Legal Ramifications of Norway’s Government-Abducted Children

By: Brad Bourne

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Norway has the highest quality of life of any country.[1] Coupled with relatively high life expectancies, Norwegians tend to be well educated and have higher paying jobs, while the country as a whole has minimal violent crime and high environmental quality.[2] Simply put, Norway is generally considered to be one of the best countries to call “home.”


Despite this well-founded reputation, Norway is not flawless or free of controversy. In April 2016, protests broke out in nearly thirty countries in response to official action taken by the Norwegian Chile Welfare Service (Barnevernet).[3] For several years, Barnevernet has been accused of being “excessively interventionist in the way it handles child protection cases.”[4] In 2011, for example, Barnevernet came under fire when it deprived two Indian parents, who were living and working in Norway on VISA, of their children.[5] This official action ignited controversy and public backlash because Barnevernet cited cultural practices, such as feeding the children with their hands and letting the children sleep in their bed, as evidence of unfit parenting.[6] The 2015 case involving Marius and Ruth Bodnariu also generated negative publicity. In that case, “Barnevernet appeared at the [Bodnariu] family home one day to announce that their two eldest daughters had been taken straight from school into emergency custody and proceeded to take the two eldest sons as well. Barnevernet returned again the next day . . . to take away the 3-month-old baby.”[7]

Initially, the basis of this action was in response to allegations of corporal punishment by the parents. However, later investigations indicated that there was evidence “local authorities were concerned about the children being ‘indoctrinated’ by their parents’ religious beliefs.”[8] The general public, unsurprisingly, has criticized Barnevernet for its proactive stance in cases where children are removed from their homes. From 2008 to 2013, moreover, there was a fifty percent increase in the overall number of children removed from their homes, in Norway.[9] Together, these cases, and the public’s response to them, serve as the basis for the assertion that Barnevernet is engaged in the practice of “child-kidnapping.”[10]

There are, of course, several implications for such action by a governmental entity. First and foremost, the Norwegian government, including and especially Barnevernet, is subject to public criticism and scrutiny. This is immediately apparent in the fact that more than 300,000 individuals, in seventy cities throughout the world, coordinated protests in response to Barnevernet’s actions.[11] The protests were televised on Romanian broadcasting networks and garnered support from “[c]itizens of the Czech Republic, Russia, Lithuania, India, and Brazil.”[12]

In addition, there are specific legal ramifications for these actions by the Norwegian government. More specifically, the European Court of Human Rights commenced investigations into “the actions of eight separate child care cases that were dismissed by Norwegian courts.”[13] The issue in these investigations would likely be whether Barnevernet had proper grounds to remove the children from their homes. Generally speaking, States need compelling reasons, and typically extraordinary circumstances, in order to permanently remove children from their homes and, similarly, from the supervision of their parents.[14]

Finally, there are practical, societal implications to such activity by Barnevernet. Generally speaking, this activity could ultimately stifle free speech by forcing parents to second guess whether there might be legal ramifications for certain cultural practices. For example, “the Bodnarius’s experience has prompted fears that Christian parents could be targeted for ‘indoctrinating’ their children by teaching them their beliefs.”[15] In addition, such activity could have long-term implications on Norwegian quality of life: “[i]n the context of a Europe that currently punishes business and individuals for their ‘intolerant’ beliefs on marriage and sexual orientation, many [families] will be watching this space closely for fear of security.”[16]

Whether Barnevernet acted wrongly or illegally, for now, is an unanswered question. In the event that the European Court of Human Rights ceases its investigations and the Norwegian government faces no legal punishment, one would expect there to be increased tensions in Norway and Europe. If nothing else, the actions carried out by Barnevernet, in the last few years, have left Norwegians and Europeans fearful that the security of their families may ultimately be jeopardized by a government actor.


[1] Leanna Garfield, 11 Countries With the Best Quality of Life in the World, Bus. Insider (Nov. 10, 2016 11:19 AM),

[2] Id.

[3] Justin Cremer, Global Protests Condemn “Legal Kidnapping” in Norway, Local (Apr. 16, 2016),

[4] Laurence Wilkinson, Norway’s Government-Abducted Children, and Ramifications for Europe, Forbes (Feb. 27, 2017 1:57 PM),

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Cremer, supra note 3.

[10] Wilkinson, supra note 4.

[11] Cramer, supra note 3.

[12] Id.

[13] Wilkinson, supra note 4.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.