January 27th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The Indian couple whose child was taken by Norwegian child welfare authorities may finally get him back. But they’ll have to go back to India to do it. Read the latest here (Hindustan Times, 1/25/12).
The case has been making international news since the child was taken some two weeks ago. What’s caught people’s eye is the reason given by Norwegian officials for taking the three-year-old boy in the first place. It seems his parents, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya, fed the child by hand instead of with a spoon or other implement. They then compounded the “abuse” by letting their son sleep in the same bed with them.
The fact that parenting habits may differ from culture to culture apparently never occurred to the Norwegian officials. The fact that the little boy was in perfectly good health and was in no danger from his parents’ actions seems not to have made much of an impression either. Nor did the fact that children tend to do worse in foster care than they do in parental care, even when the parents are less than the best.
So it was off to foster care for the three-year-old and the story blew up in the faces of the Norwegians, as it should have. For those unfamiliar with the behavior of child welfare officials, it came as a shock and a surprise that the state could take a little boy from his parents for such benign parenting habits as feeding him with their fingers. (Is there a parent alive who hasn’t done that on occasion?) As such, the case provides yet another valuable lesson in the abuses of governmental power and arrogance.
More importantly, in this era of postmodernism, the concept of what the late Edward Said termed “cultural imperialism” has taken root and flowered. Those for whom that concept holds particular interest will be able to see it at work in Norway’s outrageous conduct. In that way, it’s just barely possible that they’ll notice the problem of allowing ever greater governmental intrusion into family life. After all, shouldn’t parents, even Indians living in Norway, be able to deliver food to the mouths of their young as they see fit as long as the child is healthy and happy as the Bhattacharya’s was? Or is that rightly a matter of public concern? Should taxpayers foot the very pricey bill for foster care because Mom failed to wield a spoon?
Those questions should be easy enough to answer, even for those who instictually believe that Big Brother always knows best.
As it’s turned out, the Norwegian government has been humiliated into settling the matter. Predictably, it’s not doing the simple, honest thing; it’s not admitting its child welfare officials screwed up and handing the boy back to his parents. No, that might get the government sued for its wrongful behavior, and we can’t have that, now can we?
So the deal that’s been struck is to turn the boy over to his uncle who lives in India. The practical effect of that will be that the parents will move back to India where the uncle will do what Norway should have done – hand the child over to them. That in turn will mean that Anurup will have to quit his job as a geo-scientist and try to find another one in India.
This strikes me as the right time to ask the question “could Norway have done worse by this family?” The Bhattacharyas seem to have been doing well in Norway. Anurup had a good job, probably a better job than he could have gotten in India. Otherwise, why was he in Norway? Mother and child seem to have been doing fine as well. In comes child welfare and traumatizes the boy, costs the taxpayers money for foster care and court expenses. The uncle has to travel from India to take the child back there. Anurup will have to quit his job and he and his wife move back to India where they and their child will likely have a lower standard of living than they did in Norway. All the disruption of the family and the trauma of foster care to the boy, all the expense to everyone were caused by a single governmental agency that couldn’t manage to see what’s been obvious to all since the day the story broke.
It’s some sort of evil genius at work. And, however unique the details of this particular story, the lesson is the same as ever: governmental power is inevitably abused. When that power is over families, children will be abused, as here.