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Norway Reneges

February 28, 2012 permalink

Last month Norway announced a settlement of a diplomatic row with India by agreeing to return two young Indian children, Aishwarya and Abhigyan Bhattacharya, to their uncle back in India. But foot-dragging in Norway has delayed the case, sparking protests in India. Delays may run past the expiry date of the parents' visas, requiring them to return to India without their children. An Indian politician called Norway's law a "kidnapping law". India has dispatched a special envoy to Norway to deal with this one case.



India rushes special envoy to Oslo to end custody row

NEW DELHI: With patience running out in India over inordinate delay in repatriating two Indian children to their families by Norway, New Delhi sent a special envoy to Oslo to help expedite their return.

M Ganapathi, secretary (west) in the MEA, met Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store in Oslo on Monday to try to hasten the legal process so that the children can return to their home and families.

Foreign minister S M Krishna dispatched the envoy after the families of the children - Aishwarya (1) and Abhigyan (3) Bhattacharya - decided to hold a sit-in protest in Delhi, sparking outrage across the nation over Norwegian Child Protection Service's (CPS) insensitive ways that threaten to scar and traumatize the hapless young ones forever.

Krishna had promised in January that the children would be home "soon". With indignation mounting against Norwegian authorities, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj termed the law cited by them to keep the children separated from their family as a "kidnapping law". "In our country, this kind of law is known as a law of kidnapping," said the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

The Bhattacharyas have been accused of "gross negligence" of their children that led to losing them to an activist child welfare services system in Stavanger, Norway, in May, 2011. The parents have insisted that the reason for the Norwegian authorities taking their children away is cultural differences: a charge Norway has rejected.

The groundswell of anger against Norwegian authorities was evident as citizens, prominent politicians, concerned parents and many others reached out to Aishwarya and Abhigyan's grandparents on Monday as the family held a sit-in protest in front of the Norwegian Embassy at Chankyapuri. A Norwegian family also participated in the protest to highlight the concerns for CPS' activities.

The case has struck a chord with almost every Indian, and popular outrage has threatened to bubble over. It is worsened because there is a general perception that Norway could have tried to counsel the parents if there was indeed a problem. Or, they could have deported the family. But removing the children from parental care is seen to be a drastic step. There is also a sense of outrage that Norway, which apparently has high levels of foster care for children, has been insensitive to cultural differences.

A point of urgency has been introduced with the fact that the Bhattacharya family's visas expire on March 8. The Norwegian government is trying to get them to apply for the renewal of their visas that they are resisting. Last week, Norway applied to extend their residence permits.

The crux of the problem is that the decision of the Child Welfare Services was upheld by a court in Norway. Therefore the appeal to reconsider the decision, including handing over the children to their uncle Arunabhas Bhattacharya will have to be taken by the court. In January, India and Norway reached an agreement to make Arunabhas Bhattacharya the primary guardian of the children when they return to India.

Earlier the court was scheduled to meet in June, but in view of the diplomatic pressure by India, this has been fast tracked to the last week of March. But this date will mean the Bhattacharyas will have to stay on after their visas have expired. Ganapathi's brief is to ensure that a solution is found to this problem.

While Norway bore the brunt, BJP made it clear that government cannot absolve itself of its responsibility. "The efforts done by government are lacking somewhere. I don't understand why are they not taking the issue seriously? We are not ready to accept this kind of law," she added.

"The BJP would raise the issue on the first day of the Parliament (Budget) session, if the government fails to resolve the matter by then," Swaraj told mediapersons after meeting the children's grandparents.

In a statement, Gunnar Toresen, head of Noway's Child Welfare Service, had said, "As head of the Child Welfare Services I most strongly deny that this case in any way is based on cultural prejudice or misinterpretation. I am unable to give any comments regarding the particular grounds in this case because of our duty of confidentiality."

Denying that issues of feeding or sleeping with the children were the reason for the action, Toresen had said, "The Child Welfare Service has a responsibility to intervene if measures in the home are not sufficient to meet a child's needs. The act lists strict conditions for when a care order applies. Examples are when a child is mistreated or subjected to other serious abuses at home, or when there is every probability that the child's health or development may be seriously harmed because the parents are incapable of taking adequate responsibility for their child."

Sources said they did not want to disclose the real reason for taking the children away because it would harm the children in India.

Whatever the solution, though, it's unlikely the children will be able to return home to India until end-March or early April. "We will make all out efforts to achieve the goal of getting back the children to India where they belong," Krishna said last week. "It is government of India's firm commitment that the children must be given the opportunity to come to India," Krishna said.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Shanta Sinha said, "It is important that the children are restored back to their family. I do wish that the Norwegian government takes up the matter and justice is rendered to the children.''

Source: The Times of India