This report surveys the care proceedings faced by the Bhattacharyas in Norway as a case study in the thinking and practices of child welfare regimes in the developed West.The Bhattacharya case was no exception. Social service agencies with the power to separate children from their families and place them in permanent care as a measure of protecting children from parents considered to be unfit exist in many first world countries. These include the countries of Western Europe, the United States and Britain. If the confiscation of children by these agencies is not justified, then we have in the nations that support such action a situation of grave inhumanity.
The permanent separation of children from their families has severe consequences for both parents and children. Parents are deprived of their children; their state of being as mothers or fathers permanently imprisoned by the State‟s confiscation of their children. As for the children, their extraction from their families and re-location as subjects of public care in institutions or foster homes; or being put up for adoption constitutes a radical and complete re-writing of their childhood and of their identity into adulthood by the State.
The care proceedings in this study are revealing of how, despite the drastic and far reaching nature of this form of State intervention, the issuance and review of care orders is almost entirely free of the usual checks and balances against the misuse of coercive State powers. The actions of social services bureaucrats and the decisions of courts operating in these child welfare regimes are largely hidden from public view by confidentiality laws. Moreover, neither the collection nor the assessment of the evidence on which parents are found to be unfit is subjected to the level of scrutiny of even a regular civil suit, let alone a criminal trial.
In the Bhattacharya case, even if the evidence on the record is taken at face value, it does not substantiate the determinations of unfit parenting and breakdown of the relationship between parent and child. Much of the so-called evidence describes normal interactions between the mother and the elder child, such as might be witnessed between any mother and her toddler.
The result is a denial of procedural and substantive justice for parents and children.
Another aspect of the care proceedings that gives rise to concern is the low threshold for the confiscation of children from families. There was no allegation of sexual abuse, child battery or abandonment in the Bhattacharya case. There was no allegation of any criminal act having been carried out against the children. The facts as alleged in the case did not justify the grave and life altering step of permanent confiscation of the children from their parents.
The case record also reveals that there was little attempt to help the family stay together by enabling the parents to overcome their perceived deficiencies. Parenting flaws and mistakes, such as they were, appear to have been identified only to provide the excuse to remove the children. So for all that the system claims to exist for the welfare of children, the children of families caught in care proceedings are given no real chance of staying with their families.
The decisions about the Bhattacharya parents and children in the care proceedings are also revealing of the distorted understanding of the child and family that underlies intervention by permanent separation of children from families perceived to be dysfunctional. In the Bhattacharya case, the home environment and parenting practices were found to be faulty on a number of fronts. The parents were assessed to be incapable of improving. And based on these determinations the conclusion in the logic of the Norwegian child welfare system was that the children should be placed in permanent care.
The response of the care system at each stage in the proceedings to the Bhattacharyas‟ pleas to be given a chance to be re-united with their children, of being allowed visitation with their children, of their offers for improving the perceived deficiencies in their care of the children,of the prospects of the siblings in the case being placed in separate homes and being brought up in a Norwegian rather than in an Indian family, reveal the extent to which the Norwegian approach to child welfare devalues heritage and family ties. There is a pervasive disavowal of filial love in the assessment of parental performance and the well-being of children. The question of what constitutes a good childhood is reduced to a laundry list of care criteria. Not only does filial love find no place in this approach, many of the care criteria are deeply rooted in Western culture. As a result, these child welfare regimes are inherently biased against families from foreign cultures.
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- “I am a fit mother,” says Sagarika, fighting new battle for her children (ndtv.com)
- Immediate Release- Norwegian child confiscation case (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Children from Norway: Panel gives custody to mother (vancouverdesi.com)
- Anurup Bhattacharya to move court against CWC order (thehindu.com)
- Norway custody case: Give children to mother, say Bengal’s child welfare officials (ndtv.com)
- “I am not an unfit mother,” says Sagarika as new custody battle begins (ndtv.com)
- Order on children waits as Bhattacharyas trade charges (thehindu.com)