The case of the stolen children: notes on a Scandinavian state and society

The children of Indian citizens living in Norway may have been taken on the pretext of the rights of the child, but Norway’s handling of the issue reveals the dark side of paternalism as a fig-leaf for xenophobia
Wajahat Qazi
24 January 2012

The bizarre case of the stolen children in Norway, wherein the Norwegian state has forcibly taken away the children of Indian citizens living in Norway, reflects a broader theme across Scandinavia. The reasons put forth by the Norwegian state for stealing these children from their natural parent’s border on the ludicrous, the bizarre and the incredible. The state holds that certain practices of the parents – feeding by hands, ‘overfeeding’, and sleeping with the parents – will not be countenanced by it and goes against the gravamen of parenting practices upheld by the Norwegian society. These practices are quite normal in the Indian subcontinent and it could be said across much of Asia. So why is the Norwegian state intruding into the very private domain of individuals and responsible adults and throwing their lives into disarray? Does the Norwegian state deem itself to be the repository of truth and wisdom and thus insulting the wisdom and cultural practices of another culture and society? Or are the reasons more prosaic? That is to say, are the Norwegian state and the states constituting Scandinavia -- gratuitously held to be societies and states corresponding to paradise -- acquired a salient racial edge that cannot countenance difference? Do these states want to impose their racial, cultural and social straitjackets on peoples from other cultures and societies? Or, in other words, can these states not countenance cultural difference?  And last but not the least, does this case reflect the paternalism that is inherent in social democracies and a legacy of communism?

The answers to these questions, interlinked as they are, lie in the affirmative. The nature of the Scandinavian state is such that paternalism and intrusion into lives of those that it deems deviant is inherent in it. It puts limits to individual freedom and has, apparently, the last word in determining ‘bad behaviour’ and how even adults can or should behave. This ridiculous ‘principle’, obiter dictum, instead of crystallizing a society where individual freedoms are balanced by the state and society, counter-intuitively and counterproductively produces infantile adults.

The case in contention may also reflect the tension between the rights of the child and the obligations that accrue to states.The rights of the child defined as a person under the age of 18 years are clearly delineated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In essence these rights ensure that the child – a vulnerable person- gets to live a life free from emotional, physical and mental constraints or distress and admits that the natural biological parents are in the best position to give this care to the child. Germane to the case in contention, the thrust of the Convention’s articles is that that best interests of the child should be the primary consideration. And it is widely recognized that a child’s right to a relationship with his/her natural biological parents is in the best interests of the child.  Obligations accrue or fall on the states that are party to the Convention as well. States accepts obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the enumerated rights.  However, on balance, it would appear that a concatenation of reasons outlined here appear to be the premises that inform the Norwegian state’s decision.

Insulting and derisive, the dark side of Norway’s approach is the power and control that it gives the agents of the state or those in a position of power. They can destroy the lives of people on the basis of a whim, fantasy and other forms of arbitrariness and pettiness. The case in contention reveals this dark side of paternalism inherent in the Scandinavian state.

This intervention and intrusion in the lives of people from another culture may not be premised on pettiness but sheer ignorance. Or from a darker perspective, it reflects the arrogance about the superiority of cultural, parental, and social practices of the Scandinavian society. This, however, may be too benign a view. It appears that the reasons may be manifold, the most salient of which may be that Scandinavia has reached the limits of openness to outsiders. And that the state is imposing its views on outsiders with a vengeance. This may be a populist ploy too. The state may be pandering to undercurrents of disaffection and hatred towards immigrants on part of the Scandinavian society. The Indian immigrants in contention may just be victims of this.

This disavowal of cultural relativism-admittedly a concept that if taken to extremes can be abused and can even be inimical to the host societies- by the Scandinavian state is silly. No society or state in the world can escape from mobility of different peoples into their domains. This is inevitable and sometimes even desirable. And for the prospect of peace and stability, all states and societies must endeavour to understand aspects of difference and be tolerant of the most salubrious and salient aspects of these cultures. However, imposing a strait jacket can only lead to reaction, disaffection and alienation. This is a disease that the Scandinavian state and society is particularly afflicted with.

So what is to be done to pre-empt disaffection and alienation? The first premise of the new approach must be reform of the Scandinavian state and society. Much is wrong in a society which produces a psychologically deranged killer who kills randomly and blames Islam for his actions and where innocent cultural practices are deemed as inimical to both the state and society. The Scandinavian state must open itself-politically and economically- to the world and let the sunlight in. This would entail a comprehensive rejig of state and social structures of these countries- a thought that  would constitute blasphemy to most who would read this piece. Cultural and social openness can only follow from this.

In this final analysis, this can only lead to enlightened, tolerant, and sober societies that can only be an unalloyed good. This is, axiomatically, a long term program. The case of the stolen children should be seen as a salutary reminder that all is not well in Scandinavia and that revolutionary action is warranted to change this warped state of affairs. In the meantime, let the authorities make haste and allow the stolen children to be with their natural parents.

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