removal.
The family filed its case before the European Court of Human Rights in December 2016 and claimed that the Norwegian agency violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to private family life.
According to ADF International, the Bodnariu case is one of eight cases in which the Barnevernet is being investigated by the European Court of Human Rights over its decision to take children away from parents.
The Bodnarius are also just one of a number of families that have fled Norway because of actions taken by the Barnevernet. One mother was even granted asylum in Poland after the Barnevernet tried to remove a child from her care.
“The Bodnariu case resulted in an international outcry and the Bodnariu family fleeing Norway. No family should be put through such an ordeal, especially not at the hands of the state,” Clarke added. “We are encouraged by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to hear this case.”
Because the Bodnarius are Romanian, they received an outpouring of support from Romanians worldwide. Many families in their situation don’t have the benefit of having an international awareness campaign run on their behalf. The same is even true for American families.
An American mother, Amy Jakobsen Bjørnevåg, who moved to Norway as a child, is on the verge of losing her legal battle with the Barnevernet after her infant son was removed from her care in 2013 over arbitrary health concerns. She told The Christian Post last year that her son is on the verge of being forcibly adopted.
Most recently, three American children were removed from their parents' home about 70 miles southwest of Oslo less than a year after the family moved there from Atlanta, Georgia.
In 2018, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe released a report into the practices of the Barnevernet. ADF International explained that the report was prompted by the Bodnariu case.
The report was critical of the Barnevernet’s high frequency of emergency interventions and voiced concern with the short visitation times provided for the parents and children removed from the home.
Clarke argued that if removing children is necessary, "family reunification should remain a central aim."
"The investigation into Norway showed that without effective safeguards, child protection agencies can cause long-term damage to families and undermine the prior right that parents have to raise their children," he noted. "It is time for Norway to act on the recommendations made by the Council of Europe and respect the right of parents to raise their children unless there is evidence of a serious breach of the parents’ duties.”